Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dogs and Horses

I've had a couple books stacked in my office for a while now, waiting to be blogged about. (Happily, neither is a grammar book that would be offended by prepositions in the wrong place.) They are very dissimilar books, but even so, both are landing in this post.

The first is Abigail Thomas' memoir, A Three Dog Life, which our book group recently read.

In April 2000, Abigail Thomas was living in New York City with her husband Rich, and their beagle Harry. Out for a walk with Harry, Rich was hit by a car and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Over the next five years, Thomas had to define new roles for Rich and for herself. She was comforted by her dogs (Harry was joined first by Rosie, and then Carolina Bones). She learned to balance and satisfy her needs, while caring for Rich to the extent possible - which, it turned out, was pretty limited. She struggled with guilt, and handled the details of car repair and appliance purchases. She developed her skills as a writer, and became fascinated with outsider art. She documents this in her memoir, a series of stories and vignettes.

She writes
One day I look out the hospital window high above Central Park, and I feel as if there's a tightrope connecting Rich's hospital room to our apartment, and all I can do is walk back and forth on it, the city far below... This is when I learn that I have to take care of myself, even if my leaving makes him angry, or worse, sad. I need to eat and sleep. I need to do something mindless, go to a movie, fritter away an afternoon. And I realize something even more startling: I can't make everything all right. It's his body that is hurt, not mine. I can't fix it, I can't make it never have happened.
The book contains a lot of subtle humor - which I imagine is vital while navigating this new reality - and a lot of sweet rememberings. Thomas shares Rich's comments, such as "If I wasn't with you and we weren't getting food, the dark would envelop my soul," and "I feel like a tent that wants to be a kite, tugging at my stakes."

Thomas writes about guilt. At one point, Rich had been in a facility for about ten months, and they couldn't meet his needs. The head of the program there was discussing options with Thomas; one suggestion was to take Rich home.
Take him home?

I was terrified. What would happen to us? Where would my life go? I wouldn't be Rich's wife; I would be his jailor and my own. This was a sacrifice that made no sense, I couldn't do it.

It has taken me almost five years to accept this about myself. What kind of woman was I? What about my wedding vows? Who was I that keeping hold of my own life was more important than taking care of my husband? I kept forgetting the fact that I actually couldn't take care of him. My terror obscured the truth: no single person, no two people could have taken care of a man in Rich's condition. Why then did I feel so ashamed? What standard do we women hold ourselves to? After all these years I can finally say the words I want to live my life without feeling unnatural, selfish, cowardly.
In the end, Thomas cobbles together a new life, a new partnership with her husband. She writes, "Rich is necessary to my happiness; I love the person he is now, I love who I am when I'm with him, and I can sometimes hold these two truths in my head at once: I wish he were whole, and I love my life."

And Rich declares, "Abby, our life has been so easy that the days glide by."

This is a well-written book, full of questions and insights, love and caring; I recommend it highly.

*  *  *  *

The second book is not a memoir, but I suppose it is biographical, being the story of the racehorse, Secretariat.

When I was writing my post about the Kentucky Derby, and looking up information on previous winners, I came across a quote from William Nack's book, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. Nack's description of the Derby race was captivating, and led me to track down the book at our library.

The first chapters deal with pedigrees, both of horses and of owners (I couldn't help but think of the lists of begats in the Bible), and I skimmed through that information. Once Nack finally started telling Secretariat's story, I was hooked. His behind-the-scenes details and insights made for interesting reading, and the races themselves were spellbinding. He offered the perspective of jockey Ron Turcotte, as he rode the great horse, and of the crowds, as they watched history being made, again and again.

When I read his play-by-play of the race at Belmont, I realized that my own heart was racing with excitement - even though I knew full well what the ending was.

A good read!

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