It is not like she had not been outside that day; in fact she exercised three of the boarder’s horses from 11:15am-1:00pm and then rode her own two horses until 3:15pm before making the drive back to town. She kept her horses with her trainer who was about 45 minutes out of the city, without traffic. It was a better place though than the last and she decided that there are trade offs for everything, you just decide which risks are worth taking. The day was beautiful and she longed to relish it until it was gone. But, life of a high school student called and her homework sat untouched, waiting on the island.
“Happy birthday to me.” she thought as she crossed off one of the items on her to-do list, “Look at me, already being an adult. Taking care of business, getting crap done, doing adulty things…hey, now I can buy a lottery ticket or move out. Ha.”
She was ready to go off and start the new chapter in her life, if only her father would let her. Tonight was the night though, she was eighteen, she was an adult now, and she was now eligible for the WPRA membership. She had been thinking about this day for the last ten years, when she decided she was going to make a career out of her passion. Unfortunately, her Dad was not thrilled.
She remembers the first time she told him what she was going to be when she grew up. She was 6 years old and had just gotten done with one of her riding lessons; she scampered out into the parking lot where he was parked. He was sitting in the car typing on his blackberry. He did not look up when she hopped in, nor did he ask her how the lesson went. So, she took the initiative and told him all about getting Sugar to lope and do lead changes, even without spurs. She concluded her story with “When I grow up I’m going to be a cowgirl.”
For once, he stopped typing on his blackberry, looked up into the review mirror at this little squirrelly girl with a ridiculous grin plastered to her face.
“Okay” he laughed. “That means you’ll be getting a really good job in the future to pay for it all.”
“That’s why I’m going to be a cowgirl. I’ll get paid to ride horses.”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“Yes it does.” She crossed her arms and scowled back at him through the review.
He shook his head; she was as stubborn as a mule.
“Don’t you ever get scared?”
“What about when the horse spooks, doesn’t that scare you?”
“No. If I get scared he’ll spook more.”
“Why don’t you just get off when he does that?”
“Cause he needs to know it’s okay. And Daddy, God hates a coward.”
He startled “Where did you hear that from?”
“Mommy says it when we’re driving.”
He sighed, “Don’t repeat everything Mommy says, okay?”
She nodded her small head and stared out the window, daydreaming of horses.
“Funny how time flies, it’s even funnier that nothing has changed,” she thought.
Her mom always told her that she and Dad hoped it was a phase. Her mom though, was the reason she even started lessons, had two horses, and was able to rodeo. Her mom convinced her dad to buy her first horse, via ultimatum.
She said, “Gregory, it’s going to be the horse or boys. You choose.”
Eight years and three horses later that statement still rang true; she was so caught up with horses and school that she rarely had time for anything else. Even today, for her 18th birthday, all she wanted to do was ride her horses. She wanted to tune on them and start to get ready for the big rodeo coming up. But the main reason was she needed to escape. She knew that tonight would bring a war and she was afraid.
By now the sun was setting and it cast the yard in a deep gold, which flooded, into the kitchen. She was running out of time before they got home, so she opened her laptop and began typing up a paper for her English class. She didn’t know why she still bothered to try; with a 99% in the class she could skip the next three assignments and still graduate with an A. For some reason, she could never understand why she was addicted to working hard, whether it was in school or horses. She hated this part of herself, the part that would keep her up at night saying she didn’t do enough, she wasn’t good enough, and that she never will be enough. That constant aching to get better but no matter what she never felt herself improve. She qualified for State Finals every year since freshman year, each time she made it further and further. Junior year she qualified for the short go and was the runner up State Champ Barrel Racer. This year she was the State Champion Barrel Racer, qualifying her for Nationals, which would be in two months. Still, she could not fill the void and she knew the only thing that could was this WPRA Membership, a simple card that held her passion, her life, and her future. It was also a ticking bomb and she was running out of time.
Virginia’s train of thought is derailed when she hears the garage door open and a car pull in. She freezes and her blood runs cold. Dad’s home. She continues to type away as the door to the garage slams open and as heavy feet beat the tile floors all the way to the kitchen entrance. The thundering stops, she looks up.
“What are you doing?” he demands.
“Homework, how was work?” she answers.
“I got my Econ test back, got a 96%.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“Not sure, mom isn’t home yet.”
“Its not up to mom to make dinner.”
“I wasn’t the one who asked.”
“Well, you’re off to a great start on adulthood, huh? Can’t even make your own Goddamn dinner.”
She does not answer; there is no competing with him when he is like this.
“He must not have eaten much today, the grown man can’t even feed himself” She thinks to herself.
At her silence, he thunders to the computer room, the chair squeals against the wood floors, out and then in. She hears the pounding of the keyboard.
“Please come home soon.” She silently prays to her mom.
Finally, after what seemed like a decade of waiting, the door to the garage opened and closed cracking the air that was polluted by everything unspoken and the ringing shots from the keyboard.
