I like to think of myself as creative, you know. Arty. When my brother (“the favourite”) was getting accolades for being his golden, amazing self, I’d cheer myself up and think “You might be salesman of the year — but I’m the one who notices the sunlight through a dew drop on a leaf”.
I notice scratches and dents in beautiful pieces of wood. I notice eyelashes and the delicate yet deliberate swirls on fingerprints when someone is talking with their hands. I notice the glimmer of the late afternoon sun on waves at my favourite beach that makes the water look like it’s filled with jewels.
I notice everything.
So, when I saw the picture above (not sure of who the photographer is, sorry! I got this image from a Google search), I immediately noticed my body’s strong physical reaction to it. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it. I hurt deeply over it — it was profound how deep the hurt ran. Seeing that horse tethered to that plastic chair…it made me feel a million things in the milliseconds my mind took to process the image.
My writer’s brain can’t help but imagine the horses’ life before. Before someone broke its will enough that when it was tethered to a plastic chair, it believed it couldn’t get away.
That’s what being emotionally abused, manipulated, put down and gaslit continually over a long period of time leads to — it leads to questioning reality. When someone you put a lot of trust in and someone you love tells you that the sky is red, you’ll at first think “No, it isn’t”.
You’ll try to disagree, but even as you begin to say “No, it -” the master manipulator you’re with will talk over you. They subtly attack you and make you doubt your worth, saying something like: “Of course you’d think the sky is blue — you’re gullible and stupid and you don’t know how to think for yourself”. It’s subtle, but it immediately hurts, so your argument dies on the tip of your tongue.
You’ll try to rally by going back through your memories as a child when you first learnt that the sky is blue. You’ll rewind through all your recollections of whenever you ever heard or spoke about the sky and you’ll remember that all those times, it was referred to as blue.
But this person — the one you love and place above and before yourself — they’re saying it’s red.
“But — “ you try again. You try to speak even though doubt — and anxiety — are slowly creeping in.
“I knew you’d be like this” the person you love will say, shaking their heads in frustration “You had to ruin a perfectly great day, didn’t you? You don’t think I know what I’m talking about, do you?”
“It’s not that” You’ll try to explain. Gently. “It’s just that I’m looking at it right now and I’m seeing a blue sky”
You’ll look up to make your point, unaware that you’re holding your breath in the desperate hope that they’ll agree, too. You need them to see what you’re seeing. It’s vital.
The person you love will look up, too. “Well, I’m seeing a red sky. If you look hard enough, you’ll see it too”.
Now the onus is on you to make it right — when everything in you knows the sky is BLUE.
You look again and squint your eyes this time. The sky is still blue, but you know you’re supposed to be seeing something else now. You know it in the panicked thudding in your chest.
“When you walk in truth, you’ll see things for how they are — you’ll see things the way I do and you’ll know the sky is red, no matter what nonsense you’ve been told before” he’ll guide you.
The man you’re in love with will wait a beat and then he’ll apply familiar pressure “You see it too now, don’t you?”
You’ll be surprised to find yourself nodding because you recognise the change in his vocal tone. The danger.
“Say it” he’ll prompt, raising his voice slightly. Enough that it makes you jump. “Say it’s red”
Your last stand for independence makes you bite your lip and not say anything.
“Say it” He’ll repeat. This time, you know you’ve crossed a line.
“It’s red” You’ll repeat in a voice barely above a whisper.
You lower your voice in the hopes he’ll do the same.
You bite back the fear growing in your belly and try your best to manage the situation so that this time you won’t get hurt.
Even though he’s not touched you all day, he’ll rub your arm affectionately. A gesture of approval where you can finally exhale.
“Right. Red. Come on!”
And you’ll follow him to the ends of the earth, never again glancing up at the sky you once loved and were so familiar with because you don’t want to see what colour it is anymore. It’s just not worth it.
That’s what I think of when I see that horse.
It’s been beaten so badly that it’s lost the will to question. That poor horse has lost its ability to believe in its own strength to pull away and go where it wants to.
It’s been through years of being broken so often that it won’t ever again question what it’s tethered to, anymore. That horse believes it can’t ever get away.
I used to feel like that, too.
The horse will just stand there — tethered to a plastic chair — waiting for permission to move…and I will forever feel a deep ache of empathy whenever I see that picture.
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