Gayle Garrison drives Hwy. 5 South

Gayle Garrison drove expertly. With any luck, she would bypass Los Angeles commute traffic and arrive at the Pasadena hospital by 11pm.  She knew visiting hours were over at 8pm but she didn’t worry. She would appeal to a nurse who was also a mother. She grimaced thinking about the number of hospitals where she had done the same in her daughter’s career.  She knew there were some hospital stays that she wasn’t aware of and she was secretly pleased.

William Wendt 1914 – On a Clear Day – California’s Central Valley

She had never talked to this Boss. It had been three years since Ann began working with him and it had been Mateo who had called her when Ann had broken her knee and her shoulder shortly after beginning work for him.  He was  absent from Ann’s hospital room and it was just as well. But his phone call today. Was voiced with concern.  The call came from Ann’s phone – his voice on the phonewas unexpected.

“Ms. Garrison?”

“This is she.”

“I’m calling about Ann, this is Jude Keenan, her boss. She’s been in a wreck.  We’re not sure how bad, but she’s on her way to the hospital.”

“I see. What happened?”

“She was working a young filly and another horse bolted and hit them head on.”

“Oh my goodness. How is the filly?”

“Um, both horses are dead.”

“Good Lord. Does Ann know?”

“Yeah, she only lost consciousness for a little bit. She’ll  be in surgery soon. Um, I’m on my way to the hospital – it’s the Catholic one in Pasadena on Arcadia Avenue. I can’t remember the name.  I’ll keep Ann’s phone with me so you can call and I’ll give you updates. Is that okay?”

“That will be fine.  I’ll leave here shortly and be there tonight.  Thank you for your call.”

“I’m sorry to have had to make it.  Um. She’s an amazing woman Ms. Garrison.”

“I thank you for that too. And please call me Gayle.”

“Okay Gayle. I’m Jude. I’ll see you later.  I’ll call if anything changes.  I promise.”

“Please do. Now if you will excuse me, I have some managing to do before driving down.  Thank you again.”

Gayle’s phone lit up with three more calls, other gallop girls who knew that she would need to know the news.  Each was sweet and each had a slightly different version of the story.  Gayle marveled at how these women managed to find Ann’s  parents’ home phone number so quickl. She paused to think of her Ann making those calls to other gallop girls’ parents to let them know that their tough and unruly daughters were laying in such-and-such hospital broken and bleeding.  

One more call:

“Is this Gayle Garrison?”  The voice was a lilting male with a characteristic southern California drawl.

“This is. Is this Mark or John calling me about Ann?”

“How do you know us?” The voice was flattered, rather than suspicious.

“Ann talks about you both. And just so you know, I’m trying to get organized to drive down today. I’ve heard about her injury.”

“How can you sound so relaxed?”

“Believe me, I’m far from it, but I have things to do and six or seven hours in the car to endure before I’m by her bedside, so I’m trying to keep my head. You didn’t answer, is this John or Mark?”

“I’m Johnny.” The voice became  shy. “We love your daughter you know.”

“I do know Johnny and she loves you too. Now let me get off this phone and get in the car and  I finally get to meet you – we all wish it were under different circumstances.”

“Our poor, sweet girl.” Johnny lamented.

“One thing my daughter is certainly not is poor and it’s questionable whether or not she is sweet. My dear, Ann is not even a girl.  She’s a grown woman who knows what the score is.  She has chosen her life and the danger and the craziness because it’s what she wants to do.  She’s bright and she has other options to be anything she could want, and she chooses to ride crazy racehorses, work seven days a week for ridiculous pay and to hang out with seedy gamblers. Please don’t think I’m being harsh. I’m  worried as any mother could be, I want you to know that Ann’s no victim. She signed on to this life a long time ago and she’s had plenty of opportunity to leave it.  Each injury, I thank God that it didn’t kill her and then I start hoping that this injury will change her mind about her career choices.  And each time, I’m wrong.”

“Do you think it will be different this time?  I mean, she could have been killed!”

“I don’t know Johnny.  I don’t know.”

Gayle’s truck hummed down Hwy 5.  She opted to turn off the radio and instead to think and pray as she drove south towards Ann’s hospital bed.  She replayed the phone conversations over and over in her head trying to prepare herself for the extent of Ann’s injuries as well as the extent of her resolve.  She played out scenes in her head where Ann asks to move home and to help run Gayle’s bookkeeping service.  Business was booming and Gayle had tried unsuccessfully to bring on an associate for years now.  

