Jeeps, Stick-Shift, and a Eulogy

Sighing in frustration, I click the close tab instantly closing the list of used cars for sale. I’ve been going back and forth on this decision for the last few weeks. Ever since my car decided that 30 plus miles from home in the middle of Texas summer was a good time to die. You see, I have a second car. A Jeep Wrangler that I inherited from my father after his passing. It was in his will the Jeep would go to me, and he always said that it would be mine, even before he got sick. ‘As soon as it’s paid off’ he’d say, he bought it with me in mind. I’d always wanted a Jeep Wrangler ever since I was sixteen. 

Thing is it’s a stick-shift and I don’t know how to drive a stick shift. I can’t deny that there’s a part of me that was wondering if it was always meant for me then why did he buy a stick-shift that I couldn’t drive. An ugly little voice that lives in the back of your mind and only seems to speak up late at night. The more reasonable part of me knows he probably had every intention of teaching me how to drive a manual car. We drove it once together, down the backroads of Louisiana a year or so after he bought it. Any more moments of him teaching me how to drive a stick-shift never happened. He got sick, and got worse as the years passed. 

It was my aunt who made the final payment on the Jeep, after he had been moved into assisted living. She was the overseer of his accounts and his POA. Told me she paid it off and if I wanted it I could come get it, after she had it come back from the dealerships where it was being repaired. Prior to him going into assisted living he was on his own and the worse he got the less he went anywhere. So the Jeep sat for a few months without being turned on. I was visiting him when it was decided that he shouldn’t live by himself anymore. It was around Thanksgiving and I hadn’t visited on a holiday since college. My brother and I thought of having a real thanksgiving in a Southern tradition complete with deep fried turkey. But even as I got there and saw my Dad for the first time in a few months I knew he was in bad shape. He’d lost a significant amount of weight and barely seemed to realize who was around. My brother and I took a wait and see approach with him, maybe he was just tired. But his longtime friend said she had never seen him like this and was worried, so we called the ambulance to took him to the hospital. There, the doctors felt that he could no longer be on his own. 

The next day my brother and I met with my aunt to decide where we go from there and at some point the convo turned to the Jeep just sitting in the driveway. My brother got the keys and went to start it. Nothing, ‘Battery is probably dead, I’ll swing by and get a new one and change it out tomorrow.’ Thanksgiving was officially canceled. 

By the end of that weekend it was decided to try to have him living with my aunt with the help of hired caregivers for when my aunt was at work. ‘We’ll try this for a few months to see how it goes’ my aunt said. The Jeep would be towed to a dealership to be repaired, for it wasn’t just a battery issue. Most of my dad’s possessions would be packed up by my brother, and I had to fly back to ATX. Trusting the care of everything to my aunt and brother. 

In a few months time he would be in an assisted living home, his care too much for one person even with hired help. He didn’t like it, I knew that much, but he needed around the clock care and that was much too expensive to do at home. I went only once since he was moved in, spent the afternoon in an uncomfortable chair watching old movies on TCM while he slept on and off. When he was awake he tried to talk, he knew I’d be taking the Jeep that weekend back to Texas. My mom would drive it back and it would stay at her house until I could learn to drive it. He tried to tell me how to drive it and remind me of our one and only lesson, I hummed along in agreement. He paused and was quiet for a moment; I figured he must have dozed off. 

“Don’t sell it yet” his statement caught me off guard. “Don’t sell the Jeep yet, when I get better I want to drive it again.” I looked at him lying in his assisted living bed fragile and weak, a far cry from the father of my childhood. Do you really believe you’re going to get better? I thought. I had already come to terms that he was never going to leave this room, he’d been sick for years and had gotten worse as time went on. This was the same disease that had claimed his older brother. But as I looked at him, I couldn’t kill his last remaining fragment of hope. “Of course not, when your ready for it I’ll bring it back.” He nodded and we went back to the quiet  of watching Turner Classic Movies. 

That was my last interaction with my dad, my mom had come in to say a few words when she came to collect me. I knew he enjoyed having visitors, would talk to me about everyone who would visit him. Then we left and that was it. I spoke to him on the phone, of course, less and less as time passed. It had gotten hard for him to answer it, and he never remembered to call back. I was just wondering when I could come down again. It was early June when my aunt called. He was admitted to the hospital again, the second time this late spring early summer. His organs were shutting down, he was no longer able to make legal decisions. So it fell to my aunt as his POA and she didn’t want to make any decision without input from my brother and I. 

