A Short Story

Do You Remember Your Last Ride?

By Jana Rawling

You asked me to meet you early to ride. It had been awhile, so I agreed. I was feeling strong in the saddle and hoped for some fun; maybe I could finally get my big gelding to canter on the right lead — the first time I asked. I had a strange feeling on the way to the ranch. It persisted, so I pulled my car over and prayed.

You were already there when I arrived, but I was not going to apologize. You got uncomfortable when I spoke about spiritual things. We tacked up and sauntered around the arena once before you said you were ready to go out on a trail. It caught me by surprise because you had not been off the ranch consistently for some time. You always sought safety in the arena.

I shrugged off your new found boldness remembering the unexpected riding lesson you had the day before. You had survived a very lively crowd of people, horses playing in the turnout, the occasional crack of a whip, and even my three-year-old son climbing in a tree next to the rail. I was so impressed.

It was a cool May morning, somewhat overcast, and very quiet, at first. We headed out casually on your favorite short loop. Suddenly, it seemed that every yard had a dog, and every dog was barking. Our horses started to nervously jiggy-jog. I expected it from yours, but my gentle giant began to toss his head and rear a bit, which was not normal.

We made our way past the famed doggy-gauntlet to find the trail blocked by a truck. We had no choice but go back the way we came. My mind exchanged “feeling strong in the saddle” with “I hope my horse does not lose it.” Once we were clear, we stopped for a good five-minutes to allow the wild things we were on to settle down while we chitchatted (I cannot remember what we talked about.). We were only 100 yards from the ranch entrance. We did not know that the next few feet would change our lives forever.

Our cue to move on was the comforting presentation of low-hanging heads, and drooping eyelids on our previously shaken twosome. You led the way toward home, and as your horse stepped off the curb to cross the street, a dog in the yard behind us barked loudly. Both horses lost it. Yours paddled her way across the street, slipping and sliding. When the she caught her footing, she bolted.

I watched helplessly from the back of my bucking and rearing mount as you and your mare disconnected in slow motion. Each time a hoof hit the asphalt you bounced violently out of your seat. A buck tossed you forward onto your mare’s neck. Your arms and legs wrapped around tightly. You held on for what seemed like forever, and then you just let go. Your body went limp before you hit the ground. You bounced with a strange thud and slid about five feet. You did not move.

You never got up. You did not answer me when I called your name. You did not tell me you were all right. I caught sight of your horse’s flailing hooves turn into the driveway of the ranch, while I was trying to keep my horse from following yours. I finally jumped off and dragged my horse toward you.

I think time stopped. As I got closer and closer to you, a surreal feeling came over me. I could see that your lips and chin were turning blue, your blank eyes fixed and dilated, blood slowly escaped from the back of your head, then the corner of your mouth, and then your nose. You were dead. I was in shock.

I stood over you forever it seemed when anger welled-up inside of me. I began yelling at you to breathe in Jesus’ Name. There was no way you were going to die like that. I was not going to let it happen — it just could not happen! “Lord, no! No!” I screamed repeatedly, or maybe it was just in my head. The next moments were a blur of cars, people, sirens, questions, people pumping your chest, and the haunting sound of gurgling as your lungs occasionally searched for breath. Thank God, I had my cell. Thank God, a nurse and an EMT in training happened to show up before the ambulance got there. Thank God, your eyes fell shut.

The first responders took you to the hospital in a helicopter. Your husband was out of reach for hours, and a Fire Captain (I think) told me to find him, tell him to get to the hospital, but spare him any details. I got there as fast as I could and gave consent to an emergency surgical procedure to relieve pressure in your brain. The neurosurgeon on-call said that the skull fracture was the least of his worries, and it would be a miracle if you lived the next 24-hours. To that I thought, “Well, I know God, He’s my Father, I’ll ask.”

I went outside to be alone to pray, and knew without doubt that God was telling me that He would take it from here. The neurologist informed us that you had a mild heart attack, your brain went without oxygen for a long time, and you would not recover normal brain function. Your husband needed to make the decision to let you go. He could not do that. As he and I sat over your body, trying to make sense of what was happening; he told me he did not want me to pray for you. He said he was Catholic and he did not believe in my Christian Jesus miracle healing prayers.

The only thing worse than watching you lay precariously clinging to life, or waiting for you to come out of a coma for weeks, was watching your mother and sister try to come to terms with what had happened. Hopelessness, desperation, and despair covered their faces and distorted their voices. I could feel the searing pain of each tear, and the heartbreaking burden of each “why?” I held tight to the strength and peace that always came over me when I was with them – I leaned on my faith in Jesus. When I was alone, I could not stop crying.

You eventually opened your eyes. You tried to get out of bed and sometimes I thought you were trying to speak, but I did not feel that you were there. I talked my husband into distracting yours so I could pray with you anyway. Do you remember?

I told you all about Jesus. How Father God sent His only Son to become a man, to endure crucifixion, to save us from our sin, and to bring us His Holy Spirit. I told you that you only needed to ask Him to be your Lord and Savior, and you would go to heaven. You were staring at me with a light in your eyes I had never seen, listening, nodding your head, and grasping my hand. I got the feeling you knew more about it than I did.

I left wondering what you and Jesus talked about, and if He asked to meet you for an early ride.