There is a body in my backyard. He does not belong to me and yet when I bought the house I adopted his bones right along with it.
They lie 6 feet underground, the weight of the earth pressing them deeper into the embrace of the Rainbow Bridge. After a lifetime of abuse, this is now his final resting place — marked only by a simple blue cross, worn and falling apart with the ravages of time. His body was dragged there by a kind neighbor who took pity on his herd. They had stood over him for days, staring at their future.
I know of his story only through hearsay, but I hear stories like it so often that I feel as though I know it in its entirety. His story is one of divorce, daddy’s money, and responsibility. It is quieter than usual, more insidious. It was not featured on the news. It never made the rounds on Facebook. But it is no less tragic.
It starts with a woman who thought she loved horses.
After she bought a house with her husband, her father built her a barn. A paddock was put up with care. A large run-in shed filled one corner, a barn the other. A shiny white stock trailer appeared and a parade of miniature horses high-stepped off of it.
The dead body was among them, but he did not yet know it.
As the months went by, more horses appeared for a total of nine on a one acre field. The little girl next door would come by with treats and the herd would greet her overjoyed. But then, the winter came. With the cold weather their once shiny coats grew caked with mud. The thickness of winter hair hid gaunt hips and the overwhelming presence of a skeleton underneath skin. Food had stopped coming many months ago and hooves had grown long and curled due to a lack of care.
The horses began to gallop to the little girl who fed them snacks, their eyes wide with starvation. The little girl knew nothing but that ponies were prettier when they ran, though I hope her grandfather’s eyes grew slightly wider with concern.
The neighbor on the other side of the house began to grow worried. Hay was dumped into the paddock. Concerns were voiced. Rescues were called. Still, no help came.
The same woman that once delivered beautiful shiny ponies to their new home, now stayed in the house more and more. Yelling rang across the yard. Doors were slammed. Gravel flew as cars sped off.
More time passed. Still, no help came for the horses on the overcrowded acre.
“No trespassing” signs went up. The hay started to come in the middle of the night. The horses grew skinnier. Yelling in the house grew louder and then silence fell.
A few weeks later, the horse died.
The kind neighbor waited for the right people to finally take responsibility. Still, time went by. Days later the neighbor ignored the trespassing sign. Driving an orange tractor, he rumbled onto the field and pulled the body from it, saving the herd from the stench of their dead friend.
Showing love the small figure hadn’t known in some time, the neighbor lowered the horse into the hole he had dug. The sound of dirt hitting the tired body called home another child. A small blue cross with yellow writing went up and the pony found peace.
Finally, a few days too late, someone had taken responsibility and gave him the treatment in death that he never received in life. And now, despite the years that have gone by, I arrive and read the story in what was left behind. I see the desperation in the chewed wooden dividers and the paddock full of weeds. I hear the sounds of starvation in the perfectly clean, tags still on it, feed scoop sitting inside the barn. My heart aches with the neglect and sadness emanating from the poop-filled sheds and the trash that I pick out of the paddock.
Every broken piece of ceramic, child’s toy, plastic bag, styrofoam, and rusty nail that I collect reminds me of those who came before me and how they will never be forgotten again.
Now, when I look out across the field at my two happy horses, I see the hoof prints of neglect that haunt the earth beneath them. I think of the rescue that came long after the divorce. I think of the dead body dragged through the sparse weeds. I think of the little girl that was the hope of a starving herd.
And I feel responsible.
Responsible for honoring their bygone sufferings, to fix the cross, and cherish the animals that stand in their places. Because the only way that I know how to honor their memory is to love my horses and love all whose hooves walked across my lawn, even before it was mine. And even though they are now long-gone.