7: Chuckles the Thoroughbred

That night, Molly called Frank to tell him that Sparkle turned out to be a dud. It was fine. Molly was already over the disappointment and excited to see the next horse.  

“Chuckles” had been advertised as a chestnut gelding, a red coloured male horse. The ad said he was 16.3 and had raced, evented and done the jumpers. He was 11 years old, just coming into his prime. This was exciting to Molly because she wanted an experienced horse, one that she could just get on, a horse that would already know what it was doing, and one that was old enough not to act like a green baby. Off track racehorses were popular in Molly’s area, there was no shortage of them coming from the local tracks. Chuckles, being a thoroughbred, had raced with a rider on his back, not pulling a sulky.

Molly had heard that off track thoroughbreds that weren’t fast enough for the track made great riding horses. That is, assuming they were just too slow and not because they had been injured. Injured racehorses that get retired from the track face a more uncertain future.  Molly thought it was a good sign that Chuckles had done other sports after leaving racing, it showed he was sound for riding. 

The farm where Chuckles lived was about an hour and a half North East of Burlington. Greta and Molly set off at about 10 a.m. stopping for coffee and a bagel on the way. Molly was certain this must be one of the best ways to spend a day.

Upon arrival they pulled into a small hobby farm, it was so small they had driven past it several times before finally seeing the address on a fence post, hard to read and easy to miss. Molly noted the large old Victorian red brick house, a small barn and a couple of fenced paddocks. A few hundred yards away she could see two horses in a paddock. One of them was a chestnut!

A young woman, about 20 years old, greeted them as they parked.  

“Hi, I’m Natalie, you must be here to see Chuckles,” she smiled. 

“Hi Natalie, yes we are! I’m Molly, we corresponded by email. This is my sister Greta.” Looking around Molly added, “This is a really cute farm.” 

“It belongs to my parents, it’s a lot smaller than the one they used to have. They just sold this one too, they want to downsize again, which is why I need to sell Chuckles.  I had hoped to retire him as a ponying horse at the track, but I decided I didn’t want that life for him.” Natalie looked toward the paddock where the horses were, adding, “So let’s go get Chuckles.”

As they approached the paddock Molly could see that the other horse, a dark bay, was a young and impressive looking mare.

“Is that your horse too?” Molly asked.

“That’s a mare we’re keeping here on rest while she recovers from a racing injury. Chuckles is keeping her company. She’s a nice horse… won over $2,000,000 at the track so far and she’s only 4 years old.” 

“Wow. That’s impressive,” said Greta, as Molly nodded with raised eyebrows.

Natalie turned and walked over to Chuckles. He stood quietly, swishing his tail in the hot sun. The other horse was standing as close to his tail as possible to benefit from it’s fly swatting qualities. Molly noticed there was no shelter from the sun in the paddock and at over 30 degrees on a hot August day, both horses looked hot.

Natalie explained that she had been working at the local racetrack, training young thoroughbreds. Her family used to be in the racing business, which was how she came to have Chuckles.  He had been purchased by a group of investors from a Kentucky breeder for $90,000 as a baby, maybe two years old. His breeding and bloodlines included some of the greatest racehorses of all time, like Northern Dancer and Secretariat, among others. Much to the disappointment of those who bought him, however, he didn’t do well at the races at all, and was retired quite young.  This was when Natalie’s family had purchased Chuckles for their daughter to use as a show horse.

Natalie mused about the years they had spent together, how he was able to jump as high as the highest hole on the jump standards, and how she had flown him to Florida each winter to compete. Most recently, she had been eventing with him, level 1 or something. She didn’t explain why exactly, but only that with her parents moving from a farm to a house, she couldn’t keep Chuckles. She could have boarded him somewhere, thought Molly, but Molly didn’t want to ask why that wasn’t an option.  

Chuckles was sweet and had a calm demeanor.  While Natalie went over to the small shed to get his saddle and bridle, Molly and Greta looked him over more thoroughly. 

 “He is definitely not 16.3, maybe 16 hands, or 16.1,” Greta noted under her breath to Molly. 

“Ya, true, but he’s broad. It would be more of a problem if he were narrow,” Molly replied, running her hands along Chuckles back. 

