“Your horse was shot?” Ruby said. She couldn’t believe that the young, confident girl sitting across from her had been through something so traumatic.
“Yes.” Annabelle sighed. “ I was riding and some people were illegally hunting on our land. I felt my horse jerk with the impact before I even heard the shot. She stumbled and went down, landing on my leg. It broke in two places.”
“Oh my god! What about your horse?” At Ruby’s exclamation, Hindsight got up from where she was lying at on the floor and whined.
Annabelle grimaced. “She probably should have been put down, but my parents were worried that I couldn’t handle that. She underwent surgery and rehabilitation. But she healed.”
Ruby placed ran her hand along the fur of Hindsight’s back. “And you?”
Annabelle spoke softly, choosing her words carefully. “After my horse was shot, every time I heard a loud noise or a bang, I would jump out of my skin.” She paused, looking down. “Sometimes I even peed my pants I was so scared.” Hindsight got up and walked over, putting her nose in Annabelle’s lap. Annabelle gave the barest twitch of a smile and lifted her hand to the soft fur on Hindsight’s head. “But I didn’t want to be scared anymore.” She looked up at Ruby, her eyes dark and fierce. “I hated that feeling.” She gestured with her hands out on either side, “it was like I made that feeling and my dad’s death one and the same, and I wanted to fight it “ she slammed her two hands together. “Does that make sense?”
Ruby nodded. “It does when you say it that way. Our minds make connections. We need something to focus on.”
“Yes, exactly,” Annabelle said, the pupils of her eyes like pinpricks. “I wasn’t just angry, I wanted to fight it. So I bought a bunch of firecrackers and set them off in my back yard. One by one, until I wasn’t jumping at the sound anymore.” Her throat moved as she swallowed. “And then I made my mom take me to the shooting range. I stood there and watched. Even with the sound mufflers on my ears, each shot jolted every molecule of my body. I wet myself again, but I made it through three shots before I ran out.” She peeked up at me, and I kept my face impassive. “But I made my mom take me back, again and again until I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Ruby felt her throat choke up with pride for this young woman. This girl who was better at facing real, serious fears than she was at facing her imagined ones. “You are a strong woman,” she said.
Annabelle shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t feel like one.”
“How is that possible?”
“My shrink said that’s just how I’m made. I need something to fight, even when it is fear,” Annabelle said, her voice tired. “ I fight and I fight to win. I am afraid of something having power over me. Isn’t that ironic?”
Ruby breathed out through her nose. A defeated, pitiful sound. “I wish I could do that.”
Annabelle looked up, her gaze direct. “You can, you just have to find your anger. You are a nice person — a good person. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes it hard for you to find your anger when you need to fight for yourself. Look at the way that you have fought for your dogs, for Hindsight.”
Hindsight lifted her head from Annabelle’s lap and Ruby read agreement in her body language.
Annabelle continued, “even the things that you have done for me — fought to do for me. Most people would see them as ordinary things, but I know that you had to fight to do them. Why can’t you fight like that for yourself?”
Ruby felt her eyes welling up. This young girl saw her saw clearly — more clearly than she saw herself — and still managed to make her feel worthy, like she wasn’t a warped, from-the-land-of-broken-toys reject of a human being. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice choking on the words. Hindsight moved swiftly to press her nose into the crook of Ruby’s arm.
“Yes you do,” Annabelle said softly, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. “What you need to do is face it, and then you can fight it. “