Tonight, I found out that my friend, Billy, who drove me to the Canadian border to start the Divide committed suicide right before Xmas. We weren’t that close of friends, but, it was his kindness and generosity that allowed me to get to the start of the Divide and then complete it. He was the beginning of my journey on the Divide. I am so sadden by this news. Life is so fragile. It hits home for me because I too struggle with depression and anxiety and I’ve been to that dark lonely place many times of wanting to end my life. In fact, after I lost my horse Hayduke in 2016, I attempted suicide and I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator. That wasn’t my first attempt either.
I am happy to be alive today, however, I know the secret deep struggle of depression and having suicidal thoughts. I know the storm clouds that suffocate you when you are at your lowest point. I know the feeling of wanting to disappear, to feel like a burden to others, to dislike yourself so much you feel it’s best that you aren’t around anymore, to feel exhausted by life, overwhelmed by life and to feel completely and utterly alone and drowning in pain, pain that’s just too deep and too difficult to talk about. I know that pain and that scary place and I’ve spent many days trapped in that place within myself. The struggle is always there, it never goes away, at least for me, it doesn’t. It’s a daily battle within yourself to get through the day, to cover up the saddest parts of who you are and to bravely face the world. It’s so hard. It’s so fucking hard sometimes! People are scared and or uncomfortable with the topics of depression and suicide so sometimes the conversations that need to happen, don’t.
The world can shut down the chance for honest conversations about true feelings and the reality that some of us face. Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, do it in private and no one suspects it, but, we need to change that. We need to rid society of the stigma that all of this carries and we need to open up the channels of communication, understanding and love. You never know, maybe your kinda words to a total stranger or a simple phone call to someone you know will make all the difference in the world to them. You don’t ever truly know someone else’s struggles- so call your loved ones more, say hello to strangers, for God Sakes smile at strangers, give a stranger your extra dollar or two, listen more- listen with the intention to listen. Because of Billy I was able to have the adventure of a lifetime on the Divide and now as I sit here and write this I feel so god damn sad, I should have reached out earlier to take him up on his offer of going on an adventure or a trip, but, I didn’t. I didn’t know.
So, if you read this remember to check in on those you love, to create memories with them, to talk openly about things like mental health- even if it’s hard for you- talking and loving one another is the only thing that will change things. Hold on to your loved ones and encourage them to talk, write, adventure, whatever they need to do to honor themselves and to help them get through the day. This world needs more love and more open ears, more kindness and more true humanity. Mental health is so important to us all, to everyone whether you know them or not. We all need to be better humans to one another!!! In loving memory of Billy❤️
The dictionary defines grief as- deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death. It is said that there are 7 stages of grief- shock, denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some argue there are more of less stages. These stages are not linear in any way. They come and go, they tear at your heart, at your very existence, they beat you up, they paralyze you at times. They suffocate you.
In the first few months after losing Martha, I would have this dream almost every night. Martha and I were at our childhood home on Williamsburg Lane, we were in the back study together, she was a little girl again and in her nightgown and I was an adult, I was me today. She would smile and play, but, whenever I attempted to talk to her, she wouldn’t respond. It upset me. I would watch her play and smile in the dream. She had that cute little blonde bob haircut again and her innocent sweet smile with her teddy bear nightgown. She was adorable. Then, I would wake up and realize that she was gone and I would not be able to go back to sleep. I would just lay there and cry. I was so angry that she wouldn’t talk to me in the dream. After awhile, I started dreading sleep because I didn’t want to see her. It hurt too much. A few months later, the dream stopped and that upset me. I remember being alone on hikes or runs and screaming out loud to the universe, asking for the dream to return, it never did. I had moments in the woods where I would turn around to check on Zoroaster and I would see her standing there, clear as day. Then in a split second she was gone, it was though my brain was playing tricks on me. But I begged the universe for more moments like that for more dreams because I felt like maybe she was somehow checking in on me and I needed her. I needed my friend and sister back.
The morning she passed away, I was abruptly woken up at around 2:30 am. I couldn’t figure out what had woken me up. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. I remember I took a bath and stayed up. Then around 11 am I got the news, Martha was gone!! I lost it. I cried out, I screamed so loud. I fell to the ground, I couldn’t even think straight. My world was shattered. Martha was gone??!? I knew right then that I had been woken up the moment she had passed away. I know it sounds insane, but, Martha and I were so close and connected. I couldn’t function or eat or even drive my car. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t possible. That moment started the process of grief for me. The stages ebb and flow through me. The anger and depression stages are what I feel the most of the time.