His ribs were showing quite a bit, but he was still a handsome horse. He had a nice eye, a broad shoulder and big barrel, and a long body. Longer bodies were typical of turf racers from Kentucky where turf (grass) racing was the main racetrack surface.  

Chuckles looked a bit tired with his scraggly uneven mane, dull coat and unusually short tail.  He definitely needed some TLC. He was only 11 years old but seemed older.  Molly noticed a scab from a sore on his withers and an old healed scar from a girth rub under his belly. 

“What’s this from?” Molly asked, pointing Natalie to the scab on top of his withers when she returned. Natalie explained it was from am ill-fitting Western saddle used on him while she tried him out as a ponying horse at the track.  

Ponying horses are used to help manage racehorses before and after their races. They are typically calm, well trained horses, who don’t mind being bumped and pushed by overzealous and hot racehorses. The ponying life could be rough and so Natalie had decided not to leave him there.

As Natalie went on to share the adventures she and Chuck had experienced over their years together, he stood quietly, tail swishing methodically with periodic, half hearted nips at any flies that landed on his shoulder. He was relaxed and had a pleasant look on his face while Natalie put on his saddle and bridle.

She walked him into a dirt paddock that had a small jump in it, and with complete ease in her running shoes, shorts and t-shirt, she got on and walked, trotted and cantered him around. She was clearly a natural rider and full of confidence. She popped him over the small fence and cantered away with total ease.  She slowed to a walk, bringing Chuckles over to Molly and hopping off.

“Want to get on?” she said with an encouraging smile.

“Uhhhh, I’m not sure,” said Molly, ”I’m a bit nervous, sorry.”

Another hit on my head and I’d be in big trouble, she thought. 

“Ok, well, take your time.” She said with a kind smile.  Chuckles remained there, standing quietly. 

“Try him Molly, put your helmet on first. Did you bring your helmet?” prompted Greta.

Molly got her helmet on and decided to go for it. She stepped up from the mounting block and onto Chuckles back and again he stood there quietly.

Molly asked him to move forward with a squeeze of her legs and away they went around the small dirt pen. Once she felt comfortable, she asked him to move up into a trot. He was so good, so steady and calm. Next, they went into a canter, it was smooth and easy. She worried it would be hard to stop him, or that her unsteadiness in the saddle might make him nervous, but it didn’t and he slowed down as soon as she asked him to, with a light pull on his reins.  With every passing second, Molly found herself more and more comfortable.

Greta watched in amazement that Molly was able to do what she was doing, with a strange new horse. She could see she was unsure up there, but there she was, determined to do it. She admired her for that.

Molly didn’t want to push her luck by trying to take Chuckles over a jump and decided to get off and leave it on a good note. She noted the old spur mark dents in Chuckles side, little divets where someone’s heel would have dug in with a steel poker attached to their boot. She touched the saddle sore on his back to make sure she hadn’t opened it when she rode him.  It was still a scab and seemed undisturbed. 

“I’m interested Natalie, but I’ll need to have a lameness exam,” said Molly. 

Natalie was quick to point out that she couldn’t wait for a vet check unless it happened within the next day or two.  She was leaving for Europe the following week. Greta also felt that Molly could skip the lameness evaluation. Her reasoning what that if Molly got one year out of Chuckles, it would be worth it.

“Why pay for a lameness evaluation if he’s only costing you $2,000,” Greta had reasoned.

Natalie suddenly perked up with a suggestion, “Hey, I’ve seen lameness evaluations done loads of times, they’re just flexion tests. You bend the leg at the knee and hold it for 60 seconds, then put it down and trot the horse off to see if they maintain an even step on that leg. I can do that for you now, I know how to do it. I just need one of you to time it.” 

Molly was excited at the prospect of saving some time and money and having the exam done now. It would at least give her the peace of mind knowing she had done flexion tests, so she could make the decision she knew she wanted to make. 

“That would be great Natalie, let’s do that!” said Molly.

Natalie walked Chuckles over to the driveway and with Greta timing her, she held up his front right leg, bending it at the knee, with his hoof held under him near his belly. 