The doctors wanted to try this procedure; no guarantees it would work, but without it he may not last much longer. My aunt gave me the number for the doctor, I had questions. He answered them with an air of logic and no emotions. But he paused after all my questions had been answered. “Right now, he can not make this decision” the Doctor started “So now you and your family must on his behalf. This procedure may extend his life, but something to keep in mind is his quality of life.” I nodded forgetting I was on the phone and not in person, but words couldn’t quite get passed my throat. “Just something to think about, and what he would have wanted.” I thanked the doctor for his time and hung up the phone. I called my brother hating that I was going to be the one who told him. No answer just a voicemail. 

“Call me when you get the chance it’s important” I left then called my aunt letting her know I spoke with the doctor. What would my dad want? “I know when I ask him he says he wants to get better, but its like he only says it, everything in his actions say otherwise. I also know he’d never want to be on life support, he did say that.” Isn’t this kinda that? Just trying something to extend the inevitable. The beep of a call interrupted our convo. It was my brother, I put my aunt on hold, and got my brother caught up on everything. He sighed as if he knew this was coming, and we all kinda did. So I merged the calls, if we were going to decide this it would be all together on the same page. Not me being the middleman. 

“You know the last time I really talked to dad, he has mentioned he’s just tired of living.” My brother confessed.  Just like that the choice was made. We’ll make him as comfortable as possible, let him just drift off. ‘I’ll be there in a few days’, it was Tuesday “I’ll drive down Friday and stay the weekend.” I told them as I ended the call.  

My dad passed Thursday afternoon. 

Now two months later, I was wondering what to do with the Jeep. My car was dead and gone, my sad attempt at driving the Jeep around my work’s parking lot ended in tears and the smell of burning. The logical side of me says trade it in, get something you can drive. It could even be another Jeep Wrangler. But it was my dad’s, the only thing besides memories and photos I have. He loved that Jeep, took the absolute best care of it. And I had wanted it for years. But I was unsure if I was able to drive it, maybe I could only ever drive it once. Down a back country road in Louisiana with my Dad teaching me. 

It’s illogical to think that. I know it is. And yet I can’t help but wonder if that was the only time I will ever drive it. Driving a Jeep Wrangler, shifting gears, while my Dad laughs and reminisce about the time when I first was learning to drive and we were cruising down a winding road in Mississippi. “Remember? You were driving and I saw that sign that said “its time” with a little boy praying? And I said “Absolutely not, pull over!’” He grinned. “I remember” I said as I focused on shifting. I also remember going back down that road with my step sister looking for that sign, as teenagers talking about stealing it to gift to my dad as a joke. “The funny thing is, “ I told him, “ We never found that sign” He laughed and I shifted into fifth gear as I merged on the freeway.

Not with a Bang, But a Whimper

T.S Elliot wrote in the poem “The Hollow Men”, ‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.“ I am not sure if Elliot was right when it comes to how the World will end as a whole. But I can attest that my own personal world ends in a whimper,  and I was the one that would choose how quickly it end. 

The choice was laid out in simple terms 1) take him to the Animal Hospital and confirm the diagnosis or 2) euthanize my best friend. If I went for option one it very well might end in euthanizing him, but it would mean confirming the Vet’s diagnosis and the added cost of taking him to the Equine Hospital. There was also the concern about trailering him in his current state. Between the sedation as well as the Banamine we had a tiny time frame in which we could transport him. But when I had moved him to this facility, he had fallen in the trailer and couldn’t get up for a time. That was on a day he wasn’t sedated, how would he trailer feeling like he was? But option two meant saying goodbye, when I hadn’t even processed what the vet had told me. 

So I did the only thing I could think of, I called my mom. Maybe I was hoping she’d have some new perspective, maybe I just didn’t want to make this choice alone or at all. She listened as I haltingly told her what had happened and what our options were, I tried not to cry as I told her. She was comforting and supportive, but did say what the deepest part of me knew “you know honey, I think it’s just his time.” 

You know that feeling, when you’re about to cry your eyes out? But you’re fighting that urge? The pressure that you feel behind your eyes, the tightness in your throat, the gathering wetness, and yet you just don’t want to cry at least for now. So you fight to get the words passed your tight throat, fight against the tears. My mom seemed to know, and waited patiently for my response. Then she offered to make the choice for me, and it would be so simple to hand over the phone to the Vet and let them come to a decision, difficult choice out of my hands. 

But even as I considered it, it felt wrong. Like leaving him before they put him down and not being there, alone around strangers more or less. Easy for me, I get in the car and go. I could pretend it was my own Schrodinger’s Cat, a paradox in my mind where he could be both alive and dead as long as I never opened the ‘box’. Welcome to stage one of grief: Denial. 

