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This particular afternoon Esther's attention was focused on Breeze, a two- year-old paint with thoroughbred bloodlines. The animal was very skittish and was proving to be quite a handful. With Jack, her farm manager, she maneuvered a rope around the horse's neck, but putting a blanket on her had failed again. Jack was convinced that Breeze had emotional issues, possibly from misuse. For a month he had stood quietly with her in the corral, coaxing her with special treats of molasses, flax seed, and oats. His efforts had born little reward. Today, after their latest failed attempt, Esther watched as Jack led Breeze back into her stall. She had an idea, though. Inside the farmhouse her husband, Arthur, and their close friend David were poring over architectural designs for a Jewish Community Center.
David wanted to build a state-of-the-art facility that would serve not only the Jewish community in town, but also be available to the population at large. Fifteen years before, David had been denied membership in a country club that was all Christian. His response at the time was to design a country club that accepted members without regard to race or religion. That same spirit of uniting the community still burned inside him. Apart from his business acumen, David was also known for having quite a knack with horses; and it was this talent that interested Esther today.
She had been so thrilled when her best friend Tori had married David. They seemed a perfect match: charismatic businessman meets New York fashion designer, both of them ambitious, community-minded, good looking. After they left New York for a quieter life in a small town, they raised two beautiful girls. Now, with Elizabeth and Kyle off to college, Tori had re-ignited her 'passion for fashion' that had been put on hold while the girls were young. The passion had ignited as a student when she was singled out in What They Were Wearing. The industry paper was covering a major horse show in the city; and Tori's original design, which she was wearing, made the front page. That fire had never been extinguished. But to her credit she had been determined that her girls would feel loved and nurtured. She had made them the focus of her life, obsessively so perhaps, and now equally as obsessively her focus was redirected to her career. It had taken only a few well-placed calls to people connected with the industry for Seventh Avenue to be clamoring for the promise of her new collection. Vogue had even offered a layout in their spring edition.
Esther leaned into the room where Arthur and David were working.
"I just can't figure this horse out, David. Have you two finished? Sorry, Arthur, you know it's just that David is so good with horses, and Breeze has been such a pain. Do you mind taking a look at her?"
Her eyes look beseechingly toward David, taking in his six-foot frame casually dressed today in Levis and ropers. Arthur and David exchange knowing smiles. There was no point in trying to reckon with this force! Arthur folded up the drawings as David rose to follow Esther.
"Now, tell me what you know about this horse," David asked of Esther as they moved outdoors. Esther shielded her eyes from the sun as she looked up at him.
"Well, Breeze is a two-year-old mare with some pretty good performance bloodlines, but she is very untrusting. Actually, Arthur has been after me to sell her because he is afraid that she will seriously hurt someone. She's already kicked Jack three times. But you know how I am—I always think that with love and the right connection, we can make her come around."
"What does Jack think about that? He's a pretty good judge of horseflesh, himself."
"He thinks she's basically a good horse but has emotional issues. He may be right."
"Not to worry! Let's go see what's distressing this little damsel. Maybe it's just the new digs she has not adjusted to, though I imagine her last home would be hard-pressed to match this."
David smiled and paused as he entered the barn. He loved that smell of hay and horse and leather, and he took a moment to enjoy it. As his eyes adjusted to the change in light, he moved slowly and purposefully toward Breeze, making sure to keep his gaze non-threatening. Everything about him exuded grace, confidence, and style. His voice began a low, soft drone of encouragement, "Take it easy girl. There you go, take it easy, girl. Nice and slow. There you go. You're doing fine." His charm coupled with his intelligence made him irresistible to animals of any kingdom, human and four-legged alike. In the barn or in the boardroom there were not many like him! It was truly like watching a beautifully choreographed ballet.
Breeze pawed the straw underfoot and made a token move to avoid the halter; but she, too, quickly fell under his spell. Masterfully he led her out of the stall and toward the mounting block outside to bridle and saddle her. After exchanging the halter for a bridle he deftly smoothed the blanket over her flanks and saddled her. It was amazing to watch the transformation. Hypnotized by the continuing lull of his voice, "Good girl. You'll be fine. There you go. There you go. Easy does it. There you go." Breeze allowed him to test his weight in the stirrup. Her ears perked, but she stayed still.
