by Trey Nosrac
In a Starbucks bustling with holiday shoppers, I stood in line with my new horse partner. Each barista wore an elf cap. They also wore plastic name badges where they had printed Merry Christmas and their name in a different foreign language. After perky Yvette (Joyeux Noël/France) handed over our coffee and croissants, we headed to an empty table to lament being single over the holidays.
Batman began, “I’ve tried everything from a tour of Thailand to staying in my bedroom watching Hallmark movies.”
I nodded, “Last year I laid on the couch watching a football marathon and snooker on YouTube, which is probably not exactly what the Three Wise Men had in mind.”
He shifted gears and asked, “What was your BEST Christmas as a single adult?”
“Easy, three years ago, late afternoon, December 24, my phone buzzed. The buzz was a Facetime from Diesel Cotton.”
“He called with tidings of joy?”
“No, Diesel isn’t all that joyous, he’s an addict from my past misadventures. I was semi-recreational. Diesel was a professional with a prison record. He mucked stalls at the racetrack. We just traveled in the same pathetic circles.
“I don’t think he meant to call me, it was a mistake or butt dial. When I said hello – nobody answered. I just saw his video feed jumping around crazy for two minutes — a few pine trees, semi-trucks lined up in a parking lot, a Welcome to Kentucky sign and a big white water tower that had the word “Florence” painted on the side. Then the phone seemed to fall on the floor and all I saw was the inside roof of a car or truck and an arc light on a pole. I waited about 10, 15 minutes and kept saying hello – nothing. I hung up, and then tried to call but didn’t get an answer.”
I took a sip of coffee and continued, “I called the front gate of the racetrack and caught the guard just before he was going home and asked him if he saw Diesel.
“Yeah, he signed out about nine this morning with two yearlings in a four-horse trailer filled with some hay and tack. He was shipping the babies down to Pinehurst for Peter Glickman.’
“Did he look okay, say anything?
“‘Well, he looked like Diesel, with long stringy hair, plaid shirt, and cigarette dangling. I think he mumbled ‘Merry Christmas.’ He should be getting to North Carolina right about now.’
“I thanked the guard, hung up, and wondered why Diesel’s phone was at a rest stop just across the Ohio border? I had a bad feeling.”
Batman asked, “Why didn’t you call the police and have them check it out?”
“Because it was Diesel, he probably has warrants and might not have a license. Instead, I got in my car and took a ride. It was only two hours, and even though the snow was starting to fall, it was just those big flakes that sort of float down. The traffic was light, and to be honest, it gave me something to do.
“I pulled into the rest stop just as it was getting dark, the truck and trailer were there, motor idling, snow piling up. I heard the horses whinny and got out of my car. My heart was racing when I peeked into the truck cab window. Diesel was slumped sideways in the cab, his stomach on the console, and his head in the passenger seat. I thought he was dead. I ran around to the passenger door, opened it, and saw his kit on the floor next to his phone. At first, I didn’t feel a pulse, but then I did.
“The next hour was chaos. I made phone calls to 911, EMT, Police, and Peter Glickman. Then a procession of Narcan, insulin, a respirator, statements, photographs, evidence bags, photos – crazy time. The EMT whispered to me, ‘He has a lot going on. We will take him to Emergency and he will almost certainly be admitted. He’s in bad shape.’”
Batman opened his hands and said, “You call this a nice Christmas story, it’s more like Stephen King.”
“This is just the setup, it gets better. I called the trainer, Peter Glickman. He thanked me three times before I asked him what he wanted me to do with the horses.’
“Glickman paused, and then said, ‘I know a family near Paris, Kentucky, just outside of Lexington. I could probably get someone down to you in a few hours.’”
I said, “Hey man, it’s Christmas Eve, don’t bother them. Just text me the address and I’ll bring the horses to them.
“He thanked me another three times.
“The police seemed more interested in climbing into the trailer and petting the horses than a routine overdose. They heard my conversation with Glickman and one of them said, ‘Don’t worry about your car, just pull it in the employee lot, and we will take care of it. Hope your friend makes it.’
“It was almost midnight when I pulled into the small breeding farm. Christmas lights draped the white farmhouse. Five people poured out of the front door as the truck crunched down the driveway. The Millers were a husband and wife team, Len and Gwen. They had two daughters, May, age 12, and Sara, age 9. The other adult was Gwen’s sister Della.
“Len Miller took care of the horses. He gently led them off the trailer into stalls prepared with fresh hay and water. May, the older daughter, brushed and fussed. Gwen took me by the elbow and escorted me inside to a table set with a small banquet. Everyone gathered around as I told my tale. I wrapped it up and said that I needed to get going.”
Gwen Miller spoke in a way that left no doubt, “You are not going anywhere, we have the bed ready in the spare bedroom. You will find a bag with toothpaste, toothbrush, and a few other things.”
May added, “We go to Church at ten in the morning if you want to join us.”
“I did. After they tended the horses on Christmas morning, we piled into the family van. The pastor gave an outstanding delivery of the manger story and the congregation belted out the Christmas oldies but goodies. After church, they insisted I stay for presents and dinner.
“As they unwrapped presents, Sara walked over and handed me a package with the tag, “Trey, horse guy.” I opened it to find a pair of fuzzy red woolen socks, probably re-gifted, but the best present I ever received.
“At noon, an assortment of Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and grandparents rapped on the front door. They took off their boots and met ‘the horse guy’ sitting by the fireplace. Batman, they are such nice people, they talked of horses and racing with optimism, of politics without bitterness, and of important things with wonder. I never saw a cell phone all day.”
“Batman took a sip of coffee and said, “Sounds like you fell into a Hallmark movie.”
I clicked my fingers and said, “Interesting you say that – because the next morning when Len drove me back to my car, I was trying to be clever and thanked him for my Hallmark Christmas with a horse theme. He surprised me when he answered by saying, ‘we have problems, health problems, other problems, but we just keep doing the best we can. We try to keep our eyes on the big picture.’”
Batman asked, “What about Diesel?”
“Not sure, after a few days the hospital got him in some kind of program, but he only went a few times and everyone sort of lost track of him.”
“And the two yearlings, did they turn out to be champions?”
“You know, I never checked. All I know is that I stumbled into a bushel basket full of kindness with two horses on a snowy Christmas Eve. And it was not just the Millers, the police, and the medical techs, everyone reached out as if they were happy to help. Oh, and the trainer, Peter Glickman, he sent me a check for $400. I sent $200 to horse rescue and $200 to drug treatment because I already had been given plenty.”
I stuck out my foot, pulled up my pant leg, and pointed to my fuzzy red ankle.