I never knew how fragile it all was.

I had always thought I was a confident, happy guy. I had lots of friends, a great job, made good money. But in the months after the breakup so much was exposed in me. So little strength. So many fears. Not enough hope. Something was missing and I started to think it had been missing for a long time.

I drank a lot. I ate mostly fast food or pizza. And I seemed to lose the ability to dispose of the empty pizza boxes. They just ended up scattered across the floor. Many nights I found myself lying among them. I didn’t shower much. I grew a beard. I didn’t decide to grow a beard—it just happened. It was the inevitable sidekick to not showering much. And then the bar I worked at closed down, leaving me jobless, which meant I had a whole lot more time to lie among empty pizza boxes and work on my beard.

Through it all I just couldn’t get those two horses out of my head. I would be lying on the floor staring at the ceiling and suddenly I would be thinking about the sounds and the smells and the feeling I got in the barn the night Ally and I broke up. The way the horses were staring at me with those eyes. Like they knew me better than I did.

The days turned cold and winter came and I was numb. I walked in the woods a lot. Alone was where I wanted to be, and the forest had always been the only place I could be alone but not feel alone. I desperately wanted to be moved by the beauty and invigoration of nature, but the hills, the trees, the rivers… they did not make me feel good anymore. The sunrises and sunsets were empty.

One day, with no place else to go, I ended up at my father’s grave. He’d died of brain cancer when I was thirteen. I thought about the funeral, so packed it was standing room only and some people had to wait outside. He was a state police officer, a well-known man, a respected man with many friends. I remembered walking out of the church and seeing all the state troopers standing in formation and how they, and all the others in attendance, followed my mom and I as we walked through town to the cemetery. It felt so long ago—a different life. I tried hard to remember the sound of my father’s voice but couldn’t. The thing I remembered easily was that he was a good man.

I stood at his grave, frustrated. What had I made of my life?

Suddenly, I could see him there. I could see him looking me straight in the eye.

His gaze was strong with unflinching belief. All he had lived for. All he had believed in. He was gone, but everything he lived for and believed in…was not.

Enough, I could hear him saying, now remembering his voice—its pace and pitch. What happens to you in life does not define you. The choices you make and the actions you take, do.

It finally made sense. What I was going through had nothing to do with Allison or the breakup.

It had to do with me.

And it was time to make a choice.


I sneezed twice. My nose was running, and my eyes were itching like crazy.

“Are you allergic?” asked Anna, the riding instructor.

“Hay fever,” I replied, like it didn’t matter.

Behind Anna was a rather large horse. His name was Oberon. He was a bay Thoroughbred gelding, and he was about to be the first horse I had ever ridden. Anna took me through the grooming routine and showed me how to saddle him. Then we walked out to the riding arena.
As I gathered the reins in my left hand and placed my foot in the stirrup, I paused for a moment and looked into Oberon’s eye. Just like the two horses in the barn, it had a locking effect on me, drawing me in.

I breathed in and stepped up and swung my leg over his back. And as I sat in the saddle, something clicked into place. I felt it.

I rode Oberon as he walked in a circle, and from what Anna was saying, I was doing well, except for the twenty times she reminded me to look up and breathe. At moments I was entirely lost in what I was feeling. The gentleness in how the big bay carried me. The softness in how little this thousand-pound animal needed to guide him. The simple grace in the rhythmic sway of his back as he walked. The perfection of it.

How is this possible, I thought, this horse allowing me to sit on him and tell him what to do when I have no idea what I am doing? What is this? What is going on here?

“Okay,” Anna said. “That’s good for today. Great job.”

Oberon came to a halt, and I went to dismount, but as soon as my feet touched the ground, it hit me. It all came back. The hurt and the pain.

But while I was on Oberon… it hadn’t been there.

“When can I come back?” I quickly asked.

I went home that day and made myself a salad. I picked up the empty pizza boxes off the floor. Took a shower and shaved. And then I grabbed the car keys and drove out to my mom’s house.

“Colorado?” she said like it was on the moon.

“Yeah. Bart has a house there and he asked me to come out a while back.”

“And what are you going to do in Colorado?”

I paused for a second, thinking about how it would sound. “I’m going to look for work on a horse ranch.”

“What? You don’t have any experience with… anything on a horse ranch.”

“I work hard. I’m honest and reliable. Somebody will give me a chance.”

My mother shook her head. She had seen me go through many phases. Breakdancing. Skateboarding. Bartending. A career in criminal justice. And now it sounded like I wanted to join the rodeo.

“Mom, something is… going on here. I don’t know what it is, but something is opening up here for me, and this is my chance. I have to go to Colorado, I know it. I don’t know what will happen, I don’t. But I know it will be good.”

She looked at me intently and I felt a test of my resolve. She had always been there for me, supporting me in everything I wanted to do. She might not have understood me right then, but she believed in me.

“Do you think the car will make a trip like that,” she asked with a skeptical eye.

“The Grand Prix? It’s only ten years old with two hundred thousand miles on it… and has gotten me everywhere I’ve ever needed to be,” I replied with a grin.

She smiled back. “A horse ranch, huh? What in the world ever brought you to that?”

I looked at her very matter-of-factly.

“Horses,” I said.



Get your copy of ‘Land of the Horses’ at Trafalgar Square Books here.