About Face

FOREWORD: Aside from the figure showing an about-face, for matters of emphasis, there is only one photo in this piece. The photo shows all that need be shown.

    

    From the Army's regulation FM 3-21.5 (Drill and Ceremony)

    b. Facing to the Rear is a two-count movement. The command is About, FACE.
    (1) On the command of execution FACE, move the toe of the right foot to a point touching the marching surface about half the length of the foot to the rear and slightly to the left of the left heel. Rest most of the weight of the body on the heel of the left foot and allow the right knee to bend naturally.
    (2) On count two, turn to the right 180 degrees on the left heel and ball of the right foot, resuming the Position of Attention. Arms remain at the sides, as in the Position of Attention, throughout this movement.

Change is a funny thing.

It can be nebulous and difficult to notice when engulfed within it. Sometimes it requires years of separation and retrospect to truly define it. Sometimes the change is so gradual we don't consider it change, but relabel it evolution. Sometimes it is so infinitesimal, it isn't worth mentioning or even classifying as change.

But sometimes... sometimes God breaks your jaw with change.

I haven't written what life was like before Honor -- at least not yet, and I don't know if I'll ever have the nerve to translate it into writing. But life before Honor was a rugged, dark wilderness of personally induced exile. I had constructed a wall to the outside world, becoming a social hermit. I was angry. I was vengeful. I was bitter and void of faith. My singular warm center was this beautiful young lady I worked diligently every day to keep.  Yet, aside from Missi's company, I cherished little other than the distance between myself and the remainder of a world of which I was suspicious. I had no inclination or desire to change and lashed when compelled to do so.

Change is a funny thing.

Rarely is change fun or even palatable. Change by definition, is to shift from what is, to what isn't. Change often demands or coerces us to leave the comfort and confines of our walls and exposes us nakedly to circumstance. I doubted change. I resented it. I did not believe it had anything to offer insofar as dispelling my apprehensions. Change was a salesman peddling rubbish at my door, and I habitually answered the knock with the chain locked and a shotgun at the ready. I was, by all accounts, Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino.

I had made a habit, when going out for my periodic smokes, to walk to the fence at the southwest corner of the front paddock to simply watch Honor from a distance. After the previous two weeks of witnessing the ired spirit of this colt, I had come to actually enjoy his disdain for interaction. Perhaps Missi was right, I thought. Maybe we do deserve each other. There was much mirrored in his behavior I found so familiar. He was suspicious, thorough, and unbreakable. I had an admiration for his tenacity, a respect for him that almost encouraged his defiance and it pleased me to think how far flung the idea of anyone ever riding him was. I had become content knowing that my horse was a horse that couldn't be ridden, that he was a modern, tangible iteration of Widowmaker and he would live his life happily as a well-fed, mobile lawn gnome. I was okay with his decorative properties which were reinforced by the fact he was so undeniably ugly. Everything about him was casually defiant, even his schizophrenic mane... and I was okay with it.

I lifted one foot up onto the bottom pole and lit my cigarette. My arms dangled over the top-line pole while pretending the metal wasn't scorching hot in what had become the hottest, driest summer in OKC history. I looked to my left, to the north, and watched Honor about twenty yards away, attention focused on the yellowing bermuda grass. I pulled on my cigarette and smiled. I had truly recognized the mirror Honor had become. I smiled intently as I pondered his parallel nature.  Aside from the sweltering heat, to which I was keen anyway, it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

Honor faced north, away from me, unaware I was watching him with curious interest. Missi was spending the Sunday toiling in the front garden, out of sight of both me and Honor. A Scissor-tail (the state bird of Oklahoma) landed on the cross fence pole several yards away to my right. The conspicuously attractive bird ruffled his wings and began a rendition of clicks, chirps, and squeaks while intermittently cocking his head curiously at me. Playfully, I whistled back to the bird. I offered a quick, two-tone whistle: one high-pitched followed immediately by one slightly lower-pitched. The bird skittered away as if scared. A sudden motion in the corner of my eye snapped my attention to the left. Honor's head was now erect, on alert, ears rigidly pinned as high-resolution radar. He nickered in guttural greeting. He was now aware I was standing at the fence... and God clenched his fist.

I could write a whole story about being in the right field stands at game six of the 2011 World Series. The serendipity of all three Finley men, devout Cardinal fans, spread to the opposite corners of the planet for years, being in one place at one time, to witness what some consider the greatest game ever played -- goes beyond uncanny. There are moments in our life we cherish dearly in retrospect. But rarely, so rarely, we are blessed by being immersed in a moment painted with such articulation and artistry, we know in our gut to be one of purposeful, extraordinary value. I knew in the seventh inning of game six we were witnessing history and while I did not know the outcome, I understood our place in the story. It was witnessing a severely hurting, pinch-hitting Kirk Gibson homerun in the 1988 World Series. It was watching the second tower get hit on live television. It was walking through the door to see my beautiful fiancé in a dress for the first time on our second date and knowing she was the woman I would marry. Hollywood tries with unbeatable futility to engineer this feeling, and words will never do justice to the overwhelmingly epic emotive value. Time slows when God speaks.

Honor stood at attention, and quickly turned on the haunches as if executing an about-face, head still erect, cranial-mounted radar locked on me. I too, froze. His nostrils flared as he nickered again, investigating my peculiar presence. All times before this resulted in Honor either calmly relocating further away, or darting off to some distant paddock corner. In fact, I not only expected it, I hoped to spend the remainder of my cigarette watching him stretch his legs around the pasture. Honor stood motionless, fixated on the minutia of my every movement. The sun pounded on his face, casting hard shadows around his juvenile features. I dropped my foot from the railing. I would swear every muscle in Honor's body clenched. Sound was sucked from the air. Honor stutter stepped to the side, but refrained from shooting off to his daily sprinting frenzy.

