The food is expired. For the second summer in a row, Steve has to drive to our storage space to dig up the air conditioner. Each time he must excavate, he brings home a treasure. After delivering the window unit to Basement Apartment II, he goes back to the car and returns with the mystery box. It clanks and clangs. Cans and jars! Our food! He runs back out to find parking no less than eleven blocks from our apartment. I explore.
Expired. Expired. Expired. Expired. Expired.
Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour, three bags. I had just stocked up before the storm, planning to spend some cooler fall Sundays experimenting with new flavors for my macarons. A month after Sandy, as we emptied cabinets into boxes, we could never have dreamed it would be years before I spent my first Sunday back in my own kitchen. We had just hired a contractor, and we were on our way.
We are still on our way. The small, warm pleasures of home still seem so out of reach that the things I plan to cheer myself, no matter how exciting, still smack of consolation prize.
But seeing the wild horses at Assateague would be different. Wild! Horses! I had been bound for 609 days: physically, in uncomfortable spaces; financially, now and for 30 years into the future; and emotionally, very emotionally, every day as the outcome and timespan of this Sandy-spurred journey is decided by everyone but my husband and I, according to rules and whims we have no access to or control over.
So little control, so little consolation for a Type A like myself. Also tricky for a freedom-loving Type D such as Steve. Indeed, this post-storm slog seems the ideal slow torture for anyone who has ever believed him/herself to be self-sufficient or independent. But wild horses? Running where they may, all spirit and body, aspects of life last lived 610 days ago? I would go. I would commune with these creatures and reconnect with myself—the parts I had packed away in November 2012 along with our books, bathing suits, almond flour, and the wooden pasta spoon I brought back from Gaiole, Italy that I keep hoping to uncover inside every mystery box Steve brings back.
Wild horses do not feel the need for large spoons from small cities in Chianti country. So I would spot a mare, high on a dune, rearing mightily and whinnying with abandon and I would know it and I’d feel it and I’d say it:
I’ll have what she’s having.
At the Visitor Center, the Information guy looks young. He looks new. I worry that he doesn’t know. He spreads a map on the counter for me, leans in and scans it upside down. I slide my finger over it in random searching circles. “Show me the horses,” I blurt. “I have mere hours and I have to see the horses! It’s, like, life or death.”
“Yes ma’am, no problem, horses are everywhere.”
This echoes like a promise, a fortune.
I could visit both beaches, apparently teeming with horses, as well as walk all three horse-infested trails in just a few short hours. I set out, satisfied, glorying in my self-travel. My happy eyes had escaped the slow torturous needle-poking of shades-of-grout choosing and pained perusal of the new government 6100 Scope of Work spreadsheets; here they would gaze upon wild horses in a fairy tale marshland.
Never mind that on the ride here, as I attempted to readjust on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to take in (I kid you not—look it up) one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the World, my phone was blown up with news of a problem transferring cable from the former tenant upstairs and us, or possibly between the former upstairs tenant and the new upstairs tenant, IN A HOUSE WHERE I AM RENTING WHEN I OWN MY OWN HOUSE.
(Oh, did I report here that NY Rising had started paying my rent? Or my mortgage? Whichever, they can’t decide? Well they stopped. Inexplicably. After a month.)
Message: You may be on a bridge, but you are still in a box.
Reaction: an eyes-bulging, tongue-protruding rage for 4/5 of the five-mile span.
Result: Massive human feat goes largely unappreciated. Mild gratitude that my lane neighbors were likely too enchanted with one of the most magnificent sights of the modern world to observe the production of a series of hideous contortions inside one Mini Cooper.
I’d recovered to take in the last mile and drive on down Route 50, a wonderful mind trick of a road that melds Iowa with Massachusetts and drops it just south of the Mason Dixon line. At the end of it, Information Guy had sworn his blood promise and now, sure enough, just beyond the park entrance, I spot a little gathering of the magical creatures up the road. But I’ve been warned not to stop roadside so I obediently continue on, knowing the park is positively overrun with wild horses for me to connect with at every level. I can wait. I can wait and wait and wait. My garbanzo beans might have expired while I waited but wild horses have been roaming this island for 300 years.
The first trail I visit takes me to a vista that is so obviously missing wild horses there may as well be horse-shaped cutouts in the scene.
Hm. Wonder where all the horses are?