After 60 seconds, Greta gave the cue and Natalie trotted him off down the driveway. 

Chuckles was limping. A fairly big limp too. You could tell because with every other step, his head popped up.

Natalie pulled him up, clearly dismayed. “Well, that’s strange,” she said. Picking up his foot to inspect it, brushing it off as she looked closer for a rock or some other indication as to why he was limping. Having found nothing, she shrugged and held up his left front leg to repeat the test.  

“He probably stepped on a stone when I trotted him the first time,” smiled Natalie.

Greta again timed her. 

After Greta gave the signal at 60 seconds, Natalie again trotted off with Chuckles and again, Chuckles was limping, his head bobbing up and down with each alternating step.

“It must be the rocks on the driveway,” said Natalie. “That, and I just pulled off his front shoes, so his feet are probably more tender than usual…  I should have swept the driveway before trotting him on it…” She lamented. 

 “He’s not lame,” Natalie reassured Molly.  

Molly looked at Natalie and then at Chuckles. She realized that her need to buy this horse was going to usurp any evidence that she shouldn’t. She was being driven by the power of “What if I had died? What if I die tomorrow?”  

On top of this, she didn’t have the experience to understand what the implications of lameness were, and to her it was like if she herself had a sore foot. She would rest it, and all would be fine. In fact, it only made Chuckles more appealing. They could mend together.   

Molly and Greta said their good-byes to Natalie and started the drive home. Contrary too better judgement, Molly was bubbling over with excitement, “I’m about to be a horse owner!” she screamed to Greta. “I think I’m actually going to make this happen!”

6: The Painted Horse Named Sparkle

The first horse Molly and Greta went to visit was a paint horse with one blue eye (and presumably one brown eye). A paint horse is a type of breed that is either black and white splotched or any other mix of white with another colour. They look a bit like a typical dairy cow or a harlequin coloured great dane. Molly had found this paint horse listed on Kijiji. The ad said “Sparkle” could be ridden Western or English and was “always in the ribbons” at horse shows. This was the type of horse Molly was looking for in many ways, a nice all-rounder. Molly was more of an English style rider but a horse that could do both sounded amazing too.

After picking Greta up from Patricia’s house, they started on their journey to see the horse. The trip to the farm would take just over an hour, so they used that time to catch up and talk horses. The farm was pretty with a line of Maples along the driveway. A group of riders were gathered around as they arrived. With a friendly smile, one of them waved and approached Molly’s car, “Hi there, can I help you?”

“We’re here to look at Sparkle, I’m going to try her out. I’m supposed to meet Meghan?” said Molly.

“Ohhhh, ok, Meghan’s inside, go through that door and you’ll see her,” she offered.

Molly could barely contain her excitement as they headed to the barn. She and Greta exchanged excited toothy grins as she opened a big old red barn door and entered the stable.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkened isle and she saw a horse in the cross-ties being brushed by a young woman. The girl looked about 16, maybe 17. She had long blonde hair, tied back in pony-tail with what looked like some hay bale twine.

“This must be them!” She thought. 

She approached and introduced herself and the girl confirmed this was in fact Sparkle, then introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Meghan, thanks for coming.”

“I’m just getting her saddled up,” she continued. 

“Great! Sounds good!” replied Molly with another excited look at Greta. “Meghan, this is my sister Greta, she’s my second set of eyes for horse shopping! She’s just in town for a few days.” Meghan and Greta exchanged smiles.

Molly had hoped to see the horse before she was saddled. She had read that when buying a horse you should see how it reacts to everything, from being taken out of it’s field, stall, etc., to having a saddle put on. But oh well, she was horse shopping – this was so exciting!

Silence ensued as Meghan adjusted the horses saddle and it wasn’t more than two minutes before Molly observed the horse seemed to be breathing heavily.

“Oh poor girl, she must have just come in from running in the field, did she? She seems out of breath,” queried Molly.

“Oh no, she has allergies, she’s been in a stall here and she should be on outdoor board, she needs to be outside at all times. Her allergies get really bad when she’s on indoor board. Last year she lived outside 24/7 and you could barely tell….” explained the girl, trailing off. 