But how could I leave him? He’d always been there for me, now when he needed me the most I was considering not being there. It felt wrong, so with everything I had I told my mom no I needed to make the choice, and I needed to be there for him. Hanging up I walked over to the Vet and the Barn’s owner with a weird calmness I gave my answer and asked what would happen after. There were many options for burial, we could bury but since it was out in the hill country it wasn’t always ideal since the ground was hard. There were companies that could come pick up the remains and dispose of them, but I remember reading an article about rendering and parts used in some make up products. That was a hard no for me. The final option I was given was cremation, the crematorium would pick him up and deliver the ashes to me. I didn’t even pause, that’s what I wanted. The vet nodded in sympathy and let me know her and the owner would figure out the best place to do it and set everything up. They would give me a moment alone with him. They would come get me when they were ready. 

“He might be feeling ok, because of the meds if he wants to graze let him.” The Vet said as she held open the gate to the covered arena. I nodded shallowly and led him to a patch of grass under the trees that he always like to graze at. I was feeling numb, and to be honest don’t remember much of the time when we were waiting. I remember hugging his neck, and calling the BFF to let her know. I had started teaching her to ride a few years before, and Peps had been the best teacher. She already knew he’d been sick as I was keeping her updated. I thought she should know too, that I had made my decision. She cried over the phone, excused herself from the winery tour she was doing on her vacation. But told me to call her if I needed anything. I didn’t right now, the numbness was making me slow to respond. I was in survival mode, but as I typed this I wish I could have been more present. After all these were my final moments with him, I wish I could remember if I even spoke to him. 

Before too long the vet tech came over to get us to  lead us to the spot. Way from the barn and paddocks but still accessible to the road for the pick up when it was all said and done. I walked him over and the vet handed me some treats to feed him, as she talked me through it. 

“What I am essentially doing is overdosing him. He’ll be gone before he hits the ground, but I will warn while I’ll try and guide him down sometimes they do fall hard. But he’ll already be gone.” She kept telling me, not sure if it was true or if she was just trying to make me feel better about the whole thing. I kept mechanically feeding him treats while trying to keep my eyes on him for one last memory. Don’t let him falling down be my last memory, I prayed. Instead I noted how he stopped eating the treats and looked around at the unfamiliar area. How he held the treats in his mouth, eyes alert, ears pointed and the tension in his neck. But beyond his obvious stress, I also noted how the sun shined on his coat, highlighting the red in his bay coloring. The richness of the black in his mane, even with mud caked into it. I remember thinking that I never did get to clean him up, like I told him I would. I wondered if they’d let me get a brush for him. But by then the vet was taking the lead rope from me and directing him a little bit away but still close. The barn’s owner came over and wrapped her arms around me as I did the same and I noticed that she had tears in her eyes too. I was grateful for her support at this moment. 

The Vet’s attention was on Peps, quietly talking to him as she prepared to inject the fatal dose. A quick puncture of a needle, I watched as my world ended. Eyes rolled back, jaw went lax, and legs gave way to the sound of the vet whispering “shh good boy, easy boy”. The world should end with a bang, the sound of my best friend leaving this world should have been loud, but my world ended in a small whimper let out involuntarily by myself. A small “oh” was all that marked his passing.

Kinda Ugly

“He’s Kinda Ugly…. but I just feel sorry for him, and I know he’d have a good home with you.” It wasn’t the most promising sales pitch, but that was the description we got about a horse for sale. The woman calling was a longtime friend of my trainer and knew she was looking for a horse for me. He was being used as a school horse and I’m not sure if it wasn’t working out or they needed to limit the number of school horses they had. What I did know was he was a Thoroughbred, 16 hands, skinny and sympathetically ugly. However my family had been looking for a horse for me for a year and we decided to give kinda ugly a shot.

The weekend we were going to try him happened to fall on a show weekend. So my mom and I went without my trainer and were to report back to her after. If we liked him, she’s go pick him up the following weekend for a trial period.  Early that Saturday, Mom and I drove the hour and half to go and see Kinda Ugly.

If you have never shopped for a horse, here’s a little bit how it goes, you have decide you are ready for a horse and its financial commitment (you never are they are ridiculously expensive), you’ve set your purchase price, so you start looking for horses. It tends to be a little easier today to search for horses, with websites like www.bigeq.com, or www.dreamhorse.com, there are even plenty of Facebook groups you can join where people list horses they are selling or ISO (In Search Of) post. But back in early 2000s it was via word of mouth or the occasional for sale ad placed on the bulletin board at your local tack store. Once you find a mount you might be interested in, you either go see them at their stables, or the owner can trailer the horse out for you to try.

