I was seventeen, madly in love with Bobby, a Hotchkiss Prep School hunk. When he invited me to accompany him to see Mourning Becomes Electra in Stratford, Connecticut, I immediately accepted. I had never heard of the play, but was enthralled that I would be next to (gasp!) Bobby, my true love, for many hours. Well, Bobby has long since come and gone, but not the impact of Mourning Becomes Electra.
I sat through the performance, riveted, in complete identification with the contempt of the children for their parents. That is, until the play’s final scene….I watched its entirety, aghast, with mouth wide open, feeling as if I had been bludgeoned by a sledgehammer. Though utterly incomprehensible to me, I recognized that something mind-altering had been delivered, but I was unable to use it at that time in my young, self-involved psychology.
Not so my soul, which knew it to be the key to a lock I needed to open within my psyche. Fortunately, this priceless key was encapsulated in story form, like a secret code, until I happened upon the tools necessary to unlock the lock. What I experienced in Stratford has been succinctly stated in an Alice Walker interview about her work:
“Storytelling, you know, has a real function. The process of the storytelling is itself a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning to them. They’re taking the time to do this because your life could use some help, but they don’t want to come over and just give advice. They want to give it to you in a form that becomes inseparable from your whole self. That’s what stories do. Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you.”
Mourning Becomes Electra’s story had been woven into the very fabric of my soul, until I would be and could be healed —
Now that’s truly a work in progress….
As a young girl, it was my grandfather, an artist-adventurer, barrel-chested like a grizzly, who escalated my story telling bar to skyward.
Summers, cousins and siblings, five of us in all, were shipped off to fifty acres of Eden for a month. Each night, Grammy would hear our prayers in a bedroom wallpapered with jaunty yellow tulips with real lips before bidding us a cheery “good night” in a voice that rang like bells.
Now it was Grampy’s turn. He would settle himself comfortably on one of our beds and begin. He never told us the same story twice. One of my favorites might have been titled, “How I Lost my Eye in the Beer Bottling Factory in Munich”. When pressed as to why they didn’t just put the eye back into his socket, he slyly confided, “because they never found it”.
I always wondered how that bottle of beer tasted.
Recently, we were in Costa Rica for three months, splitting our stay among three houses. Our second bundalow was in Solyluna, midway between Montezuma and Cabuya, a verdancy of cashew trees and bamboo to support an exotica of creatures. Howler monkeys along with the white-faced monkeys demanded attention with their vocalizations, but there were sweet coatis, iguanas, and raccoons running about the grounds. Blue butterflies darted, like pieces of sky falling to the earth. Flowers bloomed everywhere. I could lie in a hammock and meditate upon it all. It was beyond lovely.
One day, walking to the beach, I spotted a white horse, solitary in a field that was growing drier by the day. I saw him again the next day. He was very thin and very alone. I began to worry about him. Howler monkeys along with the white-faced monkeys demanded attention with their vocalizations, but there were sweet coatis, iguanas, and raccoons running about the grounds. Blue butterflies darted, like pieces of sky falling to the earth. Flowers bloomed everywhere. I could lie in a hammock and meditate upon it all. It was beyond lovely.
That Saturday, MT and I went to the organic market in Montezuma, a happening of local artists in the very small community. I spotted a bag of carrots. “For my horse,” I thought, and hoped they were sweet. When checking out, I said to the man, “these are for my horse”.
“Organic carrots for a horse,” he chided me. My difficult nature caused me to add, “the apples, too.” He shook his head, baffled at the extravagance for a horse.
“Here, they eat bananas,” he said.
“Not my horse,” I did not have the nerve to say it aloud for I never owned a horse. I said it to my self.
Now began the coaxing of the horse to come for my treats. I don’t whistle well. No, that’s an understatement. I do not whistle at all. I clucked, I clapped. No response, of course. I was discouraged, and crunched on one of the apples to solace the disappointment in my soul.
That night, after a sunset stroll to loll about the sky’s warmth, I saw the horse again, quite close to the fence. HURRAH! I raced and returned with my carrots and apples, standing in powdery dust, scrapeded by barbed wire, clucking and clapping like a mad woman. The horse raised his head at the ruckus, decided I was no threat, and then buried his head and snout in what looked to be thistles. I took a bite of the apple, and crunched on it noisily.
When my mother was dying of cancer, and she would not eat anything, I would sit close almost on top of her, eating a sandwich made with honeyed ham, condimented perfectly for her palate and “mmmmmed” happily. Mom would watch me, and then decide to try “just one bite”. How my heart brimmed when she would eat the entire half, and then ask for another. I hoped the same trick would work for the horse.
He raised his head again to look at me. His nostrils tightened and then flared. He had smelled the apple. He approached me tentatively. He got bigger. His teeth got larger. I did not know this horse. I tried not to be afraid. After all, I had started all this. I extended my hand with a piece of apple. I hoped he would not bite me. With great gentility, he nibbled it up. Triumph!
So for my next month, twice a day, I went and fed my horse.
It was not easy to find him in his large field, and he was not used to my routine. But he got fed at least once a day. Finally he knew I would come, and I would catch him watching for me, and at first, just for my carrots. But as the days passed, I felt his heart unite with mine. He still was tentative about my petting him, and I wondered what traumas his sweet spirit had suffered.
When we moved to our next house, about a mile away, I would rise with the dawn and half-trot, half walk in the early coolness on the dusty road, marveling at my incredible life, my knapsack heavily loaded with carrots and apples. Now, the horse not only looked for me, he would gallop with glad at my approach. I worried about what would happen to him when we would leave and return to the U.S. I began to talk to everyone about ‘my’ horse and what to do about him.
Vampire bats had found him and fed on him at night. I was appalled to see lines of blood running down his body and flanks; ticks were thirty rounded monstrosities of distended tissue in his ears. I talked to more people about my horse. My new landlady, Claudia, horse lover, promised to speak to the owner and get him moved close to another horse for company. And to get those ticks out of his ears.
As a last resort, I even urged the local ruffian to kidnap the horse. Though a ruffian, he had a heart of gold, and in his keeping, I knew the horse would be in better hands than just abandoned in the field with no love, no care, no food. As a homeless person, he knew about all of that.
It was time for me to go, and I left, with an inconsolable heart of worry. I emailed everyone for a report on my horse. Patricia and Simon, the owners of Solyluna, reported that whenever the gate opened, my horse would rush toward the passerby. Of course, they had to buy huge bags of carrots to feed the horse. they assured me that it was only in self-defense, but this is what many people do when they live in that part of the world. They become its caretakers. To one of my emails, they told me my horse had vanished. They knew not where. No one else did either.
In two weeks, I am returning for Costa Rica. I have been waking up thinking of my horse. I am going to find him. And I am going to feed him lots of organic carrots!
I have decided to call him Pegasus.
Isn’t he a beauty???