Mom was home.
“Hi guys! Ginny, what would you like for your birthday dinner? Anything special?” She said setting her purse and keys down on the counter.
“Hey mom, umm I don’t know. How about breakfast for dinner?”
“Breakfast for dinner? That’s not really that special.”
“Haha okay, I can do that.”
She pads over to the computer room, “Hi handsome, how are you doing?”
“Fine hun, how was your day?”
“It was good, what would you like for dinner?”
“Salmon and veggies, please.”
“Alright, sounds good.”
Mom comes back into the kitchen and begins the dinner making process. Dad follows with the squeal of his chair. He stands over the island, as if waiting for something. As if he knows. Virginia began to burn with anxiety. She had to do it now, she had to say something.
“Hey uh Dad, you know how I want to be a professional barrel racer?”
He looks up at her with eyes that make her heart trip.
“Well, you uh, you have to be 18 to get a permit. And I was hoping to get one, since I am eighteen now.”
She waits while her stomach does a gymnastics routine. After a few seconds he finally shakes his head with a grimace, crosses his arms and leans back against the stove.
“Why do you think you can do that?” the interrogation has begun.
“I’m 18, I am eligible.”
“You still live in my house, you’re not eligible for it unless I say so.”
“That is why I asked.”
“The answer is no.”
“Because I don’t want you to.”
“Because I will not support any child of mine who wants to risk their life for a hobby!”
“You’re in luck then since it’s not a hobby. It happens to be my passion and my career.”
“You can’t make a career out of it. You have to be good and even if you are you still won’t get paid enough. All you’ll be doing is travel, you won’t have a home or get married or have kids.”
“Oh I can’t huh? So you’re an expert on the whole industry now that you’ve been to two of my rodeos in the last five years! And I guess me being State Champ means nothing to you. What is enough then? Maybe I don’t want to live like you and mom. Maybe I want to live on the road or in a small house in the middle of nowhere, maybe I don’t want to get all domestic yet!”
“It’s not what you want. Besides, you wouldn’t even be able to handle it.”
“How do you know what I can or can’t handle? You’ve never been there, you’re never around, and you don’t know what I want. You’ve never once asked me.”
“That’s because it’s not your decision to make, it’s not up to you. You’re ungrateful, you’re immature, and you are too dependent on us to do anything!” He roared back.
“You let Willem do what he wants. You let him go to the other side of the country to pursue his dream! Did he make his own money? Did he spend 14 years of his life taking care of something beside himself? Well I did and I have! But you’ve never cared to see that. You can’t just take away everything I’ve earned.” Tears were streaming down Virginia’s face.
“Don’t bring Willem into this. Don’t compare yourself to him; he’s in the military working his ass off. You’re at home doing nothing, you haven’t earned anything, you just think everything should get handed to you!”
“And I haven’t been working my ass off? Oh wait, you wouldn’t know because you don’t give a damn about me or anything I do, all you care about is having control.”
Her father started to say something and stopped. He searched for a response, one bitter enough to shut her up, to make her never bring up the topic, maybe even quit entirely. But that well had run dry a long time ago. Still, everything in him screamed to keep fighting, to have the last word, to win. He looked at his daughter in an effort to find something to say. She stared back with blue eyes ablaze, her face red with rage and something else, hurt. She was a bull waiting for him to throw up the red flag, but this time he did not have it. He was out of crimson words, the ones he would always throw like spears. Now, he could see the scars they had left and it made his heart twist.
“Please dad, please let me do this.” Virginia begged.
“You know how dangerous it is.”
“Of course I do, I’ve been racing for five years and riding for fourteen.”
“Why do you want to pursue this?”
“It’s my passion, dad, the reason I wake up in the morning. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
“Why couldn’t you have played tennis?”
“That requires hand-eye coordination, something I do not have.”
He smiled as he remembered his klutzy little girl, stumbling through life. That was until she climbed up on a horse. There she was confident, graceful, and happy.
“I want you to wait a year before getting the permit. I need to see you prove yourself. You need to get straight A’s in your college classes, keep working, and continue training. I need to see if you can handle all of it,” he negotiated.
Virginia could not believe her ears; at first she thought he was joking. But, by the contorted look on his face she knew he made the decision. At this she leapt up from the wooden bar stool, nearly tipping it over and ran over to her dad.
“Thank you dad, thank you,” she said hugging him tight as tears of joy fell down her face.
“Remember, you’re waiting a year before you can do anything.” He warned
Virginia nodded in his shirt. She did not care about waiting a year, she had been dreaming of this her whole life but she never thought he’d actually let her. She let go and laughed as the weight she bore for ten years was lifted. Her mom, who had been standing by the kitchen sink, cutting vegetables, and wringing her hands, ran over to embrace her daughter. She was also crying and smiling. Her daughter could finally be free.