I love this story. It is a true story and it is possibly the loveliest story that I have to tell. It is also more than a little bit embarrassing.
It starts when I am five years old. In truth, it probably starts well before then, but five is when I start remembering.
I am at an airport. Singapore airport. My whole family is en route from Australia to France. The first leg lasted 10 hours. Now we have another seven hour wait for the second flight that will deposit us in Paris. I only threw up once on the plane, just after landing. My little brother Jono vomited on take-off and my older brother Darren ate all of his peanuts and most of his dinner too.
We all get restless in the airport. Darren wheels me around on a trolley for a while and then mum reads us a book about a tiger in a zoo. Dad is fast asleep. He is sitting upright and his head flops back so he is staring at the roof. Mum smacks Jono when he tries to put his finger up Dad’s nose.
I swan around a nearby shop and find a plastic figurine horse. It is pink and its mane is a brighter pink and it has a glitter star on its rump. It is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen. Then I run back to mum and I beg and beg and whine and whine for her to buy it for me. She says no. I wait for Dad to wake up and repeat the exercise. He says no. I keep begging and I keep whining until Mum says she has a headache. But then Jono finds a toy gun that he wants and he starts begging and whining. And then Darren finds a toy car and so he joins the chorus. Mum is tired and her head hurts and Dad is tired and wants to sleep and eventually they buy us the “goddamn overpriced plastic.”
I am ecstatic about my new horse and I hardly care that Jono pretends to shoot it with his gun and Darren runs it over with his car. Mum and Dad are delighted because the whining has stopped and we are playing in relative peace.
The pony goes everywhere with me. I refuse to give her up when I go to the toilet. She goes to bed with me and I talk to her about stuff. Secret stuff.
A few weeks later we are in the south of France visiting my cousins and aunts and uncles and it is Christmas day. Apparently it snowed and we all rugged up and made snowmen in the street. Apparently I dressed up as the Virgin Mary and posed for photos under the Christmas tree. But I don’t remember any of it. All I remember is getting Patch – my second toy horse. He is black and white and is the size of a small cat. He gallops on his own and neighs when you squeeze his ear. He is my most prized possession and I play with him for the next two years. Even after the batteries run out and he can no longer gallop or neigh.
After the trip to France, my passion for horses intensifies. I write picture books about a pony called Sparkle. I sketch stallions and palominos. I read the entire Pony Club series and every night I make mum read Black Beauty aloud. I watch every remake of Black Beauty known to man. I watch Ben Hur. I idolise Xena Warrior Princess because her riding skills are second to none.
Dad brings home horse magazines and I cut out pictures, place them on the carpet and sit on them. I close the door and close my eyes and pretend I am riding.
When I turn six I start going to Mrs Mason’s. She is an old lady with whiskers on her chin, but I forgive her for them because she owns half a dozen horses and she takes me riding every Saturday. It is the highlight of my week. It is the highlight of my life. She teaches me to keep my back straight and my heels down. She shows me how to groom a horse and how to avoid being kicked. She is my god. I freaking love Mrs Mason. This happens every weekend for three years.
When I can’t ride a real horse, I improvise. I set up two chairs and put a cushion between them and ride it. When we are playing outside, I put a towel over a tree branch. I ride it. A couple of girls at school like horses too. At lunch we put skipping ropes in our mouths and pretend to be horse and rider.
Dad brings home three enormous cardboard boxes from work. I draw horse heads on the inside and outside of one and convert it into a stable.
Every single time I blow out the candles on my birthday cake and every time I see a shooting star I wish for a horse. At church I pray to the Lord to give me a horse. I am obsessed.
Then I turn nine and a few months later my life is forever changed.
It is early Christmas morning and my brothers and I have finished opening all our presents. We are each admiring our new stash of toys and clothes and books and lollies. Then we notice that mum is suddenly not there.
“She’s getting something outside” Dad says and we go back to admiring our new things.
A few moments later Dad makes us all stand behind the front door. We don’t really know what is happening but we are all excited. Then he opens the door and there on the front lawn is a perfect white pony with a bright red ribbon and bright red bow around her neck. She is the most magnificent beast I have ever laid eyes on. My heart skips a beat and I am paralysed on the spot. Darren and Jono rush forward to touch her and I still don’t believe my eyes. I am completely dumbfounded. Confused even.
I immediately assume that Mrs Mason has hired the horse to us just for Christmas day. Dad edges me forward and I ask him if we can keep it for the whole day. Yes, he says, we can keep her forever. It still doesn’t start to sink in until I throw my arms around her neck and breathe her in and we take her for her very first ride. Her name is Sheba.
And that is the most magical day in my life. The day I got a real life pony.
What was your best day ever?