My anger around her death is so incredibly deep and layered with an immense amount of emotion and questions that I’ll never know the answers to. I am so angry. I am angry at the person who was with her and didn’t call for help, instead he let her die alone on a cold floor. I am angry at the people who sold her the very thing that killed her. I am angry at my husband who blew me off that day and refused to come to the funeral with me. I am angry at myself for not calling her more and messaging her more. Maybe just one text or call from me would have changed what happened. I am angry at the entire situation. Finding a place for that anger seems impossible because it’s just so deeply rooted.
Then, on the other hand, the depression from grief, that comes across me as fast as a hurricane wind, it knocks me over. It makes every part of me ache. The deepness of the sadness is overwhelming. It’s indescribable. At times I feel like a zombie and I feel as though I just can’t take it. It’s too painful. It’s too much!!! I already struggle with depression and anxiety and her death and the grief surrounding it, makes me feel even more lost and sad. More defeated. I swirl around each stage of grief, never knowing which stage I’ll be in on any given day. Some days, I pass through multiple stages at the same time or within hours of each other. It’s a never ending process of hell. I hope through the years that it will ease up, but, how do you cover up such a big hole? How do you let that go? My brain knows she’s gone, but my there’s a part of it that cannot accept it and that’s the part that is still riding through grief and trying to find a way to be okay with what happened. Maybe I’ll get there one day.
It was a extremely hot day in July of 2016 down in Supai, a village located in the Grand Canyon, the home to the Havasupai Tribe. The sun was burning my skin, the heat was giving me a headache and as I walked pass a home; I saw him. A beautiful dark brown horse lying down in the dirt in the front yard, his legs stretched out, his body covered in sweat, he appeared lifeless, but, he was not 🙂 As I looked a little further through the wire fence I saw that his hooves were in terrible shape, his hip bones protruding through his sweaty and dirty body, his ribs so visible he looked like a skeleton. His spirit gone, his heart weary and lonely and it was then that I knew, that horse was going to be mine. I was going to get him out of there, come hell or high water, that horse was mine.
On this trip; I wasn’t down there guiding, rather I was down there to gather information and pictures of the abuse that haunted the canyon, the abuse that became the reason I quit my job. I left Supai a day later, with the knowledge that getting him out of that place would take awhile, it might not happen at all and he might not make the hike out, but, I was going to try. After all, I promised him that I would get him out.
I was no stranger to Suapi, or the Tribe, up until the 4th of June, 2016; I was a backpacking guide, taking people down to camp at Havasupai Falls. After finding out more information about the tribal wrangler our company used to haul our camping gear up and down the canyon; I quit my job, no longer was I going to keep my mouth shut about the horrific animal abuse that took place in that canyon, no longer was I going to accept what all the other guides and people did, I was not going to accept the answer of, “that is just the way it is.” NO, it was time to stand up, yell at the top of my lungs and tell everyone I knew about the truth of that deceptively beautiful place. I spoke to the Channel 12 news, created a page on FB to advocate for the animals and told everyone I knew. The attention began to grow and the pressure was felt by the Tribe. While all the attention was being brought to the abuse I worked everyday to get him out, every night, I dreamt of him. I was ready at anytime to go, hike down and get my horse, bring him out, take him to Flagstaff and rehab him, love him, and begin my journey with him. On July 26th,2016; I was at Best Buy and I got the text, “come get your horse”, it was around 6pm. I packed my backpack with everything I would need for an 8 mile hike down to the village and a hike back out not knowing how long it was going to take. My heart was screaming in happiness, I was getting my horse, I was on my way to rescue him and man, that was an awesome feeling. Wade drove my car, I couldn’t drive, I felt high, I was too excited to focus on driving the 3.5 hrs. We arrived at the Hilltop around 11:30pm and headed down the trail to Supai in the dark. We reached the village around 3am and were excited to get him around 630 am, but things did not happen the way I had hoped. When I arrived at the owner’s house, my horse was gone, I was terrified that something had happened to him. I knocked on the door and was told that my horse and his owner had left the village hours ago. I started running. I had not had anything to eat, nor had I slept and none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I needed to get to my horse. I had made a promise to save him and so I ran my heart out, crying, praying he would actually be at the Hilltop. I ran 8 miles up, arriving around 940am at the Hilltop, he was there, my heart relieved to see him. I met up with the owner, he had run him up the canyon, riding him for a mile and a half. I had to keep my cool though I wanted to smack him and yell at him for what he had done to my horse and so many others, but I knew I just needed to get my horse and paid him $250 like we had agreed on. I will never forget the second he took his lead rope off and walked off.