She also played out scenes in her mind where her willful daughter refused to talk about a career change and hobbled back to the track, more crippled and broken than before. She pictured what Johnny and Mark might look like in person, if Mateo will show up in the hospital and if the famous Jude Keenan was as handsome in person as he was in the newspaper and on TV. 

She remembered the time when Ann was only about six years old and tried bravely to hide a broken pinkie finger from her mother.  She had crawled up on top of the neighbors’ flighty Arabian horse from the fence and had fallen, breaking her finger.  Neither Gayle nor the doctor could draw from Ann how long it had been broken. 

Gayle had time to remember Ann’s excellent grades in school that came easily to her through elementary school and how they began to fall off in middle school until she was barely passing.  Gayle knew her daughter was intelligent, but she was no longer interested or curious in schoolwork.  She turned secretive and sullen.  By high school, she was willful, rebellious and angry.  She’d been caught drinking at school and had been arrested with three older boys driving a fast car with suspicious ownership.

Gayle was not a parent to try and be buddies with her teen daughter.  She imposed strict curfews and minimum school performance.  She restricted phone use and tried to forbid her to spend time with the most dangerous seeming of her friends. Ann thwarted her at every turn.  Sneaking out of the house late at night, failing school classes, even her favorite French classes. Gayle smelled cigarettes on all her clothes and suspected the sticky sweet smell of marijuana as well.

They fought.  They yelled, they stopped talking entirely.  Gayle worried constantly that the phone would ring in the middle of the night with news that her daughter had died in a fiery car crash.

Gayle was brought back to the present as traffic slowed in the middle of California’s central valley. She found that her jaw was sore from clenching  and that the joints in her hands were sore from gripping the steering wheel.  She gave herself a few moments to lament on the unfairness that her daughter’s teenage rebellion and dangerous lifestyle had now lasted 25 years. Her daughter’s school friends were watching their own children in dance recitals and swim meets.  They had husbands, careers and homes. They collected art, participated in local government, they took regular vacations and visited their families over the holidays. While her daughter racked up x-ray files and scars.  But then again, there were the moments of extreme pride when she would watch the big televised races and see her lovely daughter in the saddling paddock with a gleaming horse full of promise. 

Gayle knew that it was she who ignited the spark that burned brightly in her daughter.  Gayle was never without a horse, even in the early days of her marriage when there was no time or money for such an extravagance.  Gayle mucked stalls while pregnant with Ann in order to pay for her board.  Ann grew up in a house where her mother’s bedside table was draped with a white cloth embroidered with the old Spanish saying “When I am on my horse, only God is taller than I.”

Even today, Gayle treasured the horse that Ann gave her 12 years ago.  He was 15 now.  Gayle hadn’t heard a word from Ann for six months. All at once, a rusty truck and trailer ambled to the family home. In the trailer was a smallish shiny bay gelding with big ears and a curious face. His left leg was wrapped in a thick bandage.

“Mom, this is Matana, he’s hurt and he needs you.”

Gayle wanted to yell and scream at her prodigal daughter but was overcome by the liquid eye of the injured  horse. She took the rope from her daughter’s hand, stroked the shiny coat and asked

“How long ago did he bow and how bad is it?”

“Day before yesterday in a race. And it’s bad.  He’ll need to be in a stall for another four to six weeks and then in a stall and paddock for a few months before you can turn him out.  By fall, he’ll be ready to start work. He’s only three and he’s sweet as a kitten.  The trainer was furious and he doesn’t want anything to do with the horse.  He made me give him killer price to take him off his hands.”

“Which trainer was that?”

“The asshole that I worked for until yesterday.”

“Well, let’s get this handsome fella into a stall, I sure wish I knew you were coming, I could have used some time to prepare for a horse I don’t want or need.”

“I know.” Ann kicked dirt and shoved her hands into pockets. 

A “bow” or bowed tendon is a tear of one or more of the tendons in a horse’s lower leg. Called a “bow” because the resultant swelling is often so extreme that the lower leg looks like something you could shoot an arrow from.  