In this case we drove out to see him. We met the woman, Alyssa, who had called my trainer about Kinda Ugly. After a short introduction she mentioned that aside from Kinda Ugly, there was another horse to look at as well since we were there. Let me preface Kinda Ugly and mine’s meeting, by saying this. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, honestly I wish I could say that he stood out at all. The truth is I barely noticed him.

This other horse was dream horse material, he was a tall, big bay horse with no markings and honestly I thought he was the perfect horse. I was super excited to try Dream Horse that my memories of Kinda Ugly are just a vague notion of another horse.  It felt like no time at all had passed and I got to ride Dream Horse. He was very tall and for a girl who had spent a majority of her time on ponies I felt like I was on top of the world. My instructions from Alyssa were simple just take him for a ride, walk, trot, canter, just get a feel of the horse. Dream Horse in my mind was perfect. He walked with a large stride and I felt sure that he was going to be great. After a few minutes of walking around the arena, it was time to put Dream Horse through his paces.  A quick press of my heels into his side I asked Dream Horse to trot. The response I got was barely an increase in his walking pace. Alyssa encouraged me to nudge harder, and that I might in the future if I choose him need to use spurs. Being 15 years old I had some pretty harsh opinions regarding spurs, so I wasn’t really interested in using them. It took a lot of nudging, clucking, and prayers for No-Longer-Dream Horse to finally trot, and it was unpleasant to say the least. I was out of breathe, my legs were sore, and I never could get the correct rhythm for a posting trot. After a few miserable minutes I bought No-Longer-Dream Horse to a walk and back over to my mom and Alyssa. Alyssa knew immediately, but my mom looked up expectantly and I just said no, he wasn’t right.

Dismounting from No-Longer-Dream horse we bought him back to the grooming stalls to untack and then try Kinda Ugly. Kinda Ugly is a misleading name, he had been waiting patiently in the grooming stalls for us to return. Looking back it’s probably the only time he was ever patiently waiting for anything. But his ears were alert and his eyes were bright and curious as he watched us return from the arena. The thing that stood out about him the most though was his head. It was comically oversized for his body, I remember thinking that at any point he would just tip over and face plant. He was as they said 16 hands, dark bay, but his sympathetic ugliness wasn’t true, his head was oversized because his body was less skinny more malnourished. His ribs were visible, his hip bones were prominent, and you could feel and see every vertebrae in his spine starting from his withers to his croup, he wasn’t ugly, he was however sympathetic. Unfortunately we never asked how he got into the shape he was, did he come to the barn that way? How long had he been in this shape? Was there a medical cause for his malnourishment? The only explanation that was ever given was “we can no longer afford to feed him”. Which seemed strange considering how many horses were there and in good shape. But Mom and I did not question it, we were there to see the horse and see if we liked him and report back to the trainer.

I’m not sure what would have happened had I decided that I didn’t feel like he was the horse for me, I’m not sure if we would have just gotten him anyway in order to get him out of the situation. I would like to think we would have, but fortunately I loved kinda ugly at first ride.

MeandPeps2001

The Day it All Changed

If I am to be completely honest, I had planned this blog back in early 2016 because I was between jobs and bored. Keyboards & Hoofbeats, I planned to write about the adventures of my horse and I. Or rather that was the plan, it came to a halt when I couldn’t decide what to write about. I guess I could have blogged about what a pain trying to get rid of Scratches (aka Mud Fever) on my horse’s back legs were, about tack care, and even about taking care of a senior horse and the adjustment in expectations. I wondered about being 100% open and honest about my weight, did I want to be vulnerable to whoever may read about the shame I felt being a larger rider? How embarrassed I felt riding with my tall boots half way zipped because I couldn’t get them up all the way. I was unsure of how I would do that, how I would be that open because while the Internet can be wonderfully supportive, it can also be incredibly cruel. So I procrastinated, then I got a job, and then the excuses happened. I didn’t have time to blog, I wanted to but I had too much to do. In reality I did I was just scared and unsure to post anything. So time passed and suddenly it was 2018 and I was one month way from turning 32, and I made myself promise I would take this blog seriously. I would commit to it, no more excuses.

