I used to be a person who was adventurous.
It’s hard to remember that sometimes.
When we arrived at the horse farm, I became the Paula-equivalent of a roly-poly bug curling into itself: I put on warm clothes, plugged my phone into an outlet near reach, and sat on the couch with my knees pulled to my chest.
It was the farthest I’d been from home in more than seven months. Since March, I’ve only filled up my gas tank three times, although that used to be a twice-a-week routine. The most recent time, I pulled into my regular gas station only to realize it had changed brand, the pumps new and shiny, the numbers on the digital display all visible. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. The world went on without me, but all the time I was right here!
A few months ago, back in the early stages of the Year of Our Pandemic 2020, my friends and I wondered how this experience would change us as people. Let me admit: I wasn’t sad to think that handshakes with strangers, let alone hugs from strangers would be gone—those were never my things. If people always stood at least six feet from me in the grocery store, I could probably die happy.
But it didn’t occur to me that I’d be scared to merge onto the freeway. Or that I’d have a (mini) panic attack on a perfectly safe little horse farm just because I wasn’t tucked away in my own home.
Things at the horse farm looked better in daylight—the horror movie sheen had worn off, and all the creepy shadows and sounds became daily life on a working farm. From the kitchen window where I stood sipping coffee, I could see a woman in the paddock in knee-high boots, shoveling horse patties into a wheelbarrow. The dogs—three of them, one possibly an Australian shepherd charged with keeping horses, humans and other animals in line with energetic barking—dashed past the window. Two of them got into a play fight and tumbled over and over each other on the lawn, nipping and howling in faux-protest.
I leashed up LG, and we walked the perimeter of the property, past the stables and the round pen, past the guest house where we were staying and the main house with its Porsches and Audis lined up neatly in the driveway, around the track for show jumping with its brightly colored obstacles, past a pond with some ducks that quacked at our approach, near the chicken coop (with LG tucked into my shirt, so as to prevent her from getting any ideas), through rows of grape vines covered in netting to protect them from birds before the harvest, and finally back to the paddock, where a horse watched us silently from the fence.
Things were looking up.
I could get used to this, I thought.
We drove to Moss Landing and walked onto a state beach that was deserted except for a few surfers, paddled far out into the blue. (LG is okay with sand but wants nothing to do with the sound of crashing waves.) We kept the windows down and let the salt air sting our noses.
At night, we had pizza and beer on the deck with my nephew, who drove up from Monterey. We talked about Covid and cults (highly recommend The Vow, y’all) and various trips we had taken, and at one point the whole sky to the east lit up with fireworks: the Dodgers had won the World Series. Later, we heard coyotes howling—first one from somewhere off beyond the gated entrance, then another answering from the farm next door, where earlier I’d seen a worker gathering what looked like the end of the summer squash from a field.
A mosquito found my neck and perplexingly, the back of my knee encased in my pandemic-tight jeans, and it was time to call it a night.
There was a clunk in the middle of my dream, a sound that seemed close and therefore relevant enough to drag myself back to consciousness. It’s a farm, I reminded myself. There are noises that happen on a farm. And thankfully, it’s not your farm, so none of those noises concern you.
I thought about the things that used to scare me at my grandparents’ farm—the loose floorboards in the hayloft, the squeals of a cow whose head was stuck between bars, the pitchforks and other potential weapons hanging from their pegs on the walls. Nothing there had killed me either.
In the morning, I went into the bathroom and found that the shower door had come off its tracks and was dangling precariously over the chasm of the tub.
Another time, probably but not definitely before the shower door slid off its hinges, Will whispered into the dark: “Do you hear that?”
I hadn’t been hearing anything except my own brain—for once, mercifully quiet—and so I blinked myself awake, concentrating. It was the same howling we heard on the deck the night before, but louder now, as if the coyotes—wolves? is the difference important?—were circling the house.
And still, somehow, I fell back asleep.
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