Intrusive

An inconsequential thing happened today that my mind refuses to let go of.

My son and I went to a National Trust estate for the day, and along one of the boundaries was a field full of horses. Before heading home, we went and sat overlooking them to have a drink and a snack. There was a huge ditch on the horse’s side, so we were resigned to the fact that the horses wouldn’t come over, even though we both not-so-secretly still hoped they would.

We sat and ate and drank and talked about horses and which ones had penises, and while we weren’t paying attention, one snuck up on us. A horse. With a penis. The ditch meant we couldn’t really stroke him, but, rather excited, I reached out and gave him a tiny piece of apple. I have a degree in equine science. I would never advocate feeding strangers’ horses, and I am also aware that apples are sugary and thus, despite what we’ve been told, not the best treat for horses. However, there is a small horse-crazed child still living inside me, and she was sitting next to another small child who, himself, is quite partial to a horse. And we wanted to be friends. And maybe, frankly, I think I’m above the law because I’ve studied equine nutrition at degree level.

Then a lady ran toward us shouting “please don’t feed them!”, and I said “oh, okay, sorry!”, and she said it again and I said it again, and Malachi asked why we couldn’t feed them and I explained that she must be the horse’s owner and she was in charge of looking after them, so if she didn’t want us to feed them then we had to respect that. And she came over and asked what I fed him, and I wryly said “a little piece of apple” feeling like I might as well have said “a big mac” and she shook her head and said “no. The sugar in the apple gives them laminitis.” And I nodded blandly and said “okay, sorry”, while repressing the urge to suggest she was stretching the truth just a little bit if she was saying a 1.5 inch chunk of apple was going to cause laminitis, and wondering if I should explain that I did know a bit about horses and, while I totally understood why she didn’t want me to feed her horse and I shouldn’t have done it, it really was just a tiny bit and I wouldn’t have given him the whole thing even, let alone like a bagful. And then, dissatisfied with my limp response, she said some other things that I can’t remember now as she ineffectually tried to shoo the horse away. And then she told Malachi that giving horses apples makes them poorly, and he looked at her in quiet, sad horror, so I said that a tiny bit wouldn’t do them any harm, but if they had too mu- “No, a tiny bit DOES do harm!! I’ve lost horses because of apples!” to which I passively did a sort of slow nod and waited for her to go away.

Malachi is not well-acquainted with death euphemisms because we just say things are dead, so he simply thought she was a bit silly and had misplaced some large animals, perhaps by confusing them for fruit. But, after she went off to eye us from a safe distance, I clarified anyway that, while it was probably not a good idea for us to feed the horse without permission, that lady seemed to be a bit extra worried because she’d had horses get poorly from too many apples before, and the amount we had given the horse was not going to have any adverse effects. But, no, we couldn’t just get on them and ride them away. And we sat and finished our drinks and our snacks, and the lady walked around in the field casting suspicious glances our way once in a while.

And now I can’t stop thinking about the fact that, to her, I probably looked like I wasn’t taking her at all seriously and was instead lurking in wait to spring upon her horses with sugary treats the moment her back was turned.

The thawing process

Once Upon A Time, I visited Iceland. It was originally a trip planned with my boyfriend after we found out I was pregnant. A miscarriage and a break-up in the months preceding meant that it was a somewhat different prospect by the time it arrived.

I could have cancelled (I had hardly any money, so that would have been the most sensible option), or I could have invited a friend (though I couldn’t say I really had any close enough to ask at the time), but the path of least resistance for me was to go alone.

I was still pretty fragile.

I’d paid the deposit on a private room at a hostel, and I could have transferred it to a much cheaper bed in a shared room, but I kept it, because I couldn’t face the idea of being around strangers. It left me with only £50 spending money for the week, but it didn’t feel like a choice.

I was lonely, in truth, but I was so excruciatingly on edge around other people that I couldn’t bear it for very long.

Every morning I would peer through the small window on the kitchen door trying to ascertain if there was anyone in there. If I could see multiple people, I’d go back to my room for a while. Sometimes I got caught out and walked in on a group – when that happened I’d panic, fudge some kind of small, quick task, and leave again as quickly as possible.

