In an effort to ground me, I think, my mom came up with the idea that I go to work on Mackinac Island in Michigan the summer after my senior year in high school. I sent in my application, fully expecting to receive a nice letter of regret. Instead I was on the phone talking to the hiring director and booking plane tickets a couple of weeks later. It all happened very fast. And I got caught up in the sweeping current of it, the spontaneity of it all. The possibility of success.

I didn’t have anything holding me in place. Except for my first love. I would be leaving him for the summer, but I truly believed that we were strong enough to last three months of separation. He was strong enough, but I wasn’t.

My mom flew out there with me, to help me get settled. She left the day before I was to start work. I was fine when she left. The day I was supposed to go to orientation, I stayed in bed instead. Sobbing. Unable to do anything or face anyone. I was quite simply paralyzed with homesickness and fear.

The day after, I went and apologized for not showing up and reported for duty. The first half of the summer I would spend working in the taxi barn. I was the first and only woman to work in any of the three horse barns. And they never let me forget it. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done. At the beginning of the summer I had so much trouble lifting all the tack, but by the end I was tossing 50lb harnesses like they were paper. I became one of the boys and I loved it.

I reveled in my new found strength. I was lonely and tired for most of the summer. But I was also more exhilarated than I had been maybe ever. I learned to stand on my own two feet. I learned to enjoy my own company. I discovered wells of strength and bravery within me that I had no idea were there. And I came home a stranger to those I’d left behind.

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