“Oh, okay, what kind of allergies?” asked Molly with an ever growing tickling in her intuition.

Without looking at Molly, the girl replied, “heaves,” and gave one last quick brush of the horse before undoing the ties and putting on her bridle.

Molly had, thankfully, heard of “heaves” before.  An unfortunate type of lung disease in horses that affects their long-term health and athletic ability. The typical symptom is that the horse always seems out of breath and has laboured breathing. Very sad. Molly’s brain took a minute to catch up with this and in the meantime the girl led the horse outside to demonstrate how she went under saddle. Molly exchanged a now disappointed look with Greta and followed the girl to the outdoor ring.

If the heaves weren’t bad enough, the girls attempt at riding the horse was downright awful. The horse swerved in snaking lines around the ring while the girls hands wildly grabbed and pulled at the reins, the horses head sticking up the air like a giraffe. Clearly she was a novice, and had no control and the poor horse had no idea what she was asking. For some reason, in spite of how terrible the ride was, the girl chirped out that she was about to demonstrate how the horse jumped and headed toward a small jump in the ring. Her arms flailed wildly in the air as she kicked at the horses sides to encourage it to go over the fence.

“Dear God,” thought Molly as the horse swerved hard to the right just before the jump. The girl was unseated but didn’t fall off, and continued on, chirping that she would try again.

Before Molly could stop herself, she blurted out, “That’s enough! That’s enough! Okay, thank-you, that’s great, you don’t have to show me anymore!”

“Are you sure?” said the girl, with a look of disappointment as she pulled the horse to a walk.

“Yes, it’s okay Meghan, she needs to rest I think,” said Molly.

And by the grace of God the debacle came to an end. The horse was now huffing and puffing so badly Molly was concerned she might fall over.  She gently suggested to the girl that she walk the horse until her breathing returned to “normal”. And with that they thanked her, and Molly and Greta headed directly, and without hesitation, back to the car. Molly felt bad for the girl, she was clearly in over her head, and no one was going to buy that horse.

“Wow, that was brutal,” said Molly to Greta once they were back in the car. 

“That horse had really bad heaves, and oh my god the riding. It was so terrible. That poor girl. Where is her mother?” said Greta.

“I know, she was completely out of her element, that was bad,” agreed Molly.

Sparkle was definitely not the one.

Molly had lined up another horse to go see the following day, also from Kijiji. A chestnut thoroughbred named “Chuckles”. 

5: Horse Shopping

Molly called her sisters and close friends to tell them the news. It was met with lots of “Oh my gods” and “I’m so sorry” and “Oh Molly… oh you poor thing.”

None of which, to be honest, were very helpful.  Molly had three older sisters, they were five (Patricia), six (Greta) and seven (Frauka) years older than her. A reaction that stuck in her mind was from her sister Patricia, who after the initial news had recounted her reaction saying, “You know, when I heard about this, I was like, that’s it, I’m putting all that stuff between us aside and focusing on being there for you, that’s all that matters now.”

It was very sweet and sincere, so sincere in fact that Molly wondered if Patricia realized what she had admitted, the part about the stuff between them. By the sounds of it, bad stuff. What did she mean? Molly had always felt things, cutting remarks and put-down. Family stuff. But Molly only understood them as the receiver, how they made her feel insecure, unworthy, and stupid. So it surprised her when Patricia blurted out some understanding on her end of bad feelings between them.  Molly had never had the courage to ask her, why had she been so harsh at some of Molly’s lowest points.

Molly recalled a time when she about 18 years old and having what she could only describe as a panic attack, about something their step-mother had done, or was doing at the time, she couldn’t remember an exact reason.  Molly had broken out in blisters all over her body. She had gone to her sister in tears, to show her the blisters, and for some sisterly advice. Patricia had looked at the blisters, then leaned back recoiling and looked at Molly stating, “You’re fucked.”  