At the end of my second go-round I behold a canvas on which horses are about to be painted any minute, in broad, bold strokes.
Any minute now.
After treading and retreading trails throughout the park, I hear heat may be a factor. So I return to the one that features a series of refreshing water holes, an open invitation to horses.
Ah, but they have a prior engagement.
Oh, I know what. There is a freaking hay party in another part of town.
Someone said Assateague horses, remember yourselves. You are not truly wild but feral, meaning your ancestors were domesticated, and thusly you ought to be nibbling hay. Wake to your true natures today, in the very hour this desperate lady from up the coast completes her 250 mile journey to find hope and inspiration in you. Come on down to the farm and munch hay, today.
And they did. They went to munch hay.
I mask my desperation and casually ask fellow horse seekers, whole families who have surely come from fully functioning houses they are paying for to some reward:
Have you seen a horse?
Oh my God, yes! Just a minute ago one came out of the water right here! I mean, right before you walked up! We all saw it! Shaking its mane in the sunlight! Oh, it was just phenomenal! Stay in this spot and you’re sure to see one.
A horseless half hour later I return to the forest trail.
Seen any horses?
Have I seen a horse!? Uh, yea-ah! Only with an eee-gret ya know!
With an egret. You saw a horse, like, frolicking with an egret.
Well you must be special.
Twenty minutes later I am sent racing by yet another apparent horse whisperer down to the south beach, where a stallion is rumored to be standing atop a dune like a magnificent statue.
No. No he is not.
Returning to the quietest trail, I hope against all hope. In fact, I beg. Really, world? Is it really such a big challenge to show me a horse on an island for horses?
I take one trail to an abandoned beach.
I walk along the shore for half a mile, gazing into horse-friendly flora. Pleading with nonexistent horses. I lost my home and all my food expired and now here goes my hope. Helping me out here could be so easy, even pleasant. I mean, just refresh yourselves in the water as you will. Simply scavenge for food like you do every minute of your lives. I’ll just be here, quiet and admiring, up the beach, unobtrusively having my life changed.
Oh and Mom, thanks for the flower. What I wouldn’t do normally for a daisy sign from beyond. And thank you for those wishpuffs you sent sailing across the road before. They were especially mind-blowing in Italy when I needed them but what I am looking for now, in case you hadn’t heard, is a wild horse (oh, and the pasta spoon would be cool).
World, I’m over the consolation prizes. At the end of this game show, I wasn’t even going home with a tricycle. Oh, wait, I forgot: I can’t go home. I can’t at all.
Fully engulfed in sorrow, I send a text to my friend Allison, who magically manifests all manner of things. I beg her. I beg my mother again. I apologize for being sarcastic. It’s been a rough two years.
Then I start reframing the thing in my mind. The whole reframing game. Maybe I could look at it this way…or that way…this will be a funny story one day….there is a lesson here….I can make this whole experience into a positive…
I pass the cursed beaches and the trails that had failed me.
No. They gave me something. Reframe. Change your mind.
Now here’s traffic, a traffic jam? Near the park exit? Ah, come on, I can’t even leave this place? Or—no, I could see this as a good thing.
Horses. Horses! HORSES!!!! This way! Come up the road this way! This way! This way!
It was like bowling; my hand was waving them. Veer to the right…a little more…a little more. That always worked, didn’t it?
Move along, cars! You got your fill! You have houses to get to, don’t you? Go on home. Before they run back into the woods! Wait—they’re running back into the woods! Wait!
I’M THE ONE ALLISON SENT YOU FOR! I’M THE ONE THAT HEAVEN LADY TOLD YOU ABOUT.
One turns toward me, toward ME, me specifically in my Mini Cooper, and trots magnificently up the road in my direction on hooves adorned with billowing bursts of horsehair, followed by his multi-colored, thick-maned companions. The first passes, a tower in full trot, briefly blotting out the sun but not before presenting as almost absurdly majestic for this photo.
With every hoof-fall the bubble of bad air inside me deflates until I am breathing. And sobbing. And blubbering thank you, thank you, oh thank you. Fortunately people are again too enchanted with one of the greatest sights in the western world to give my histrionics a second thought.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Mom, thank you Allison, thank you horses. I’M SORRY I EVER STOPPED BELIEVING.
I have horses. I have hope. I can go home now.