Neville Bardos. That name might not mean anything to you, but he made the front page of The New York Times this week. The name of an Australian gangster. Only he’s a horse. A miraculous horse who has made an impossible comeback from near-certain death (almost fatally killed in a stable fire) a few months ago to win the title of International Horse of the Year this week. As a writer, I am always attuned to the ways in which the stories of others—humans and non-humans alike—can show, by metaphor, analogy, or plainspoken example, the ways to contend with suffering, to act courageously, to love without conditions, to forgive without resentments, to reveal the unbridled (to stick with the equestrian theme) force of Spirit harnessed (giddy up!) with Will to Survive and Thrive.Thus, I have been thinking a lot about Neville Bardos. It is also fortuitous that Neville also happens to be my maiden name, so his comeback story seems necessarily yoked to mine. But then again, I’m a writer and as such, am compelled to create meaningful narratives out of the random coincidences of living—that is the essential design of plot. To make the ways in which these weird connections bump up against each other significant.
Neville Bardos the Gangster Horse meet Neville Bakken the Mad Momma
Neville Bardos’ story is that of two redemptions (to use a favorite word of Dr. B.’s). He originally started off as a not-so-successful thoroughbred racehorse in Australia who was at auction, destined for dog food at the slaughterhouse until Boyd Martin, a competitive Equestrian Eventer bought him for the grand sum of $850. Yes, you read that right. Martin saw something in Neville—beneath his failure as a young racehorse--that would make him a superstar at Eventing, the equivalent of an equine Triathlon: horses compete in a cross-country obstacle course, show-jumping, and dressage. It takes years of complex training to get one horse competitive in all three areas. Five years after Martin purchased Neville, he started winning titles, and in 2010, he was a top finisher among American horses in the World Equestrian Games which meant he was well on his way to the 2012 Olympics.
Then on May 31, 2011 at 12:30 a.m., Martin received a call that his barn was on fire. Several horses died, Neville survived, barely, and was taken to an emergency facility at The University of Pennsylvania where he was treated for burns on his body, but more significantly, placed for treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen tank as his entire open airway was burnt. A breathing tube was inserted into his nose. Martin abandoned hope that Neville would ever compete again. As he says in the Times interview, “We were happy he was alive,” and assumed his horse was fated for a life of grazing. Neville returned back to the farm for rehab, spending time grazing, but as his handlers describe, getting “anxious,” pushing for more, demanding more, so they began short workouts. Within three months of the fire and his near-life-ending injuries, Neville placed 7th at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, one of the world’s most prestigious equestrian events.
For some reason, LL Cool J’s 1990’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” has just strangely, and surrealistically come to mind—maybe it’s the background beat? Maybe it’s the Rocky-esque parallel I want to draw with Neville? Neville Bardos’ Australian Gangsta M-Fucker self looking Death in the eye, looking his handlers in the eye who wanted to say , “Take it gently,” but knowing that Champions Take IT (and I’m speaking of IT, my IT here, too) On at Full Force? So LL seems just right (If you can, try to sing it. Or better yet, YouTube it for full effect):
Don't call it a comeback
I've been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MONsoon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Over the competition I'm towerin
Wreckin shop when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops
Don't you dare stare, you betta move
Don't you ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced
Competition's payin the price
I'm gonna knock you out! HUUUH!!!
Mama said knock you out! HUUUH!!!
I think I need to download this song to my Ipod. Lately, I've been feeling a bit put out to pasture, a little less Gangsta, a little more headed for slaughter. It's been a rough, debilitating few months. Somehow, I've managed to contract a bizarre parasite: Dientamoeba fragilis. Sounds like a lovely, exotic nosegay, something to pin to the lapel? The experts aren't sure how I picked this up, as it's associated with pig and ape contact. For months, though, everyone assumed I wasn't following my meal plan as I was vascillating between gaining weight and losing weight (an assumption that I can understand given my usual MO). For months, I've been plagued (Ha!Ha! Literally!) with intense pain after eating, and all the symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel or Colitis, so eating has become an anxious, difficult process. Lots of tests, including an Endoscopy/Colonoscopy, all negative, but then my doctor discovered that my body wasn't absorbing fat (hence my inability to gain/maintain weight), and then, like some episode of House, I was tested for parasites, and low and behold, Bingo! Dientamoeba fragilis, which accounts for nearly all my symptoms.
Unfortunately, the cure, the antibiotic Flagyl, is as wretched as the nasty, wormy buggers colonizing my insides. For the past two weeks, I've pretty much wanted to crawl into my own worm hole and die. Round the clock nausea and headaches and what feels like melodramatic taking to my bed and couch at all times of the day with extreme fatigue. What the worst of my hangovers used to feel like in college only I don't have the hazy-memory-of-the-fun-I-may-have-had-dancing-on-the-bar-the-night-before-to-console-me. And piled on top of feeling like utter and complete shit, like an incapacitated invalid, I feel guilty for feeling so sick--unable to summon up the energy for my kids, unable to summon of the energy for my husband (What does he come home to? His wife on the couch, moaning, ready to vomit at all hours of the day, gurgling stomach and rancid flatulance (Thank You! Dientamoeba flagilis and Flagyl at war), pasty face, UTI infection caused by the Flagyl. I feel like one of those gout-ridden, Rennaissance English kings, swollen-toed, splayed across his throne, belching and bemoaning his fetid self.)
And on top of this, mania escalated, so sleeplessness and irritability, so an increase in my mood stabilizer. And on top of that, a few hours last week in the ER because I thought I had a hernia, but it just turned out to be a severe muscle strain due to a chronic cough I can't shake, and on top of that, my daughter getting over pneumonia, and on top of that, we just found out from her chest x-ray she might have an issue with her heart, and on top of that, my son puked mac 'n cheese all over (my) bed again last night because we've forgotten to give him his acid reflux med the past couple of days because of the pile ups of all the "on top of that's."
Is this kvetching? Sounds like it to me. This is me at the mercy of IT, throwing my hands up in despair, defeat, and exhaustion. Okay, yes, I'm allowed to be exhausted. Anyone would be with all of these "on top of that's" coming at once. The war between parasites and Flagyl has been lengthy and exacts collateral damage, so I should give myself a break. As my husband says, "I give you permission to take it easy on yourself. You can take a nap, you know." Only I don't "know," not really, not in Gulity-Punishing-Kerry World. But of course, I broke my arm all those years ago testing out the theory that I was Wonder Woman and discovered I was NOT Wonder Woman.
But I am Neville Bakken the HorseWoman, if not Neville Bardos the Horse. But like Neville Bardos, who was redeemed once by his owner for $850, on pure discerning speculation that there was that something waiting in him that would make him a champion in the most grueling, the most challenging of Equestrian Events (and Martin gambled right!), he was redeemed a second time by whatever Spirit (yes, a deliberate use of capitalization) moved through him, pushing him from a life finished out in passive pasture (To graze or not to graze? That is the question!) to a life of flying again over fences, of feeling his lungs expand with air, of feeling his heart thrum against his chest, of feeling his sense of purpose and mission return. That is Neville Bardos, gansta, taking back his territory, eyes on the prize.
So it is for me. I feel like shit. But I get my ass out of bed or off the couch. Go see Dr. B., who is a 45 minute drive (not a negligible distance when one feels like roadkill). Keep the house clean and tidy. The laundy under control. The kids in good working order. And keep eating, each meal and snack despite wanting to hurl at every bit.e And am now going to dash off to my noon AA meeting, my own hyperbaric oxygen tank.
Neville Bakken. A Little Bit Gangsta. I'm Gonna Knock You Out. HUUUH!