The knee of my pants is wet and dirty. My yellow ring lays by the sink—it’s been my favorite ring for months. I bought it to match Bigfoot’s halter and the sunflowers by his pasture. Bigfoot is my daughter’s pony, and I loved him the most.
The afternoon is so sunny. His hooves make the same calming rhythm I’ve come to love as I walk him out back. A strong wind blows through the barn. A stall labeled “Bigfoot,” adorned with a sunflower, hangs open and I feel sick.
I kneel down by his side as he munches the grass. The vet explains the procedure in a scripted manner, “First, I’ll give him a sedative . . .” her voice trails off as my ears plug. My mind rewinds to a happy day. The soft giggles of my daughter’s horse teacher, Lucy, echoing in the dark barn. The door is shut, I see Lucy through the crack. We have planned this for weeks. I slide the heavy door open. I look down to see Ada’s reaction. Lucy laughs and Bigfoot wears a giant red bow on his back. It was March 3rd.
“This next injection will be kind of big . . .” the vet uses a motherly tone on this one. She knows I’m not a horsewoman. A real cowgirl probably wouldn’t cry like this, they would be composed. These things happen. It was time. I look at Bigfoot’s legs. I picture a rainy day last April. Huge drops of rain falling outside the stable, mud on the ground. Bigfoot’s long hair, brown, curly, soaking wet. We sat by his stall. We quietly ate apples in an empty barn while my kids were at school. I took a picture of my pink boots and his feet. I loved how little his hooves were.
“He might fall, and move a little after,” the vet says. I’m jolted by the image of Ada’s Halloween costume hanging in our coat closet back home. Jessie from Toy Story, the red cowboy hat sitting on top of the hanger. Bigfoot was supposed to be Bullseye. All her friends were coming. Her brown barn boots set out in the garage. She was probably doing choice time right now in her kindergarten classroom.
I almost change my mind, I want to tell the vet to stop. The words sit quietly in my throat. A real horsewoman would let him go. My voice catches as I tell him I loved him almost as much as he loved my daughter. I thanked him for loving her. I whisper, “You are the best pony in the world.” I hold his fluffy coat between my finger, a visible tan line sits where my yellow ring should be.
He crumples to the ground in one swift, peaceful motion. When he hits the ground, I swear I feel my heart break in my chest. His long eyelashes lay shut, and I feel like a monster. I’m ugly crying in front of the veterinarian, and I don’t even care anymore. It’s over, and we quietly walk away.
I drive home alone in silence, knowing I left a part of myself at the barn . . . one I’ll never get back.
As soon as Ada walks in, I need to tell her. I hesitate. Her brother asks what’s wrong. Before she has her unicorn boots off, I sadly say, “Bigfoot went to heaven.” The look on her face, my perfect little horse girl—strong, loving, confident, brave. I scoop her up and we both cry, hard. The brothers kindly walk away.
The evening is hard, lots of crying. I am reluctant to let the kids see how devastated I truly am. The sun is going down. I miss Bigfoot. I keep picturing the awfulness of the day. Trying to be helpful, my mom sends a text of a Brooks and Dunn video, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry.”
After school the next day, I gently ask Ada if she might want a different Halloween costume. I don’t mention why. “It’s okay if you do,” I say. I know she’s thinking of Bigfoot as she glances at the sunflowers on the table. My best friend sent them to Ada with a sympathy card that reads BFF.
In her beautiful kindergartner-in-speech-therapy voice, she says, “I’ll wear it, Mom.” Her voice breaks a little as she wipes her eyes, “I might cry, but I still want to wear it.”
I’m not able to show her how proud I am in that moment. How much I admire her. How much I learn from her. How much I love her. I softly say okay.
I walk to the bathroom with tears streaming down my face. My mouth is open and no sound comes out. The bathroom door clicks shut. I close my eyes and picture the big red bow on Bigfoot’s back, his eyelashes, the confidence he gave me, Ada laughing with him, how much I trusted him, his tiny hooves. I feel it . . . all. I let the tears come, for as long as I can. I pick my yellow ring off the counter and look at it for a while. I slide it over my index finger . . . I might cry, but I still want to wear it.