On my first day, I was booked on a group horse trek, and afterwards got talking to a Canadian girl. She was about my age, and also holidaying alone. It was nice, I liked her, and the conversation was comfortable. But then she invited me out for dinner, and I freaked out; making excuses, declining solutions and probably inadvertantly offending her.

Another day, an older Danish gentleman struck up conversation with me when I was getting breakfast. He was kind, interesting and unintimidating. I benefitted from his knowledge and we talked about things I think about to this day, but I still couldn’t wait to get out of there.

There was only one person I let myself connect with on the trip, and how that even came about speaks so much about where I was at. What I was learning and what I still had to learn. Where I felt comfortable and what I could accept.

One day, I was picking up some things for tea in the supermarket around the corner from my hostel. I was staying a decent way out of the city centre, so it was a fairly small, quiet shop, with only a handful of people inside. As I was finishing up my transaction, during which I managed to say less than three words, a tall, rugged Icelander in a black, red and white Nordic style hat cut in assertively to ask the cashier something. As he stepped back, we made eye contact. He nodded at me with a smirk, and departed.

A few days later, I was feeling the strain of my isolation and decided I had to overcome my anxiety and do something social. For this, it seemed, I was going to need alcohol. I identified the only supposed rock bar in Reykjavik and set out to locate it. Then I walked up and down the street past it about three times.

Finally, teeth gritted, I headed up the steps.

As soon as I got through the door I noticed a tall, rugged Icelander sitting in the corner with a companion; his black, red and white hat lying on the table. After clumsily ordering a whiskey, feeling unbearably conspicuous, I took a seat at a small table nearby.

Despite a way-into-the-realm-of-obvious amount of eye contact, and a bunch of ideas raging through my head of what could transpire from this point, I was soon one drink down with nothing to show for it beyond some vicious internal tension. It was getting weirder by the minute, but I decided to spend some precious Króna on another and give myself one more chance. When I got back to the table with my one more chance, he and his friend were leaving, drinks unfinished.

Fuck.

I waited for a while to see if he was coming back. By the time the barmaid cleared away the glasses, I figured that was probably unlikely. So I migrated over to the now vacant table. It had a better view of the room, and maybe I could salvage this still by striking up conversation with someone else? This probably wasn’t enough whiskey for that but, if I didn’t have hope, what else did I have?

The place was almost empty. It was looking bleak. I left my jacket to mark my seat and went to the toilet to see if the change of scene helped rally my dwindling optimism. I sat there for a while, wondering what the Hell I thought I was doing entering into a social challenge way beyond my paltry capabilities. Did I actually really believe this would accomplish anything?

When I got back to the table, the tall, rugged Icelander with the black, red and white hat was back. This time with a group of friends. This time sitting at a different table, but right next to the seat I had usurped and claimed with my jacket. Right next to me.

Fuck.

As he and his friends exchanged their Icelandic words, I sat there, burning, silent, sipping my whiskey as slowly as possible, waiting for an opening wide enough to drop a bumbling, crippled shygirl into.

My glass was dry.

Fuck.

After sitting, trying to look casual, doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes, I figured it was time to call this as a failure. I began faffing with my bag to waste a little more time. And then the tall, rugged Icelander with the black, red and white hat turned to me.

“Hey, can you do me a favour?”
“Yeah?”
“Can you watch my stuff for a few minutes?”
“Sure.”

Thank fuck.

When he returned, it could have easily been an awkward moment where I failed to seize the opportunity veritably dangling its genitals in my face. But, instead, he took a few minutes to talk to me, then bought me a drink and invited me into the group. I could take no credit.

My experience instantaneously was transformed from quiet and painful reflection to reckless enjoyment and abandon, completely orchestrated by him. He had single-handedly delivered me from loneliness, and so I followed him like a disciple for the rest of the night, and well into the morning.

I’m still learning from that night. Mostly, these days, I’m learning from the flaws in myself and him I was unable to see clearly back then. But, at the time, it was simply the flood of relief I desperately needed, reminding me of what it might feel like to be truly alive.