I was a lonely, broken girl of 12 when I met him.
He was everything the whimsical imagination of a young girl could dream of; strong, enchanting and deep brown eyes full of mischief. When the sun’s rays would shine upon his fiery chestnut locks, they glistened like a new copper penny.
That butterflies-in-a-bottle feeling that arose with the very thought of him never left me. Just the sound of his footfalls moving eagerly toward me set my head and heart reeling.
Billy and I became the best of friends and I soon felt I could share my darkest secrets with him. Unfortunately, by the tender age of 12 I already had far too many to share. My father’s sexual, verbal and physical abuse began at age 2 and only stopped at 5 when he realized I had the verbal skills to expose him for the monster he was.
During that time, my father took complete control of each and every bit of me, tormenting me every chance he got. Although the sexual abuse stopped, his soul-shattering words and crushing blows to my self-esteem and confidence continued to haunt my dreams.
Now there was Billy and his patient love transformed my nightmares into daydreams. We became inseparable and although he was two years older, our connection was profound. He opened the doors to a world unfamiliar to me, a world where trust and fear were not synonymous. I learned from my father early in life that living in fear was the norm and trust was never given, it was only taken. It was in that threshold moment I realized I trusted Billy from the first time our eyes met. His world was now our world and in it, for the first time in my life, I was happy.
Our favorite destination was the sunflower fields, where each noble stalk stood like a happy warrior, bravely embracing Mother Nature’s unpredictable moods. We soaked up the summer sun right along with the happiness each yellow-petalled face bestowed upon us. I sometimes felt intrusive, as if Billy and I were trespassing on hallowed ground, witnessing them staring up to the skies, thanking God for this time to bloom into their perfect selves. Surely, if thousands of these wondrous flowers could be their perfect selves, there was hope for a broken 12 year-old girl.
We whiled away the long summer days meandering through the woods and exploring old trails long forgotten. He loved to stop and rest under the stand of big oaks we passed on our way to the creek. I could always feel his eyes smiling as he watched me search the sprinkles of wildflowers for the perfect blue aster to tuck behind my ear.
Once rested, we’d continue our journey and perpetual game of tag; my heart grateful for a taste of the childhood I had never known. As we neared the creek, our pace would quicken with anticipation of the sweet relief the cool water would offer from summer’s oppressive heat. Without hesitation we’d launch ourselves in, splashing and carrying on like the young, happy creatures we were.
I had no way of knowing that blissful day frolicking in the creek would be my last one with Billy.
As he rose from the water, a break in the clouds allowed a single beam of sunlight through to set his copper-penny mane ablaze. I climbed onto his back and gathered up a handful of that magical mane and together we galloped back to the sunflower fields. My heart tells me now he knew this would be our final race to beat the sunset.
On May 15, 1975, my horse Billy suffered a brain aneurysm and died.
He healed my wounds in some mystical, magical way. It was there, in our secret realm, my heart healed, my scars faded and my faith was restored. His blanket acceptance of all my jagged, broken pieces had provided me safe haven to bloom into my perfect self, freeing my soul of anger and bitterness.
I can vividly recall my first visit to the field of yellow-petalled flowers without him. What I beheld dropped me to my knees. The thousands of once happy, uplifted faces that so joyously reached their gaze toward God now drooped, downturned toward the very earth they rose up from.
Were they mourning his death as I was? Were their heads bowed in silent prayer for him?
My spirit withered and drooped as they did and my tears flowed. When my eyes finally focused I saw it – the imprint of Billy’s hoof in the earth. I sat in silent reverence and traced the crevice of his hoof print with my fingers as a blind person would a loved one’s face, drawing from it not only an image, but his soft and mighty presence.
As I raised my head toward the heavens, I saw the sunflower faces staring down at me and realized they were not wilted and drooping, they were bowing; bowing in gratitude for sun, wind and rain, for all were part of living and all made them stronger. They humbly bowed to ensure their seeds would bring forth another sea of happy yellow beauties to behold when summer returned once again.
Like the yellow sunflowers, the time to bow my head in gratitude and return to the earth will come.
Once departed, my children will know where to find me. They need only return to the sunflower fields, quiet their hearts and lift their faces toward the sun. If they silence their minds and listen closely, they will hear Billy’s hooves galloping past as we once again race to beat the sunset, leaving in our wake a soft, lingering breeze with the sound of my laughter floating upon it.
And the sunflowers bow their heads….