Belle and I got back from our week-long, kid-free adventure in the wild(ish) west on Sunday. All in all, it was a good trip and probably the longest continuous time we’ve spent nearly exclusively in one another’s company in the entire time we’ve been married. Just us, in a car or a room or hiking around all week long. It was really nice. Mostly.
On Thursday, we headed out on a half-day horse ride. The place we were staying has a handful of wranglers on staff and a coral full of horses and Belle had been looking forward to going out on a ride for weeks prior to us getting there. Every night, they’d let the horses out of their corral so they could run around and head into the bigger paddock for the night and Belle would go on about how pretty they were, etc. What is it about chicks and horses, anyway?
While my last update from the road indicated I was locked up, she did let me out prior to riding since there’s a lot of things one can do in a chastity device, but sitting in a saddle with your legs splayed open wide probably isn’t one of them. Also, I dressed up like a cowboy (all I was missing was the nice big belt buckle) and that kind of turned her on. I suspected and hoped she’d want the penis later that night.
Turns out, it was just us and one wrangler. The wrangler was a young woman, maybe 23 or so. It was her first season being a wrangler but she’d been around horses most of her life. We set out about 1:30 and headed off into the woods. I was on a big brown gelding and Belle was on a slightly smaller though still big blonde-colored filly. The weather was unseasonably cool and overcast pretty much the whole week and that day was no exception. We got rained on for about a half hour near the start of the ride and then again at the end.
We meandered through the hills along narrow trails and few forest roads. Never saw another person or animal. The fields were filled with different colorful wildflowers and the trees smelled fresh and piney after the rain fell. In the distance, giant craggy mountains rose up, some still with snow. Up until the very end, it was a really nice time, rain and all.
We stopped a gate that marked the end of the ride but the wrangler couldn’t get it open. It was one of those back-country gates that was just barbed wire and a few sticks and it looped around a post. She tried several times but, perhaps because of the all the rain causing the wood to swell, it wouldn’t budge. She didn’t have gloves and wouldn’t take my help (probably because I’d have had to get back up on the horse after), so we took “the back way.” That was maybe 10-15 more minutes of riding and led to the back of the barn and coral area. We could see the ranch house from there.
The wrangler’s horse was up front, then me, then Belle. She went down a little hill on the path towards the gate, my horse followed, and Belle’s horse went into a tree. For whatever reason, instead of going left down the trail, it when right and through the thick branches of the pine tree there. The wrangler said, “Well, that was rude,” so I turned around to see what was going on.
Belle was coming out of the tree as I first turned, but was leaning way out over the right side of the saddle. The branches had been too dense for her to stay on right and was basically pushed out of place by the tree. I assume her awkward position freaked the horse out so it started to act up and whinny. That made my horse nervous and I had to turn my attention back to it but not before I saw Belle’s horse buck her up and out of the saddle. My last image of her was suspended high in the air next to the horse. All this happened very quickly, of course.
I reigned in my horse the best I could and looked back. Belle was laying face down on the ground, left arm sticking straight out from her body, totally motionless. The Wrangler and I both called out to her, but she didn’t respond.
I’ll say right now, Belle’s fine. More or less. Nothing serious, nothing broken, nothing permanently wrong. But I didn’t know that then. I recall a cold wave wash down from the top of my head to the back of my legs. Time seemed to decompress and the motion of the wrangler dismounting and going to Belle happened in slow motion. A mass of things crammed into my brain all at the same time.
Was she dead?
Was she paralyzed?
How will I tell the kids?
What will the call to her parents be like?
Why won’t she move?
And even, Our dinner plans are pretty much shot now.
It was all that, but mostly I felt the need to be with her. To go to her. My horse was still freaking out and taking me away from Belle along with the other two and I struggled to keep it steady while focusing my attention on Belle’s still motionless figure and the wrangler girl kneeling next to her. She told me not to dismount but the longer this went on and the longer there was no sign of life from Belle and the farther away the horse was taking me, the less inclined I was to follow her advice. I started to sit up in the stirrups and the horse jumped so I sat back down. All I could do was look back at the huddled shape of my wife in the mud and the near-child of a person with her as the horse sidled away from the scene.
Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes but was more like 15 seconds, I heard Belle moan. Then she yelled out a string of words that didn’t make sense to me, but one of them was definitely “water.” My heart started beating again, but I was still very worried about a spinal injury. The wrangler was getting Belle to respond to questions (“Are you hurt?” etc.) and I told her to tell Belle to mover her fingers and toes. She did this and then the wrangler turned her over.