And now, Molly thought, she was ready to put it all aside to help her soon to be invalid sister. Molly believed people were inherently good. Patricia was no exception, she had many amazing qualities, a razor sharp wit, the ability to throw an amazing dinner party and to top it all off she was a social worker. But memories ensure we remember the good and the bad. Molly couldn’t help but remember how often they’re relationship seemed out of balance over the years and that she never really understood why, or what she had done. Her sister resented her, there was no question about that, she always had. Be that as it may, the present circumstance had redirected their relationship now that death was apparently looming. 

Even Molly’s sister Greta had booked a flight in from Winnipeg, leaving her big job managing the McPhillips Station Casino, one of the big native reserve casinos, to come and see her ailing sister.  And her oldest sister Paula, seemed almost giddy about the news, and promised to come visit and care for Molly “when the time came”. 

Before her car accident, Molly had been preparing her resume to make a job change. She was ready to move on to her next challenge and take her career to the next level after five successful years. She had been contemplating her relationship with Frank, they had been together for a couple of years and the relationship didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

And now?  She was lucky to have a job with enough tenure that she could stay on and get paid for thinking with the capacity of a chipmunk. Frank had turned out to be her rock, answering the phone at all hours, providing infinite, compassionate patience. It was ironic.

 “What if I had died in the crash?” she thought, “what would I regret not doing?” It was in that moment a singular thought came, like a bolt from the blue. 

“If I had died, I would have never owned a horse,” she heard herself say.

Horses had significance in Molly’s life. Ever single birthday cake candle wish she’d ever made was, “I wish for my own horse.” And blow.  A wish not unlike many little girls and boys. Molly’s love for horses was tied to a memory of her mother. Molly’s first memory of her mother was watching her ride her horse, while Molly sat on a fat pony named “Beany”, desperately trying to copy her mother’s equestrian skills. Beany was a babysitter. And Molly was, at the time, very much still a baby at 4 years old.

Molly’s mother, Inga, had grown up in Sweden and had ridden horses there as a young girl. After having four girls, she had decided to buy her first horse, no doubt looking for something of her own after being consumed by children for so many years. She had finally made her dream of owning a horse come true, and purchased a pretty bay mare she called, Sundance. She kept Sundance at a farm not far from their home, run by a kind farmer we called “Mr. Van”. Mr. Van had ponies on his farm that Inga rented for Molly and her sisters to ride while she visited and rode Sundance.

Horses

Sundance was a sturdy and athletic Morgan cross. Beany was a black and white, rather lazy pony. Perfect for little Molly. Molly remembered a sunny day, watching her mother trot around on Sundance, while Molly walked in a small round pen with Beany. Molly had wanted to move faster, but Beany seemed immune to the kicking from Molly’s small and ineffective legs.  Such great memories Molly thought.

These early experiences evolved into a lifelong need to be around horses, watching them, reading about them, being near them and riding them. After her mother died, Molly would beg to go to a riding camp for the summer, and worked week-ends cleaning stalls to pay for riding lessons, and then summers during school breaks.  Molly’s father couldn’t support her ongoing horse obsession but as long as she paid her way, he was always glad to drive her to the barn and faithfully dropped her off and picked her up from the farm without a complaint. The barn work was more like child slave labour but Molly loved it. In exchange for working Saturday and Sunday, sweeping, cleaning stalls and feeding hay and grain, Molly received one riding lesson each week. 

Over the years, Molly would incorporate horses into her life whenever and wherever she could, but always with the understanding from her father that they were too expensive to own. Owning horses was for people with money. Molly always found a way to ride though, either paying to ride with her own money or by riding the horses no one wanted to ride because they were free. It was practical, affordable and it worked. 

Molly’s thoughts returned to her current situation. “If I had died and never fulfilled this one dream, I would be rolling in my grave, I’d be so pissed off. How ridiculous it that. And why? Because other people get what they want but I don’t because somehow I have to aspire to a higher level of practicality than they do?!”

She began to reason with herself like a child arguing to a parent. Next, she started combing the online classifieds, gleefully signing up for a dozen Facebook groups that listed horses for sale in Ontario. She needed to get an idea of what was out there, she also needed to get an idea of what she was looking for, and what it cost. She had no idea what she wanted and so, she started to ask other people.

