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Lyn Hacker: It was a dream, wasn’t it? Until it was an obituary, a shock and ‘meeting’ his mother

In my dream, my ex and I were on a horse farm out on Paris Pike. We were out in one of the fields which held a small herd of lovely thoroughbred mares, fat with unborn babies, serenely munching up the bluegrass.

We were there, but we were not humans. We weren’t even horses. We were bears – huge, golden-haired grisly bears. Our fur caught and glistened in the sun. Our paws were huge, our claws were terrible, and they dug in to that fertile soil unleashing an intoxicating smell of loam with every stride we made. We romped, chased, caught and wrestled each other in emerald, verdant grass under a deep, azure Kentucky sky (unknown by less fortunate folk).

We were insanely happy. I awoke deep in that passion of pure joy for just one moment, then realized it was a dream. It fell apart around me, and filled me with such a deep-seated sadness I couldn’t raise my head. Then, as dreams do, it began to fade.

A lush field, a barn and a full moon — the stuff of dreams with the right person.

I had completely forgotten the dream, as we’re wont to do, by the time I reached the kitchen to feed the dog and cat and start coffee. Dreams are there, brilliant, intense, life-altering and then poof, gone. Somewhat bittersweet, I went about my day. I went about several days. I didn’t think about it again for several months when, as dreams do, bits and pieces of it jogged my memory. I was working on the computer then, and for fun, googled my ex’s name.

It came up as an obituary.

Suffice it to say, I hadn’t expected that. Even though we have been divorced for a very long time, I never expected he had died. I read the simple entry over and over again, fact-checking about birthday, age, siblings, etc., to make doubly, triply sure. It was all there in black and white. It was him. He was gone forever, and I was stunned.

I was stunned from the day I met him. In my defense, I was coming off a relationship with a college guy in West Virginia, studied and esoteric enough to cheat on me with an opera major. I was also suffering the loss of a beloved uncle who had come to a bad end.

In a desperate move to bring some sense to my world, I had sought the comfort of farm work and horses to bring my head around again. I needed the cool of a barn around me, heat outside, echoes of birds chirping in the rafters and horses snuffling in their hay – and honest, hard, sweaty work that culminated in sleek, glossy coats with hints of dapples.

I’ve always straddled the line between college-bred and school-of-hard-knocks bred. As one who believes doctors and auto mechanics occupy similar spheres, I’ve never accepted the precedence of one over the other, having come from the heritage of schoolteachers who were also farmers. I grew up eating plenty of squirrel, deer and fresh caught catfish.

I was also taught to parse a sentence.

Hard-packed and skinny, this pure white guy in tight jeans showed up one day with his cigarettes rolled up on the shoulder of his tee shirt and his baseball cap worn backwards – this was in the 80s. Hello! His hair was long and the color of corn silk, with just as fine a feel. He was the best damned horseman I’ve ever known, in terms of just plain horsemanship. He got along with even the meanest, roughest ones – they soon became putty in his hands. And the ones who were nervous and scared relaxed in his care to develop into confident young racehorses. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Memories started flooding in – busy mornings turning out yearlings and cleaning stalls. Afternoons spent grooming and training the yearlings for the sales. Then in came the sweetest memories – once when he brought my yearling in from the paddock with wild flowers in her halter, once when he stopped while I was grooming a horse to lean against the stall door, and drawl out (in his best Johnny Cash), “You ain’t the marrying kind, are you?” I was flat-out smitten. This guy was country. Moreover, he was mountain. Moreover he was sweet as Tupelo honey. Finally, hope loomed on the horizon.

“Maybe the right guy,” I answered back.

The obit was not enough. I had not seen him for so many years. I had to know more. I scanned it for family information, noted his mother’s name and googled her. I hit on an address and phone number and with a deep breath, called the number. A woman who sounded tired and elderly answered. After making sure she was the right person, I introduced myself. “I’m your daughter-in-law,” I said.

“I didn’t know I had another daughter-in-law,” she answered. And so began a long-distance acquaintance with the mother-in-law I had never met. She sounded so sweet and sad. She had lost three of her sons by this time, ironically the exact three sons I had known from that horse farm so long ago.

She told me stories of my ex’s life – things I hadn’t known before, but in retrospect answered so many questions. We discovered we had a lot in common – she was a writer and a song writer also. We talked about writing, the blocks, the fugues. We talked a lot about him.

Normally when you hear someone has died, there is an almost scripted response to it based on some kind of a relationship. My ex and I, what a horrible can of worms we were. What kind of a relationship did we have? He was my type, but I was not his. Well, sometimes I was – he changed like the wind. It wasn’t important to me, but it was to him. Yet, he loved me. I don’t think he could help it, and there were times I don’t think he was happy about it.

Up, down and all around, we struggled. What roles were we supposed to play? He had pretty set ideas. And there was never time, even in a marriage, to talk it out. Never any laid back afternoons, chatting over a glass of iced sweet tea (or a beer). When I read his obituary, I was sad for his loss, sad for a man I only had glimpses of in a very short time. Sad for what could have been.

It’s been a lifetime between now and then. Sometimes when things are quiet, I play the game, what would have happened if… So now I thought, what would have happened if I had never met him? What if I had never married him? What if we had never divorced?

I would have been so sad had I never met him. My life would have been so much poorer. He was a trip, in so many ways. He was the proverbial onion, one with a hundred layers. A true original, one where God broke the mold.

If I had never married him? That would have deprived me of some of the most truly spontaneous, romantic moments in my life.

What if we had never divorced? Boy, something awfully big would have had to have come undone, for sure. We were two hard heads, star-crossed for sure. It was just so hard in so many ways, and so darned easy in so many others. Like if I had never bought my mare, I can’t conceive of those precious moments in my life gone, never happened. It’s just they came and went so quickly.

But we were just not of a similar mind. He said to me once, a long time after it was all over, “I knew you wanted to be somebody and I knew I couldn’t do that for you.” I had answered, “I am somebody. And it wouldn’t have been your job anyway.” Two entirely different lines of thought.

So now he is gone forever, never to be seen again on this plane. I feel now like our marriage was more of a statement from both of us about our feelings for each other – that we loved each other enough to marry the other, for good or bad, both of us knowing we probably wouldn’t last.

I’ve “met” his mother now, and his sister has friended me on Facebook, so it’s comforting to have that bit of a family, even just technically. I doubt they will consider me family, but my own is gone now, as well as all of my aunts, so it will be nice to have someone to send cards to again on Mother’s Day. I hope she won’t mind. It’s the least I can do to honor him. Life is for the living, so there’s no faltering.

I’ve been moved on for over 30 years, and yet the memory is as close as yesterday. I had had boyfriends before him. I had never had a dream like him though, someone who checked off almost all of those boxes of everything I liked and admired in a man. And it’s not to say I haven’t been happy since, and happy in a good relationship I hope will last a long, long time.

It’s just that there are those special people that drop by in a life, maybe only once, in a life.

Dreams are there, brilliant, intense, life-altering, and then poof, they’re gone.


Lyn Hacker is a Lexington native raised by Appalachian parents to be not only educated but proficient in the living arts – working very hard, playing music, growing gardens, orchard management and beekeeping. The UK graduate has been a newspaper staff writer and production manager, a photography lab manager, a Thoroughbred statistics manager, a Bluegrass singer and songwriter, a registered respiratory therapist, a farmer, a Standardbred horsewoman, and a beekeeper. She lives on a farm in Sadieville.

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