I spread a threadbare white towel over the only clean spot in the barn – the lid of a feed can – and begin cutting it into washcloth sized squares. In the stall beside me, a horse wheezes, struggling to breathe. She and the two others we’ve just rescued are suffering from “strangles”: pus-filled abscesses that swell and burst in her throat, making her gasp for air. Hot compresses held against her neck help – a little. Again and again, we dunk rags in hot water, press them to her weeping sores, and bring them away covered in mucous and blood.
Sam convinced me that rescuing three mini horses would be an adventure. He was right, if you define “adventure” the way Bilbo does at the beginning of The Hobbit: “Nasty uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner.”
Sam is always ready for an adventure. I’m always ready for a nice cup of tea by the fire. I’m not sure why we still get along, but we do.
The towel I’m cutting up steadies me. It reminds me how far I’ve come, how much I’ve already survived. I bought it almost exactly twenty years ago, at the start of another sort of adventure. I was fleeing an emotionally abusive relationship with nothing more than a bag of clothes and a few beloved books. I rented a tiny studio and furnished it with cardboard boxes. I bought a futon mattress, two towels, and a single set of sheets – and almost didn’t eat at the end of the month because of it.
Since then, this towel has traveled with me from North Carolina to Vermont to Tennessee to Pennsylvania, has lived in eight different houses and apartments, has been used to wrap a baby and wipe a child’s dirty feet and sponge mud off a dog. These days, I don’t worry about whether I can afford to buy a towel, or a table, or a chair.
This towel has been with me for almost exactly the same amount of time as Sam has. It was the worst time to start a new relationship. I wasn’t ready. But some things come for you, ready or not. Saying yes (to Sam, to these sick horses, to everything else foolish I’ve ever tried) is a blind leap forward. No way to look ahead, no sense looking back. Nothing certain, except that it will be an adventure.