There I was, in the hot sun, alone for the first time with my horse. MY HORSE!!!!! I was told by his owner he did not like people, but judging from the way he nuzzled right into me as I attached my lead rope to his old halter, I knew that wasn’t true. I had a HORSE!! I was excited, nervous, scared, worried, tired, hungry, but, I was content and I could see relief in his eyes. Well, I had a HORSE now, so of course he needed a name. I named him Hayduke, in honor of Edward Abbey’s writing and passion for the Southwest. So, now I had a HORSE and he had a name. We sat together at the Hilltop in the heat for almost 7 hours, his feet looked like paddles, his body like a skeleton, but I knew he was a fighter, I knew that he knew that I saved him and was going to get him out of there. We spent a few hours together hunkering down under the outhouse looking down into the canyon where he had been living, a place he was never going to see again.
Hayduke was transported to Flagstaff and taken to a wonderful place, that first night in Flagstaff was filled with a ton of commotion and unknowns. I watched as the farrier trimmed his feet, as the first set of abscesses appeared in his feet. It was bad, his feet were in bad shape. I remember feeling like a zombie, so tired both emotionally and physically and worried beyond words about this amazing creature that I had rescued and instantly fallen in love with. The next day, Hayduke’s first day in Flagstaff he ate and ate and ate and ate, and he seemed calm and happy. He seemed as though he felt safe.
The Vet came out on his second day and gave him an exam, did blood work, etc. Again his feet were a concern and we began a daily process of soaking, medicating, wrapping his feet to help open and drain his abscesses. Hayduke moved from that first place to a ranch in Flagstaff where I spent hours everyday trying to heal his feet and allow him to eat as much as he wanted. He also received an excessive amount of love, he probably was so sick of the kisses and hugs, but he got him, everyday. His story began to touch others, so many were rooting for him. I became aware of how generous, kind and loving the horse community is as well as random people. I was nurturing this wonderful creature back to health. He ate and ate and somedays that is all he did 🙂 he became my best friend so quickly and my love for him grew daily. I woke up everyday excited to drive out and spend my days with him, it was as though the rest of the world stopped and it was just Hayduke and I. He was gaining weight, getting some of his spunk back, but his feet, his feet were not improving.
On August 15th 2016, the vet came out to the ranch, Hayduke had been lying down and I could tell his pain was immense. The vet opened a deep abscess that bleed like crazy, he preformed a series of X-rays and I could see it in the Vet’s eyes that Hayduke was in trouble. Hayduke was taken into the hospital that night and put on IV meds, had medical wraps on his feet and received medical care around the clock. I spent my days lying in his stall with him, most of the day, he would lie down next to me, put his head in my lap against my chest and just sit there. It was like magic, but, I knew in my heart that he was sick and that no amount of love was going to fix this. After four days in the hospital it became apparent on X-ray and by watching him that his pain was not going to be manageable, he was suffering and the abuse and neglect he had faced could not be reversed. It was time to say goodbye, time to allow him to rest and be at peace. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a cold rainy day, I knew I had to say goodbye. The Vet told me that I did not have to stay, but, there was no way I was going to leave him alone. It was about 430 in the afternoon, I led Hayduke outside his stall and behind the office. The Vet explained how the process worked, I hated it, I was so angry and heartbroken, but I could not let him suffer any longer. The vet make a braid for me from Hayduke’s tail and handed it to me. He gave Hayduke the first injection, in a few minutes it caused him to collapse to the ground, I remember screaming out, crying my brains out. I felt so sad, so hurt, so fucking mad, so fucking mad. Hayduke now laid on the ground, his beautiful body right in front of me. I went to his head, started loving on him, the second injection went in and he faded like he was going under for surgery. I told Hayduke that I loved him, that I was sorry. And then, the last one, the vet whispered a few seconds later, he has no heart beat. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to run down to Supai and yell at his former owner. I wanted my Hayduke back. I wanted his silky nose to nuzzle my face, I wanted a story with him. But in a matter of minutes that was all gone. I felt like I had failed him. I felt so broken so lonely. I had three weeks with Hayduke and in that short period of time, I feel like I had a lifetime. A lifetime filled with love, hope, smiles, life lessons and compassion, for what else is there in life? Hayduke is now in my heart forever, that is where is was always meant to be. He taught me so much, much more than I ever expected to learn. He loved me and I loved him and though I wish he was still here, I know that my job in all of this was to get him out of suffering and to send him to heaven knowing love. I could have never prepared myself for what Hayduke brought to my life. Out of all of my adventures, this one truly changed me. I am humbled to have been a part of Hayduke’s life. I am honored to have been there as his friend at the end. I am grateful to so many people- Scott and Terry Small, Kathy Oliver, Christine Griffin, Don and Marci Walters, Ruthann Penn, Dr Shane Dennis, Colleen and Dan Larrabee, ATGNIphotoworks, all my horsey friends on Facebook- too may to list, but thank you to everyone who donated, gave their advice, support, friended me to help, assisted Hayduke and I in anyway. Thank you for holding some of Hayduke in all of your hearts.
In loving memory of George W Hayduke, the horse from Supai