Truck Stop

IMG_0002When I bought Daisy, my cute little canned ham camper, I assumed I would go places with her. The mobility is the appeal, right? Then we took Daisy to Bonnaroo and entrusted Man Child behind the wheel. Spousal Unit, Girl Child and I commanded the chase vehicle and gulped audibly as her cute little bum twerked each time a tractor-trailer rigged whizzed past.

I concluded that Daisy was a back roads day-tripper at best. Some day I will get a vintage Airstream, a Daisy sister, I thought. Daisy’s sibling will do the cross-country tours while Daisy keeps the home fires burning, I told myself.

I began truck shopping. I’d need something sturdy to pull Daisy’s sister and while I’m thinking of it, Girl Child has a 1500-pound monster of an equine who needs to get from Point A to Point B quite often. Rather than pay the trainer to haul the equine monster, I would do it myself.

I’m a badass, after all.

However, I am not a wealthy badass and after truck shopping for several months, I knew that never again would I look at a person behind the wheel of a truck with pity, thinking in true southern style, “Bless their hearts. They have to drive that truck because they can’t afford a car.” Instead, I will think, “Hey, can I borrow a twenty?”

In months of shopping, we found one truck in our price range. It was a 2012 Toyota Tundra that had gone through an aftermarket transition that included a six inch lift, rockstar rims, mud tires, a booger-welded exhaust, aftermarket subs and stereo and the coups de foudre, what Man Child fondly refers to as “zombie lights.” This pimped out redneckmobile spoke to my inner West Virginian. I could imagine flipping on the light bar so my daughter could ride after sunset. There was concern we’d get a stream of soccer moms crunching down the gravel drive, mistaking my friend’s farm for the nearby soccer complex. We’d just blast some hip-hop on the stereo and they’d get the message.

I have a lot of ideas. Most of the time, Spousal Unit gives me a look that says, “You’re one decision away from me calling in the men in white coats.” That tells me I should either pull out my old public relations skills and put on some spin, or I should let something lie – at least for a minute or two. Occasionally, he gives me a look with one hand holding his phone and the other holding a bourbon and branch. That tells me I need to just shut the heck up.

Tank the Redneck Tundra went to somebody else. Sometimes I imagine I see the glow of his light strip on the horizon, beckoning, as a lighthouse beckons the weary sailor. I grieve.

And so, truckless, we began the horse show season this past weekend. We hired Girl Child’s trainer, Laura, to trailer the pony, especially since the pony Girl Child was riding belonged to Laura. Girl Child’s own pony needed the weekend off, suffering from a little spot of thrush. She had to withstand the embarrassment of toenail fungus (I know the feels, girl) and stay home from the show. Girl Child would ride Laura’s beast, River Card.

Because this was a horse Girl Child hadn’t ridden in a while, she got up at the crack of dawn the day before the show so Girl Child, Laura the Trainer and River could have some together time. Read that jump big things on a hill in the morning dew. They rode beautifully and we were smug. My fancy Apple watch kept dinging to let me know a News5 Alert about a road incident blocking traffic on I-40 at the Hermitage exit. We would be heading that way after school, but it would be cleared up by then. We remained smug.

I took sweaty Girl Child to school a little late where she received an unexcused tardy note because as we all know equestrians are not athletes and riding is not a sport. When Man Child was in high school and his bowling team missed classes, it was an excused absence. Don’t get me started.

Frustrated from that, I looked down at my phone to see my friend Phyleen had called. She and her Girl Child were going to the same horse show in East Tennessee. I called her back. Her voice was calm, if a little high pitched. Initially, I thought it was her daughter, Claire.

“We’ve been in an accident and are trying to get a hold of Laura to see if she’ll come pick up the horses. We’re on Interstate 40 at the Hermitage exit.”

This is where I could get into too much detail about friends blocking an interstate, with two horses in a trailer that listed to one side because of blown tires and Phyleen’s new SUV most likely totaled. I could get into the heart-in-my-throat moment when I sat in stopped traffic on the interstate knowing that the reason this traffic was stopped was because my friends, MY FRIENDS, had experienced a catastrophic moment where time slowed so much that later each friend could recount with clarity their version of the trailer fishtailing and finally jackknifing.

I wove through the crawling traffic to get to the shoulder. I imagine each person I cut in front of thought, “Who does she think she is?” I know each person who saw me jump out of the car and hug my three friends then thought. “Oh.”

And this is where the story begins.

IMG_0008We all know by now that women are not “the weaker sex.” There is no weaker sex. There is only difference. Women are strong. Women are resilient. Women get things done. Women don’t stand at the side of the road and breathe into a paper bag; nor do they cry inconsolably that this is the first car that was their very own in two decades. They assess the situation. They wipe the air bag dust from their faces and they go check on the horses.

They politely let law enforcement and TDOT workers know that getting the horses OUT of the trailer before another trailer arrives is a bad idea. The horses are okay. The horses are contained. When you’re hanging out on the side of an interstate, it is commonly assumed that contained horses is a good thing.

Women call for backup. They call other women. They get Girl Child’s trainer to pick their horses up off the side of the road. Laura, the trainer, adjusts her schedule and is there within the hour. It wasn’t that long ago that she was on the side of a hill watching her horse and my daughter jump all the things.

I watched this young woman, who has changed my daughter’s life, deftly command her Chevy 3500 dually diesel (and what she calls pig-killin’ machine) and hugh jass gooseneck horse trailer to the side of the road. The men who had been standing by watching the women work (we’re sure that law enforcement and TDOT workers are not allowed to touch civilians’ belongings, so there is no judgment there) became slack jawed as this smallish, fit woman hopped out of her truck. Much like the Grinch, I imagine parts of their bodies shrunk three sizes that day. And I don’t mean their hearts.