I wrestled with the idea that maybe he was considering actually moving toward me. I began to slowly inch my way left along the fence line toward him. Honor quivered with nervousness, but he didn't move. His eyes shot lasers as his attention locked on my movement with suspicion. I was now inching inside thirty feet of Honor, outside the fence. Somewhere along the line, my cynicism had been dropped on the ground. I was nine years-old again. Skeptical hostility meant nothing, and hope had mass. It was like singing in your car at max volume, confident you were the greatest singer alive -- it was happiness when no one was looking.

What if he gets it? What if he actually understands? Childish thoughts flooded my mind and drove my action. I leaned against the fence and extended my hand slowly as if hope were a treat in my empty palm. I was peddling at Honor's doorstep.

Shock-waves tore across the ground with instantaneous effect. Honor was gone. In seconds, a trail of dust hung on the sunshine where Honor had ignited and blasted away. The boy along the fence shriveled in the heat to reveal a callus, embarrassed man, rejuvenated in his resentment. I melted away to a skeleton with bones made of anger.

"FINE! Be a dick! You're welcome by the way! You and every other ungrateful piece of shit! I don't know why I fucking bought you!" I was recklessly screaming. I gritted my teeth as I snuffed my cigarette out on the fence top. Honor was in the throes of completing lap one of his sprinting lunacy. I sneered and turned my back, walking south along the fence to go back inside. Honor's hooves detonated in rhythm behind me. With each step I took away from Honor, a different thought bludgeoned my temple with crushing force.

What had he been through?

What struggle was he battling that I wasn't seeing or appreciating?

My cynicism sparred with the thoughts like an offensive lineman struggling against an all-out blitz. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to be let down. I preferred the resentment. It was easy to be disappointed with a meager $120 colt. It was easy to burden Honor's back with my lament.

You're a hypocritical fool to resent him.

You're lamenting yourself, not the horse.

The rumble grew louder as Honor rushed closer. I refused to turn.

What if...

The crescendo of violent noise was nearly on top of me.

...he doesn't want to be this way?

Silence. A wafted surge of hot air and dust engulfed me from behind.

I froze in place. The snorting of labored breathing vibrated the hairs on my neck. I panned my head slowly to the left. The twist started with my head, then reached my shoulders. As I turned, I could hear the pounding of a heart, though I couldn't say if it were mine, or the one embedded in the massive beast behind me. My hips gave way slowly to the left, and progressively my feet acquiesced their roots as my entire body completed the about-face.  I could smell him before I could see him.

I had been standing back facing the paddock, not three feet from the fence. The scent of sweating horse was overwhelmingly pungent. He had to be close... I completed my turn and there stood Honor.

Indeed, there he stood. Right there. His body was glazed in a solid sheen of sweat. He huffed from both nostrils in a proud, panting stance. His chest pressed sternly against the fence, causing the iron to yield noticeably. His neck was a muscular doric column upon whose pedestal rested a softly expressed face suddenly unfamiliar to me. His neck reached forward as his demeanor morphed to something absolutely alien. Honor's face was now less than ten inches from mine. His breath was heavy with moisture. He extended as far as the fence and his neck would allow; his upper lip shimmying back and forth. I was bewildered.

Change is a funny thing. It insidiously wedges itself between expectations and outcomes. It seeps into the weathered cracks between who we were and what we are inevitably destined to be. Change manifests out of the air, out the nothingness around us, and destroys the walls we intentionally construct to keep it out. Change can effervesce up through the soil, it can fall with the rain, it can blow with the wind. Change dances in fire - and rises from the ashes. Change can generate from the folds of one's own brain...

...and change can come from within a wounded heart.

Honor clumsily stretched his head as far forward as his gangling neck and its inconvenient morphology would allow.  I could see his pink gums flecked with bits of grass around his teeth. I was paralyzed. I hadn't the foggiest what to do with this... this... weirdness. Honor's ears leaned forward with proportional strain. Thirty seconds ago, Honor was a tempest of rage, and now before me stood a boyish, fearless animal apparently expecting... I didn't know what. Confused, I lifted my left hand to my face in an outward-facing fist. I extended my index finger as my shoulders flinched in anticipation of the crazed steed's return. I stood, eyebrows raised, pointing at Honor's aggressively maneuvering upper lip, elbow cinched down against my side. Nano-meter by nano-meter, I closed the gap between between us. My finger met his lip. The only response was that somehow it wasn't enough.

I opened my hand and began to rub up and down his face. He backed away from the fence, as if to relax the pressure of the fence against his chest.  Honor continued to seek out attention as I rested my arms over the top of the fence again. He began to nip playfully at my shoulder sleeve while I scratched up and down his neck. Sometimes God breaks your jaw with change.

A branch snapped on the ground to my left and I quickly shot my vision in that direction. Missi had heard my rage the minute prior and had come around the side of the house to see to the matter. Millie, the spare-parts brindle-colored Basset mutt came prancing in behind her, and quickly ran to my feet, vacuuming up any left-over grain circumspectly left on the ground. I can't fathom what she must have seen or thought or felt. Missi couldn't possibly have understood the gravity of what had just happened, but the optics spoke for themselves. Were I riding around the paddock on Honor's back while standing on my head naked, it wouldn't have been any more surprising. Missi said nothing. She crawled between the fence wires and pulled her phone out. She snapped a quick photo.

"My two guys." She smiled.

She did an about-face -- and walked away.

Change... is a funny thing.  Sometimes it breaks your jaw -- forcing you to smile.

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