Matana healed beautifully and became one of the trustiest horses in Gayle’s life.  Together they explored the Sierra foothills, camped on the banks of the American River, they chased bobcat and deer through parks and pastures.  Gayle couldn’t imagine her life without the perky little gelding.

Such was life with Ann. Always showing up with unexpected gifts you were sure you didn’t want or need and then finding out how wrong you were.

Gayle arrived at the hospital before midnight as planned.  Also as planned, she was able to connive her way into her daughter’s room.  She crept in quietly to find her daughter sleeping and a small but handsome man in a chair at her bedside reading.

“You must be her mom” whispered the small man rising and offering her his hand.

“Are you Mark or Johnny?” asked Gayle.

“Neither, I’m Charlie” he flashed a perfectly toothy grin and a dimple.

“ I’m Gayle Garrison.” She motioned toward the door to the hallway where they might speak without waking the patient.

Charlie followed Gayle into the hallway. “I’m they guy who fell off the horse that was loose and hit Ann and the horse she was ridin’. I can’t tell ya how badly I feel.”

“Are you saying this was your fault?”

“No, we all know the risks we take, but it doesn’t stop me from feelin’ bad.  Yer girl’s one of the best hands I’ve ever known.  Neither she nor her filly did anything wrong.  ’Twas me an’ the damn rogue I was on that shoulda…”

“You poor dear.” Gayle instinctively grabbed Charlie in an embrace.  All of the emotion and exhaustion spilled from her body the moment his arms encircled her.

 In short order, the two strangers straightened mutually, embarrassed and bonded.  

 Gayle cleared her voice “So, how is she doing anyhow?”

“Leg’s broken – pins and screws and the whole bally-wick – pelvis is cracked pretty bad, but if they can manage the swelling and she stays quiet, no surgery, it should heal as good as it’s gonna.”

“Well, there’s some comfort in that.  What about her head – she looks pretty bruised.”

“Her helmet did it’s job and – if you don’t mind me sayin’ so, as her mom, I wouldn’t look at the helmet – would give any mum nightmares I should think.”

“Both horses died I heard.”

“That they did.”

“How are her spirits?”

“Her spirits?  Well, she’s mad as hell that she is stuck here at a hospital and she wants to go home.”

“You mean she wants to go back to work.”

“Well, there’s nothing worse than bein’ told ya gotta be still for a long time.”

“I guess you would know.”

“I’ve had my fair share of wrecks.”

“Do you have any ideas of how we might keep her still?”

“I was hopin’ you might have some ideas.  Will she come home with you?”

“She ran away at 17, what’s to keep her from running away at 40?”

“True, true. How about friends?”

“Well, there’s Dee’s place.  But Dee’s got her hands full with kids and horses.”

“Where’s this Dee?”

“On the coast, up north.  They’ve been friends for years and Dee might be the only one who can talk some kind of sense into her.”

“Her boss is talkin’ about a re-hab place in Orange County.  Sounds fancy.”

“How well do you know my daughter?”

“Well, I know that I wouldn’t be able to stay in some fancy re-hab joint.  I’d find a million ways to sneak out.”

“And how long do you think Ann would last there?

“She might gnaw her own leg off to get away.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Gayle sank down in the chair next to Ann’s bed.  She rubbed her eyes and temples and signed. Charlie watched her and recognized the hands of a woman who has worked hard. Enlarged knuckles and overly muscled pads, rough skin and short fingernails.  The apple had not fallen far from the tree.

“You’ll forgive me if I tell you that Ann has never mentioned you before?”

“Ah, if you’re wantin’ to know if I’m her boyfriend, I’m nobody.” His smile was bright and genuine.

“What’s her boss like?”

“He’s in love with her, like we all are, but she won’t give him or anyone the time of day.  She just works and keeps us all in our place.”

Gayle laughed, in spite of herself.  She placed her hand as gently as she could on Ann’s forehead and Ann began to stir.

“Since yer here with her, I’ll be goin’ along.  I just didn’t want her to wake up alone is all.”

“You’re very kind to my daughter Charlie, I’d like to thank you for that.”

“Ah, t’was nothin’ I just hate wakin’ up in a hospital alone.  Scares the bejeezus outta me. I have to figure it’s the same for all of us.”

“You might be right Charlie. We’ll see you around?”

“Most likely m’am. I did tell ya that she’s a hell of a gal, didn’t I?”

“You did.”

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