By: Aliyah W
Pal I open the door and walk out onto the front porch. Standing under the veranda, I know this morning is the last time I will see Pal. Thinking about it brings water to my eyes and makes my throat tight with buried tears. It seems like forever ago that we first noticed the lump growing on the outside corner of his mouth. When the vet came, he told us that the lump was cancer, and that if it was anywhere else on Pal’s body, he could have operated. As it was, while the cut from an operation was healing, Pal wouldn’t be able to use his mouth, and therefore he wouldn’t be able to eat. There were no other options. Except one. I suppose we all knew somewhere in the back of our minds that it might come to this. I stare off towards the pasture and catch a glimpse of the horses grazing up by the fence. The past few weeks we’ve been stalling, trying to delay the inevitable. Our only option was to put Pal down. We could tell that the growth was bothering him when he itched it on a fence post and the flies buzzed constantly around his head. Papa also suspected that it might be spreading into his nasal cavity. When the vet came, he said that the growth was also pushing in on the inside of Pal’s cheek, and that he was starting to bite on it. Soon he might not be able to eat at all, and we hated seeing him in a state of discomfort. Doing the humane thing is definitely not always the easy thing. Even knowing that it was going to be the best for him, it still hurt all of us. I walk down the front steps with my dad and we head to the shop to grab a halter, brushes, and a pair of scissors. We make our way to catch Pal, and I hold the gate as dad leads him out, away from our other two horses. They didn’t want to part, and as we gave them time to say goodbye, I was thinking how different it would look without him—where a white, a red and a black horse once stood, now there would only be a red and a black. We took him away and started brushing his coat as we waited for the vet to arrive. Dad brushed one side of him as I brushed the other. Sometimes we would try to chat, but mostly we just stood quiet, brushing all the while. I think we were both silently saying our grief stricken goodbyes. I focused my attention on moving the brush around in circular motions, trying not to let my mind wander to what would happen when the vet got here. Some people might think, “Why bother grooming him?”, but I wanted Pal to look good for his funeral. I took the scissors and cut a swatch of his mane from underneath. I wanted to keep a piece of him, a memento for days to come of our good friend. Finally, the doomed moment arrived. The vet came walking towards us, a sad sort of smile on his face. I thought my heart, and the floodgates securing my tears, were going to burst right then. In that moment, I somehow managed to control my emotions. Everything I was feeling threatened to show through my eyes, and I didn’t trust myself to speak.
Giving Pal a final affectionate pat on the neck, I gathered up the brushes, the scissors, and my swath of fine, white hair, and made my way back towards the house. I couldn’t take it any longer, finally the tears started to roll and I turned abruptly away, wanting more than anything to just make it to the refuge of the house in time, but finding that my vision was blurred and watery, and my movements had become dulled and slow. Kicking off my boots at the door I bee-lined it for my room, shut the door, put my I-Pod on the dock, and fell face first down on the bed. And then, finally free to let the weeks of pent up emotion flow, I sobbed into my pillow. My eyes and nose ran, and it felt like my heart had turned to liquid and was also leaking out of me. The more I cried, the harder I hurt. I know that if I hadn’t let myself absolutely break down for two hours straight that day, that all that buried pain and sorrow would have left a festering wound. Without the cleansing tears, without allowing myself to finally feel emotion at last, my grief would not have healed. “When I can’t find the words, to say how much it hurts, You are the healing in my heart,” came floating softly through my speaker and calmed me somewhat, acting like a balm to my chaffed and broken heart. Never in my sixteen years had I felt such deep, unadulterated sadness. Never in my sixteen years had I ever cried like I did that day. Today, I look at the white horse hair hanging from my bulletin board every time I pass it, and more often than not, run it through my fingers, smiling at the memory. It’s not often one finds a horse that is well trained, and feels like part of the family. Pal, was both. Come next spring, a young birch tree will be budding atop Pal’s grave, just outside the pasture fence, cresting the hill. Once grown, the tree will be seen from all over the farm yard. He can forever rest out at pasture now. There have only ever been three horses in this world that I considered part of my family. There are only three horses that hold a special place in my heart. Pal, is one of them.