Remah visits a barn in Southern Ohio (2019)

I had been startled awake one morning by the masculine echoes of my friend chanting from the upstairs where he sits in a pillow nest as tones lift from folded rugs toward the ceiling. He was engaged in his morning ritual of Kundalini. Kundalini is a meditative practice in which verbal tones externalize as energy is activated, opening and moving through chakras. Unlike yoga, repetitive vowels externalize in non-English, which I’m guessing feel extremely awkward in group settings. With pressured speech, my friend tells me about his certification and how his colleagues are tapping into this trendy mind-body connection. He normalizes people’s self-consciousness when they begin practicing Kundalini. As I listen, I’m wondering if I know anyone who might feel comfortable singing foreign words. In slow motion. Out loud. What I’ve learned is that most adults manage their embarrassment of singing by preserving vocal stretches to bathing rituals. Many ceramic tubs and tiled patterns have been blessed with the intimate exposures of, not only one’s pits and bits, but also the chanting vibrations of uninhibited sound. 

My sisters and I, however, reserved harmonious belting to the privacy found between walls of rotting wood, carpeted by flakes of hay and urine-cakes. As little girls, our voices carried through stables at the horse barn across the street – beyond a pasture which could be viewed on tippy foot when standing at the kitchen window. On our neighbor’s property, a white barn perched with aged confidence, flicking paint to reveal its grey hue. The barn’s chest was protected by two large doors latched into cement holes on the floor. Clicks echoed loudly as an L-shaped bolt twisted, pulling away from a hook. The doors rolled open on a track making room for large animals or trucks to dump loads fit for barn-life culture. Center of the room sat a pile of sawdust which transitioned from its pyramid shape to a sunken pile as wheelbarrows filled from the base, leaving a puddle of wood-dust melting like a mound of snow. 

We anticipated delivery week, and from the dinner table would spill the tea, excitedly announcing how the Holders had a truckload of fresh sawdust dropped at the barn. It meant the pile was high enough for us to jump from a rope attached to a large beam near the rafters. We’d swing from the top loft and drop our stick-figured bodies as high as possible, sliding down like sledding on a sand dune. Wood dust clung to our nostrils, stirring us into coughing spells if inhaled during gravity’s pull. Chips of dust pinched legs and ankles as though we were battered chicken breast, ready for the oven. Even at the end of a long day, pieces flaked away while we undressed at bedtime.

Below the barn’s torso stood several horse stalls along with a tack room and concrete corner for bathing. My sister Remah hosed her horse down after coming in from the pasture or riding ‘round the corral out front. I’d watch the weight of a saddle dropping heavily in her forearm as the stirrup clicked on the floor. Steam released from the dip of a wet back, like a fog lifting in a summer rain. Behind her, a side-door entrance led to the hallway of stalls just past the washing corner. I remember a deeply attractive male farrier – how he would lean, folding forward, slicing chunks of rubbering-plastic substance from the bottom of the horses’ hoof. He had a dreamy way of whispering the horse as he held its leg over a leather-aproned knee. Any one of us would be happy for him to whisper us into submission (anyone except my younger sister Leah who was too busy petting kitties every chance she had. Leah was more concerned with pleasing others than enjoying much older men. She was the sibling who would cry at night when she looked at a clock – mint green numbers glowing evidence that it had been an hour or so past our bedtime. Those tears were ignited by guilt because we had been breaking the rules which were so rigidly laid out). At the barn, we’d stand behind the stalls or in the doorway leaning forward to steal a peek at the farrier. I remember from the house, if I’d stand in just the right part of the living room, I could see out the bay window when his truck would drive up our road, pulling into the neighbor’s driveway. This would be my cue to head across the way and partake in my stalking ritual. I remember reading that one of my favorite Cranberry songs had been written by Dolores O’Riordan as a 14 y/old girl, expressing her affection for a much older man. Her song “DREAMS” suddenly became more relatable as my imagination filled with scenes of the mysterious dark-haired gentleman farrier. How I could have written that song about us. 

Among shadows of pine, our Northeast Ohio home sat planted at the base of a horseshoe driveway. Dad had built a wrap-around deck that clung to the second floor, overlooking ravine and woods. Located in Geauga County, “Pine Manor” once hosted a private tree farm. I grew up there with my eleven siblings who were all homeschooled by a chronically pregnant mother. Mom was paradoxically distracted, yet fiercely controlling. With religious permission lived my young parents – a tyranny of overly stressed and reactive, maintaining the privacy of corporal punishment in somewhat proximal isolation, just two miles north of town. The seven neighboring houses seem to look – not with concern, but with judgment. 

We found sanctuary in the surrounding woods and at the stables. I’d climb one specific pine tree whose branches reached out with an invitation to perch. Over the years, it became more of a challenge as the tree grew. Though we were also growing, my legs seemed not yet brave enough. I envied my older brother whose climb could reach the higher branches – his feet dangling while my back curved as I looked up, up, and up. So many hours were spent in the backwoods, hiking down and over the ravine. We’d sometimes hide behind a boulder that sat top of the driveway with blackberry bushes growing up its backside. At night, I’d walk on our road, among the stars between the rows of pine. I’d wander across the street through a vast empty pasture. In early summer, the field looked as though it was covered in a golden yellow quilt with buttercups fully bloomed. Raising my voice to an astrological tribe, the empty silence would envelop me with a small tug of late-night breeze. I felt content and peaceful singing under an open sky. I felt safe. 

Mostly my two sisters and I visited the barn. If we needed escape from chaos at home, it was a welcoming refuge. I’d take a long walk across the gravel road and up the driveway – savoring moments of silence before creaking open the side door and leaning my head in to see if Remah was there. Most of the time, she was mucking stalls or moving about in other busy work with a casette tape of The Cranberries playing from a dirty boombox. That’s a thing about trauma – one learns quickly that survival is possible if you move constantly enough to keep yourself completely detached from any thoughts that might stir up difficult emotions. My sister’s busy fingers cracked from the back of her hand up to her knuckles. Dark red glossed from dried blood splitting open flesh from ice and frost air. In winter, running water risked freezing in the hose. Troughs filled with a thick layer of ice. The buckets revealed a trail near the rim where the hose rubbed in circles as water pressure pushed it around and around. If I were the only one feeding the horses, I’d have to listen to the water’s silence. Once I heard it rushing, I knew the bucket had overflown and was now spilling out onto the concrete floor. 

Today, I can recall the scents of the barn – brisk frozen air of winter, the fresh breeze of autumn, the buzz of nightcrawlers in summer, and birds dipping under spring’s sunlight. A pastoral scene breathed with massive living beings neighing into our conversations, stomping on the floor while they flipped their soft wire tails thwarting unwanted bugs. The rhythmic repetitive motion of humming while chewing grain. If I put my ear to a horse’s muzzle their teeth would grind away creating vibrations against my jaw. “Is this what Kundalini is like?” I wonder.  What I’d give to smash my face in a horse’s nose and inhale deeply –  that soft peach-fuzz flesh with a few thorns of hair protruding from the dip between nostrils. Pale pink like the petals found in the rose garden on our day trip from Kildare County. Advantage is taken when you have access to such teeny tiny moments of pleasure. In a barn among the animals and nature, there is not a thing that doesn’t cast a spell. It invites my nervous system into a trance-like state of peace. If I close my eyes, I can sense myself right back to the barn on a late summer morning. 

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