I WAS A GRAD STUDENT in northwestern Florida in 1990 when a breakup with a girlfriend exiled me and the dogs to a trailer on several acres in the country. Wandering the adjacent Apalachicola National Forest one afternoon, I encountered a lone horseman, Stetson pulled low, .22 snugged in a scabbard, a string of bloody squirrels dangling from his saddle. My yapping mutts craved those rodents, but the rider reined in his mount, wheeled, and scattered the dogs. Then, with a terse nod, he moved on, like a knight of true country can-do. I wanted what he had: competence, confidence, mastery. At least, I thought, I could get myself a horse.
I found a real beautyand cheapa pinto colt with mismatched eyes: one dark, one lunatic blue. I called him Kidd, but from the get-go my equine scion reminded me all too much of myself, the big crybaby. He whinnied for his lost mother all that first day and night, blubbering in the corner of the pasture, and he clung to his resentment as he grew into a half-ton adolescent.
Despite his no-account ways, I made a mount of himbut soon found that galloping a spooky, green horse was an excellent way to break your freaking neck. And he was no fool. He knew my dogs' deal: no work, nobody sitting on them. After a ride during which I was stuffed into a turkey oak, I threw in the towel and let him chase trucks along the fence with the rest of the pack.
Around this time I began to receive sinister phone calls. Some of my students, disgruntled and dark-intentioned, had to be behind them. I was teaching five freshman English classesbadlyand my dissertation was overdue. My life was a mess. Yet I took great comfort in the proximity of the big beast. Hunkered down in my studies, I'd hear the trailer suddenly begin to crackle like a beer can crushed in a fist. But it would just be the Kidd, scratching his ass with my house.
Returning from school one day, I saw the screen door hanging from one hinge and the front door gaping. My God, I thought, they came for me! Vengeful students! Terrible paranoiac fear gripped me, and behind every tree I suspected maleficent laughter being muffled. Everythingeverythinghad been dashed and smashed. Such spite! Broken glass, groceries shredded and busted, my possessions torn, strewn, and stomped. Stomped! The den had been more perfunctorily trashedbut unmistakably signed, as it were. On the shag, a halo of bluebottle flies buzzing above, lay a great steaming pile. Of horse manure.
So much for competence, confidence, and mastery. I found the culprit at the very back corner of the property, dozing the doze of the righteous.