My friends continued to transfer items from broken vehicles to the Rescue Vehicle Known as Laura’s Rig. Phyleen removed items from her battered SUV as the guys assessed the damage. “Looks like the frame’s bent.” “Yep.” “That’ll be totaled.” “Yep.” I know that helped Phyleen a lot.

Her daughter Claire, a picture of buoyancy, energy, clarity and hope lugged personal belongings and horse belongings the 75 feet or so between vehicles. Her usual high energy level was exacerbated by adrenaline. She dropped a flip flop. I forgot to tell her I picked it up. It’s in my car. Her trainer Dana, a tiny powerhouse of resolve, knowledge and candor told the police officer, “We need to provide a barrier between the horses and the road before we transfer, but first we need to medicate the horses so they won’t colic.”

Laura and I climbed into the trailer where the horses stood, miraculously unscathed. As I held each horse’s head, Laura smoothly inserted a syringe needle into its jugular, checking for blood to ensure she was in the vein, and then pressed the syringe, injecting medication. It took about five seconds for each horse.

Afterward, I stepped out of the broken trailer and said to the young cop, “If you’re not married, I highly recommend a horse girl. They’re independent and self sufficient as hell.”

He said, “I don’t like horses.”

I said, “You don’t have to like horses. You just have to like the girl who likes horses.”

He pointed out to Laura that one of the tires on the horse trailer was low. “Might wanna get that checked,” he advised. I wondered out loud if perhaps the TDOT emergency response vehicle had an air compressor. He shrugged. I wondered out loud if I should go ask the driver of the emergency response vehicle if he had an air compressor. I began walking toward the emergency response vehicle. “I’ll do that,” he mumbled as he walked away.

Dana reiterated that we needed a barricade between two horses and two gazillion rubbernecking, texting, why-thank-you-I-DO-own-the-road drivers whizzing by. Soaking wet, Dana probably doesn’t weigh as much as my left leg, but a couple of cops and several TDOT workers all said yes ma’am. Dana commands respect.

But then, those nice professional men stood looking at one another. Obviously, this wasn’t going to be one of those situations where women get men to say the idea so that the men think it was theirs, aka southern matriarch. Dana said, “We could put the police car there.”

Crickets.

I finally volunteered. “I’ll put my car there. I need a new car anyway.” When I started to walk toward my car, the police officer repeated what was becoming his mantra.

“I’ll do that.”

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We lined up my car in the front, followed by the police car, followed by the emergency response vehicle, blocking traffic from the shoulder where everything that was important lay. Dana and Claire led the horses out of the broken trailer and into Laura’s. The women were calm; therefore the horses were calm. The women were strong; therefore the horses were strong. The horses were on a trailer going to the horse show; therefore the women climbed into the pig-killin’ Chevy to go to the horse show. Women don’t flutter their hands and change their minds. Women move on.

Phyleen stayed behind with her husband to arrange towing, insurance and the accouterment that accompanies modern day calamities. I climbed back into my trusty old Honda Pilot, knowing that I would pass this spot again later in the day, when Girl Child, Spousal Unit and I drove ourselves to the horse show. When I did pass it and saw pieces of my friend’s car on the side of the highway, the knowledge of what could have been hit me in the chest.

The knowledge of what IS lives in my chest, in my heart and every fiber of my being. From the time we are sharing Twizzlers on the playground to the time we hold a dying friend’s hand, women are there. Women are present. Women are accountable. Sure, we bicker and we act like we’re still in junior high sometimes, but when the rubber meets the road – and especially when it crashes off the road and into a concrete wall – it is our sisters who rise to the occasion.

It is our mothers who first clean our bums and our daughters who do the same as we age. I watched my sisters-in-law and my aunts as their mothers grew less capable of self-care. There is something noble in cleaning the woman who brought you into the world.

Two decades ago, I grabbed Spousal Unit’s hand as I endured hours of a Pitocin-induced labor, but it was my mother and my sister I turned to when the fear, confusion and pain were more than he could ever understand. Coffees, committees and lunches with other moms kept me sane when I was in the trenches of child rearing. There is something about knowing that she struggles also, whether she is a peer, relative or simply a Facebook friend you can’t wait to meet. Knowing she struggles makes your struggle more palatable.

We all ended up safely at the horse show. People rose to the occasion and provided for Claire and Dana what might be missing, whether that was food, beer, a snug place to sleep between two friends’ campers or safety equipment for the ride. Claire ended up getting second place in her division. I hope she doesn’t grow to believe that a car wreck is necessary for a good show.

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We learned a lot this weekend. We learned about the strength of women who can crash into an interstate wall, shake it off and go on. We learned about women who form a barrier to protect their friends by grabbing them and their horses and going on. We learned that healthy competitors are women who hugged them, patted them on the shoulder and with heartfelt knowledge claimed, “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

My Girl Child learned to appreciate her own mess of a horse after Laura’s beast acted beastly during dressage. She also learned the importance of good sportsmanship. Then she learned that sometimes a horse who doesn’t enjoy dressage can soar through a cross country course and teach its rider how her own horse could do that particular thing a little better. She placed ninth out of ten participants and neither of us could be any prouder. She plans on framing her Worst Dressage Score Ever.

I learned more of what I’ve always known. Women are tough. Car wrecks are scary. Horses are unpredictable, as are teenage girls. Friendship is priceless. Life is fragile. Much to Spousal Unit’s delight, I’ve also learned that there is no way in hell I’m ever going to buy a truck to pull a horse trailer. I’m a bad ass but I ain’t as bad as my friends. Daisy is a LOVELY home office.