At that point, I figured the two worst possibilities were off the table and I was able to focus more on the situation. I could move again. I decided I had had enough of my fucking horse, pulled back on its reigns, and dismounted as cleanly as possible. It was a longer drop than I was expecting, but at least he didn’t fuck around as I did it. I started to walk over to where Belle was and the horses all galloped off.
I saw that her pupils weren’t dilated, she knew who I was and seemed pretty cognizant of where she was. She could even remember her Social Security number. The wrangler’s shitty Walmart radio wasn’t getting through to the barn or ranch house, event though they were only about 100 yards away. She took off and left me with Belle, who was sitting up but woozy. I held her hands and looked at her and fought back the first of many moments of realization as to what almost just happened. I still needed to keep my shit together.
I don’t remember exactly what we talked about sitting there alone in the mud. I bitched about the radios and she sort of smiled and told me it would be all right. I kept asking her how she felt and she said fine, though she was getting a really nasty knot on the right side of her head and had an angry red swelling setting up over the bridge of her nose. I thought for sure her nose was going to be broken seeing as she basically landed, according to the wrangler who saw the whole thing, on the side of her head and face.
Eventually, the wrangler came back with the ranch’s first aid person and some cold packs. About 45 minutes later, the EMTs showed up. That’s about the time Belle can start to remember stuff. She remembers the tree, but not coming off and nothing until the EMT was asking her to follow his fingers with her eyes. When he was done with his examination, he started talking about our “options” and I was thinking, “We have exactly one option: You put her in that ambulance and take her to the fucking hospital,” but before I had to express my feelings on the subject, he talked himself into taking her in.
Just before they lifted her into the ambulance, I gave her a kiss on the forehead and nearly lost my shit again. A ranch hand rode me over to our cabin on an ATV so I could get out of my wet muddy clothes and grab some for Belle who had been shivering from shock and cold for at least a half hour and continued to do so for another several hours. In the cabin alone, I came close to falling apart again, but I focused on gathering her stuff. She told me what she wanted but I realized I couldn’t make heads or tails of her clothes in that state so I just shoved a bunch into a bag. I remembered her insurance card, at least.
I got into our car and they still hadn’t left the pasture where the ambulance was. I waited while continuing to do that Lucy and Ethel thing with the candy and the conveyer belt, but with my emotions. I was shoving them in my hat and down my shirt and anywhere else so that I could maintain the ability to drive. It took us an hour to get the hospital and it took another few hours to get the MRI and some pain meds shot into her until we could leave. Instead of the nice meal we had been planning on the ride, we shared McDonald’s drive-thru before driving an hour back to the ranch.
As I said, there’s been no sign of permanent damage anywhere. She shows no symptoms of concussion which I find remarkable. She had really significant pain in her ribs in the days following but a follow-up X-ray showed no fractures. Probably just separation. The ER doc found a bruise on her calf roughly the shape and size of a horse hoof so, in addition to being thrown, she was trampled.
It’s been a week now. A week and a day. The swelling is down on her head and nose but it’s drained down and left her with a nasty-looking black eye and a massive bruise on her neck behind her ear that’s since moved down to her neck along her collar bone. She looks like she was punched in the face while being strangled. The pain in her ribs is getting better, but she’s still at least a week away from being able to go to the gym.
Even though she’s had to deal with all the physical consequences, we both think my experience was much more emotionally traumatic. In the matter of seconds, I went from an enjoyable ride in the wilderness and thinking about that evening’s plans to having to face a life without her. Or with a severely disabled her. I never really lost my shit, though I came really close in the ER at her bedside as the doc talked about all the possibilities they might find in the MRI. For several days, every time I thought of the accident and the vision of her laying in the mud motionless came into my mind, it was all I could do but sigh heavily and grab her hand and wait for the terror to pass me by. It’s really only been in the past few days that the last echo of that is gone.
Of course, I knew before this that Belle’s the most important thing in the whole world to me. She and the kids are all that really matters. They are all that matters. But I never really expected to have to deal with the enormity of what that meant so quickly and from seemingly nowhere. Unfortunately, it’s colored the whole trip for me. I loved being with her and loved our shared experiences, but that one event and afternoon crowds all the other stuff out. Maybe, in time, it’ll move off into the recesses of my mind and the good stuff can come out. Maybe not. Whatever, I still have her. Still in one piece.