Then May 7th 2018 happened. It was a Monday and was like most Mondays I was at my work. I got the call when I was at lunch. It was the owner of the barn my horse was boarded at. I had excused myself from my coworkers and answered, its the worse news a horse owner can hear. Pepsi was laying down and they couldn’t get him up. She asked if I could come out and if I wanted them to call the vet. I said yes and I would be out there soon. There was a moment I wondered if I really needed to be out there. A tiny fraction of a moment where I didn’t want to leave my work, I would be going on vacation for my birthday and I didn’t have much PTO left. However the moment passed and I informed my manager and headed straight to the barn, convinced Pepsi would be fine. The owner thought that he was either Choking or he had Colic, but they weren’t sure.

Some background on Pepsi is that I have been extremely lucky with him. He’s never Colic and at 28 years old it was extremely lucky. I drove out thinking of all the possibilities. But I convinced myself he would be fine, I’d get out there and he would be his usual self. See the thing with Pepsi is that he never acted his age. People were always surprised when they found out, he was full of energy and life. My family and friends had always joked that he would be a round long after us, watch out Guinness world record Pepsi was coming for you. I think I believed it. I had believed Pepsi would be with me until he was in his 30s maybe even 40s. Instead he didn’t even make it to his 30th birthday.

I arrived at the barn and the owner met me, they had gotten him up and given him a shot of Banamine with permission of the vet. He seemed better,  he wasn’t trying to lay down. The Vet was on another emergency call and would come right out as soon as she finished. Pepsi was standing there every now and then try to walk forward. I took the lead rope from the groom and the owner let me know they would be right over in the main barn. To call if I needed anything and we were just going to wait for the Vet. Pepsi walked around a little before standing quietly and groaning every now and then. I would rub his forehead and noted all the little scratches he had gotten from when he was laying down. He was muddy from the ground and I thought after the vet I would give him a good brush and hang out with him, I would put wound dressing on all his little scratches and I would be with him for the rest of the afternoon. I definitely didn’t take into consideration the seriousness of what was happening. I took my cellphone out and texted my best friend who was on vacation and let her know what was going on. We were chatting via text and I was explaining the situation and outcomes to her when I felt him nudge my hand with his muzzle. I turned to him and apologized and told him we would get him all better.

If I only knew this wouldn’t happened. It was a little moment, that I have thought about over and over in the weeks that followed. I wonder if that little nudge was him telling me to pay attention to him because our time was running out. That our time was almost up and he knew it, so put the phone away and be with him. I take comfort in that I did turn to him, rubbed his white star on his forehead before running my fingers through is forelock but it wasn’t long after I responded back to another text. I was just waiting for the vet, convinced that she would make him better and we would get through this. When the vet got out she got right to work, after an exam she told me one of the things she was concerned about.

Strangulation Lipoma, something I had never heard about. Here is an excerpt about this:

Strangulating lipomas: One of the more common obstructions we see, especially in older horses, is something called a strangulating lipoma.  A “lipoma” is a benign fatty tumor that develops within the mesentery.  (We call it “benign” because it’s a tumor that does not metastasize to other parts of the body.  But that doesn’t make it less serious.)  Lipomas typically hang from a stalk, which makes them a ticking time bomb for colic – at some point in the horse’s life it can wrap itself around the small intestine, cutting off the blood supply and causing sudden, extreme signs of pain. 

Other sites talk more in detail, and my vet spoke in detail about her thoughts and concern with Pepsi.  This tumor is usually only found in older horses and could only be corrected with surgery. With him being 28, she did not foresee him surviving the surgery. But she wanted to tube him and go from there. This was just her suspicion. If you are unfamiliar with horses and colic, here’s a thing to remember Colic is a general term for abdominal pain in horses. The cause of that pain could be several different conditions. Tubing is where the vet will insert a long tube into the horse’s nostril and down the esophagus to the stomach, this will all the vet to administer fluids straight into the stomach. When my vet did this to Pepsi the amount of stomach contents that came out was startling, I could tell by her face that this was concerning. Honestly felt like it would never end and sure enough when if finally did quit there was a pool of what looked like half digest hay and grains. My vet smiled sadly and said told me that the average horse’s stomach could hold 12 liters, we had easily surpassed that.

I don’t remember much after that, the owner of the barn asked some questions on my behalf. What is the prognosis? What is our next steps? How long until he’ll be in pain again? Questions that I should have been asking but just couldn’t. The only thing I knew for sure is I had a choice, we could load him up take him to the hospital to perform an ultrasound to confirm the Vet’s diagnosis of Strangulation Lipomas or we say goodbye here at home during the small window where he wasn’t in pain.