With one fluid move, he eased his leg over her back just as an explosive backfire from a passing pickup pierced the tranquil scene. The blast of noise set off an irreversible chain of events. A loud whinny pierced the reverberations of the echoing backfire. The Bernese dogs came to attention. Jack stopped his work. Everything had a dream-like quality. As if in slow motion the horse, now balanced on her hind legs, pawed through the air with her fetlocks. Fear and panic flashed in her eyes. David, suspended halfway up with nowhere to sit, released the reins and stretched his arms toward Breeze's neck. The bright blue sky with only a few puffs of cottony clouds were all David saw before Breeze lost her footing and fell directly on him.
Esther and Jack watched in horror. Time stopped, and it seemed an eternity before the horse scrambled to her feet and streaked out to the pasture, reins flapping. David lay on the ground motionless, eyes closed, breath coming in short gasps. Jack knelt and felt for a pulse, finding only faint intermittent movement under his calloused fingers. Not a religious man by nature, he let escape in a low tone, "Dear God!" Looking up into Esther's frozen face, he firmly directed her to go into the farmhouse to get Arthur and to call for help. She hesitated only a moment before she ran desperately as if to escape a nightmare. Everything was quiet now except for Jack's murmurs begging the Creator to spare their friend.
Interlude, A Perfect Match
A perfect match, that's what it looked like to the outside world. In fact, it was perfect because we both knew right away that we were meant for each other. Later on an astrologer confirmed this. She also made clear to me that the relationship would not be an easy one, even though the love was very deep. I knew on my wedding night that life with David would be very difficult. On the airplane to New York he was up and down the aisle with relatives; then the second day he lost his wedding ring, which seemed to make him happy. One night when I was feeling abandoned, I asked him how he felt about marriage. He told me, "Ninety - ten—you're ninety and I'm ten. You are the marriage."
Difficult? Yes! For someone like me who had such low esteem, it was just crushing. For a long time our routine never varied: David went to work and I stayed home. Whenever something went wrong, real or perceived, he erupted and I kept quiet. I fought back tears and bit my tongue to stifle words I wanted to say. It felt like walking on eggshells all the time. On one particularly difficult day, I said to myself, 'walking like this is for ballerinas, not the kind of dance we are doing here.'
But I must tell you, the man was charismatic. Everyone loved him, he loved the children and doted on them, and he bought me jewelry to make up for all the things he couldn't say. I first saw him in a restaurant in Old Forge when I was with my cousin. David was 'holding court' with a group of people he wanted to help him with a new project. Having been denied membership in the local country club because of his religion, he wanted to build one that would include anybody who wanted to join. Watching him win over the crowd with his personality, and then hearing his good ideas and enthusiasm, I could see that he was a born leader. He won me over, too; I just had to figure out how to live with this compelling man. That undertaking took a lot of time, work, and yes, sometimes heartache.
So, a match made in heaven—perhaps if you mean in the stars. Later I came to understand that the relationship was really about deep spiritual transformation that was bound to be gut-wrenching at times. The glue of love is the energy of the universe, and that is what held this marriage together.
Jack stood out on the road ready to wave down the approaching ambulance. The barnyard was soon filled with an orchestrated cacophony of questions, lights, and people running, taking out equipment—the farm's usual peace taken over by trained specialists on a mission to save a life. Blurred images of EMT's kneeling on the ground checking David's airway, searching for obstructions and broken bones, bracing his back and neck all went by like old film footage in disconnected jumbled images. The crew radioed ahead to the hospital, and in a few minutes they were gone. Esther forced herself to concentrate on what needed to be done next.
"Jack, you'll go check on Breeze and call the vet? Give her some carrots and maybe some oats. Arthur, I can't believe this. I should have known something like this could happen. I should have. Oh God, I feel so awful."
"I know you do, Esther. So do I. Let's just get to the hospital as quickly as we can."
"I didn't even ask what hospital they were taking him to."
"Actually, you did, St. Elizabeth's. Thanks for taking care of things here, Jack. We'll let you know what happens."
"Arthur, what about Tori? We have to let her know what has happened."
"Let's wait till we get to the hospital. We'll know more then. Just make sure you have her number in New York with you."
