Every year for my birthday, my grandma’s town throws me a parade and a rodeo. For some inexplicable reason, they continue to call it “The Annual Adams County Fair and Rodeo,” but it’s always on my birthday so obviously it is in celebration of me.
As the entire weekend is centered around my birth and subsequent awesome life, it’s pretty high on my priority list to attend at least the parade and rodeo, if not the fair (where they jack up all the prices for games, even for the Birthday Girl whose name they don’t even remember even though I tell them every year.) But there was one time when I started to reconsider the importance of this weekend, despite its altruistic intentions to glorify me.
I love country music. I love big front porches with swings on them. I love lemonade.
But I hate horses.
You see, every year at the rodeo, a local organization raffles off a new colt. (That’s a baby horse, for you city slickers.)
My aunt, uncle, and cousins own many horses (and ride them, because apparently horses aren’t just decorations for the pasture), and my uncle likes to buy a raffle ticket, just in case they can get lucky. I should mention that my aunt isn’t ever very happy about this.
When I was 9, I was incredibly stupid and decided to check out the “cute” baby horse with my uncle.
Horses are not cute, y’all. They have huge teeth that should, in all honesty, be capable of eating people but actually aren’t, so they’re like carnivore teases. They also have hoofs which can basically crush your face. Their eyes look into your soul and tell you that you are a small human being who will never achieve your dreams, become a disappointment and burden on your family, and also contract syphilis. They also smell. Not quite as bad as cows, but it’s just not pleasant.
This is why I was incredibly stupid to visit this horse with my uncle. There was nothing special to see except the “animal responsbile for the advancement of human kind.” I call BS. Squirrels could have done just as well, if we had just given them the chance to succeed.
My uncle happened to see someone he recognized, so he asked me to fill out his raffle ticket for him. He might even have kissed it for good luck. I’m not sure because this is a part of my traumatic experience, remember?
The raffle ticket “application” asked for some information that I didn’t actually know, being only 9. My uncle’s address? Phone number? These people were lucky I knew that my uncle had a different last name from me! So I did what any intelligent, resourceful, urban child would do. I wrote down my own contact information.
(Because I know my own address and phone number! That has to count for something, right?!)
If I won, I would just give the horse to my uncle, because he had wanted it in the first place. I plopped that completed application in the raffle and then crossed my fingers and toes that my uncle would be getting a new pony that night!
When we got home from the rodeo (after leaving early, because it lasts til rather late at night), my uncle told me to tell my aunt that he had entered to win the pony. (Probably because he didn’t want to have to sleep outside. My grandma’s picnic bench isn’t very comfortable.) Somehow, it came up that I had written down my own contact information on the raffle ticket.
That’s when my aunt berated me two ways from Sunday. Did I know how much it costs to feed a horse? To board a horse? To vaccinate a horse? To buy tack and horseshoes and a radar gun to measure how fast they run? (I might be making up that last one. But if I had a horse, I think I’d like to know for sure how fast it goes, because otherwise, what’s the point?) There was no way in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks that she would take that horse if I had won it. The horse would be mine, and I wouldn’t be able to care for it properly, and my family would be bankrupt, and I’d still probably get syphilis.
That was the worst night sleep I have ever had. My eyes never actually closed. I threw the blankets off my bed approximately 91 times, and each time I put them back on top of me because I could not regulate my body temperature to a level befitting a calm, collected individual. I had both ears tuned to the phone, just waiting for the fair people to call because I was sure that I had won that stupid horse and the world was going to end.
(Of course, since I had written down my parents’ home phone number, the fair people wouldn’t actually be calling my grandma’s house. But nothing makes sense when you’re 9 and an animal that everyone has said is friendly is about to ruin your life.)
But the morning did come. And there was no phone call! Not even at our real home!
I think you’ll see that I am not exaggerating when I call that the best day of my life. Had skydivers written “Jillian is really cool” in puffy clouds, life could not have gotten better. Had N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys performed live, on bended knee, in my living room, while offering me plates of Girl Scout cookies, life could not have gotten any better. Had POGS come back into style via a Boy Meets World reunion, life could not have gotten any better. (And just to be clear, all of those things are totally awesome and if they could happen right now, I would be eternally grateful. Except like half of the guys from my old boy bands have come out of the closet so it would kinda lose its effect. But they’d have cookies, so it’d still be great.)
I was liberated from the intense fear of single-handedly destroying any and all chances of happiness in this world before even reaching “double digits.” And vowed never to own a horse, in order to protect this newfound freedom.
Now, if anyone is going to make me feel small and disappointing, it will be a distant relative at my cousin’s wedding. Where there will also be horses. Dammit…