Sunday, July 29, 2012

Personal Story: Altars of Sacrifice

By Amy Hudock
Originally published in A Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers

I can’t sleep. Again.

I sit on my upper front porch, door open so that I can hear if my daughter wakes up and calls for me from her room. In the pasture across the street, horses graze in the moonlight. I hear their soft snorts as they move lazily along the fence, heads down, jaws grinding.

I remember taking my sleeping bag to the barn when I was child and hearing the same soothing noises as I drifted off to sleep in the hay. Once, I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. My pony, Rainyday, was not at all surprised when I gave him a midnight snack and climbed on his back. As I lay back on his haunches, his slow rolling walk rocked me back toward sleep. Part of me wants to go to the horses now and let them help me end this sleeplessness, this anxious being alone in the dark.

I picked this house over other similar ones because of the horses. I love sitting here watching them, spotting them out the front windows as I do my chores around the house, and knowing they’ll be here when I return from work. They make my new house feel like home.
I have not, however, gone over to ride any of them.

I have become so much of an observer and so little of a participant that I didn’t even think of going over there for the first few months my daughter and I lived in the house. Then I met one of the grandfatherly owners as he was checking the fence, and I got an invitation to ride. “Come on over any time, sweetheart,” he said with a slow smile. But more months have gone by, and I am still sitting on the porch—watching. Like the offers I get for dates, the invitation goes unanswered, unquestioned, unrecognized.

What’s my problem? I think it may have some thing to do with the precarious balance I maintain between all those who need my care—my mother, my daughter, and myself. If I cross the street and go to the barn, I could start to care for one of those horses. If I accepted one of those dates, I could add to my life yet another person who needs my attention and love. Either move just might upset my balance. I have so little left to give. Being a single woman of the sandwich generation—mothering a young child and caring for my ill mother—has taken its toll. Fighting legal battles with my ex-husband has grated me down in size. I feel so used up, worn out, and empty that I could easily lose myself in the otherness. I move through the world step by hesitant step—a deer entering an open field.

I would think that the pleasure I would gain from riding would overcome any fear, A friend asked me, “You give so much to everyone else. Who gives to you?” I shrugged and went on. The answer too obvious to bother saying was “no one.” Yet, a good horse loves unconditionally—gives wholeheartedly—and could be a “someone” to give to me. And by going riding, I would be doing one thing only for myself, benefiting no one but me. Or a date might introduce a man into my life who could make me laugh and perhaps help me to forget, for a time, the hunted feeling that nighttime brings. That might help me feel less used up. That might help me sleep at night. Yet, here I sit.

After more than two years of caring solo for both my young child and my cancer-battling mother, after more than two years of fighting my ex-husband in court, I have grown to expect crisis. I live with a sense of impending doom, a feeling that some thing dark and awful lurks nearby. I am not being paranoid. Something often has been. My mother endured a series of medical emergencies, including a bowel obstruction that almost killed her. My ex husband mounted surprise legal attacks that sent me to my knees in fear, And my father (long divorced from my mother) suddenly went into treatment for lung cancer, to remove the tumors stopping his breath.

These reflections of the chaos of the universe keep me hovering close to home, trying through my caring efforts to build up a levee of protection around my family—thinking, somehow, if I am just vigilant enough, I can keep the rising water out.

When I think that isn’t working, I take it a step farther. Reverting to the ancient traditions of offering blood sacrifice in exchange for the favor of the gods, I offer myself on the altar. If I play by the rules, if I give up enough, if I do everything in the proper order, then I will be rewarded. I think, somehow, that I can change fate through my actions—or inaction. The good Catholic girl that I once was imagines that if I sacrifice enough, my family will be safe. Simply riding a horse or going on a date seems like too much of a risk.

But those aren’t good-enough excuses anymore. My mother is better—cancer free and living on her own. The court case has settled in my favor. My father’s surgery was a success, and he, too, is now cancer free. I should be able to sleep now. But here I am. Sitting on this porch. Still.

Maybe I haven’t been ready, and I needed the time to sit and watch, But the fact that I am even wondering about why I am still sitting here suggests that I am no longer content being an observer. I need to dust off my saddle and find my boots.

Jumping a horse is the closest thing to flying I have ever known. Perhaps if I remember how to fly, I will remember how to sleep—and once I’m able to sleep again, maybe I can allow myself to dream.
I get up off the rocking chair, leave the porch, and rummage though my pocket book. There it is: the riding instructor’s card. I set it next to the phone. As the sun gains strength in the sky and the neighborhood wakes up around me, I make the call.

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