Meanwhile in the ambulance the crew worked feverishly as they made the twenty-minute drive to St. Elizabeth's. They monitored David's vital signs as they inserted needles, administered medications, and performed CPR. David became increasingly pale and his breathing labored. Soon he was no longer able to speak and lost consciousness. The activity of the paramedics increased in direct proportion to the slowing down of David's vital signs. It was a profound shock for them all when his heart could not be restarted and his pupils were fixed. They had lost him. He was dead! A hush filled the emergency vehicle as the men sat quietly awaiting their arrival to the hospital. No matter how many times the crew lost someone, it was always a deep and very personal loss. Lifting David out of the vehicle onto a stretcher, one of them noticed a faint movement in his chest and an erratic beat began a tentative rhythm. Could it be possible? He had been without a heartbeat for over three minutes! Working with precision and speed, the emergency room staff took over while thanking the EMT's for their hard work and concern.
Run by the Sisters of Mercy, St. Elizabeth's was the oldest hospital in the area. Greatly in need of a facelift as it approached its 100th year, the hospital had served generations of townspeople and been witness to the countless vagaries of life. Its façade belied the care and healing that it offered inside. Most patients felt that the Sisters truly lived up to their name.
Arthur braked to a stop at the first empty space. He glanced at Esther for a minute, then drew a deep breath, pulling courage and hope out of the air for both of them. Together they ran for the emergency entrance. Just inside the door they were caught up short. It was that hospital smell. Pain and fear, anxiety and confusion have their own peculiar and pungent scent: an animal smell, like that of an unseen predator that can't help but alert and alarm the senses.
The clerk at the desk, busy with paperwork, hardly looked up as she asked in a not un-friendly tone how she might be of help. Words tumbled out of Esther and Arthur's mouths as they explained the accident. "He was just brought in. Can we see him?"
"Not right now. Please take a seat. Are you relatives?"
"We are not family, just good friends."
"Is he married?"
"Yes. His wife is in the city. New York. She's presenting a fashion show this weekend."
"I just need some basic information: age, address, any medical problems. If you could just put that on this form please, and let me know when you get hold of his wife."
Esther nodded and picked up the pen and started filling in the blanks as best she could. Surprisingly, her hand was steady, even though her mind was racing. Esther had been swept up in the storm of the accident and its immediate aftermath. She knew she needed to be calm and strong while they waited for the doctor's report, yet it was so difficult. People came and went in the busy waiting area: an earache, the flu, a broken hip, a head injury, a bicycle accident. Arthur and Esther grew increasingly uneasy as time passed with no update from the receptionist or the doctor. The chatter of people in the waiting room began to sound like background noise in someone else's movie. A clock ticked somewhere, measuring absurdly this void where there was no time.
"Should I call Tori now, or wait and see what the doctors have to say?" The words seemed to swarm in the air, not wanting to light anywhere like buzzing insects impossible to swat away. Her hand involuntarily went up as if to shoo them off. Of course she should call Victoria, and, of course, she should call the girls! A telephone, where was a telephone?
Before she could move, a stocky man in blue scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck stood in front of them. Neither Esther nor Arthur heard his rubber-soled shoes coming into the room. His appearance in front of their chairs brought them back to the immediate reality.
"Are you the ones who brought in Mr. Litchfield?"
"Yes." She could barely breathe. "What ... how is he?"
"Are you Mrs. Litchfield?"
"No, they're our best friends."
"Have you been able to reach Mrs. Litchfield?"
"Not yet. She's in the city. New York. Can you tell us anything about David? I need to let her know, as well as their girls." Her voice was measured, but her hands betrayed her, clasping and unclasping to the beat of a galloping horse.
"He has to have surgery, but I will need her to sign for it."
"I am Mr. Litchfield's attorney, and also have his medical power of attorney," Arthur interjected. "The papers are in my office. Do you need them now?"
The doctor saw the anxiety on their faces. "Tomorrow will be fine. Mr. Litchfield is on a ventilator right now and is being treated for shock. He is scheduled for surgery on a badly broken leg, and several ribs are broken. We won't know the full extent of his injuries until then. That was a large animal that fell on him and there might be some internal bleeding. We will proceed with the surgery. Will you two be staying here?"
Excerpted from The Divine Journey by Nikki Friedlander Copyright © 2012 by Nikki Friedlander. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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