The only thing more exhuberant than a person shopping for their first horse, is someone else, helping that person shop for their first horse. It’s not their money, and not their responsibility; win-win! More importantly for Molly, it completely distracted her from her current issues and recent diagnosis.

Molly wanted a safe horse. She couldn’t afford to hit her head again on a high strung horse.  The more you hit your head the worse the concussions become, until you’re a mumbling, slurring football player at the age of 45. Not fair, and not cool, but true. 

Horse shopping would involve a lot of driving and hopping on and off unknown horses, so she would need someone to go with her. He sister Greta had booked her visit down from Winnipeg, which could be timely for horse shopping, mused Molly. Greta had a horse of her own in Winnipeg and was somewhat experienced having shopped for one before. Molly thought it might be fun it they went together, and perhaps Greta could offer her some advice and experience on how to buy a horse that’s safe and sound.

So with hat, Molly picked out a couple of horses from the classifieds and planned to go horse shopping with Greta the following week. 

4: The Receptionist’s Wrath

Molly arrived at her Doctors appointment a few minutes early and sat in the small waiting area. It then occurred to her that maybe she was reqired to check in, so she approached the reception desk. 

Without looking up, and in the flattest most annoyed tone, the receptionist asked, “Do you have an appointment.”

“Yes, I have one now, at 2 p.m. with Dr. Fissel,” said Molly with a smile. 

Again without looking up, “What’s your name?”

This annoyed Molly as clearly, if her appointment was at 2 p.m., and the receptionist was looking at the appointment book, she would see her name there. 

“My name is Molly Wahl”, she offered. 

“Healthcard,”replied the woman in a surly tone.

“Oh, sure, here you go,” Molly said, again trying to be helpful by hurriedly retrieving her card and presenting it.

“Have a seat,” said the woman, taking the card without ever once looking up.

What in the fuck of all fucks is wrong with this receptionist, thought Molly. Here I am, totally zonked out with what is likely a really bad concussion, and I have to deal with this miserable woman who’s actually getting paid to treat me, a tax payer, like a piece of shit?  Honestly. That kind of bullshit attitude really drove Molly around the bend. If you’re dealing with sick and injured people you can’t be an asshole. Period.

Once she was called in to Dr. Fissel’s office, Molly proceeded to tell him what had happened and how she was feeling. He nodded and listened politely saying it would take a couple of weeks to get over “this”. Then nodded some more and seemed to have nothing more to offer.

“Do I have a concussion?” she asked.

“Well, maybe, it’s very hard to determine these things,” he said.

“But why else would I be feeling all of these strange effects to light and sound and just …normal daily things? I feel like when I drive I’m actually a bit dangerous, I’m not really there. What should I be doing? Should I be going to work?”

He gave a light-hearted laugh, “ohh, ya, you dinged yourself, it’ll take a couple of weeks before you feel like yourself again.” With that he had nothing more to offer.

Molly left the office feeling even more confused by her doctors lack of information and guidance, it was almost like he hadn’t wanted to say much. Wasn’t it his job to explain and guide people dealing with injury or illness?  Weird, the whole experience was just weird.  

In the following week Molly experienced some intense headaches that were so bad they kept her up at night and had her bawling, terrified she was having the dreaded brain bleed she read about on Google. Google always mentioned that before you die you get this headache that is the montezuma’s revenge of headaches, the worst head ache of all time. One time she called Frank in the middle of the night, screaming through her tears, terrified she was dying. He talked her down and more than a little afraid himself, he drove down to see Molly the next day.

Molly booked another appointment with Dr. Fissel. 

It was on her second visit that Dr. Fissel begrudgingly agreed, after hearing about her head aches and continued symptoms that, “yes, you probably have a concussion, but I’m not an expert, so I’m going to refer you to a neurologist for a consult. Also, I don’t deal with insurance companies so I can’t help you if you need any insurance paperwork.”

He stated this in such a way that Molly could see he’d had past experiences that made him want to avoid insurance claims like the plague. The thing is, Molly didn’t have a claim, and was confused by why he would bring up insurance claims. She had never made an insurance claim on anything in her life.  

She later realized that Dr. Fissel actually knew more about what was about to happen to her than he was letting on.  Molly’s brain injury was bad enough that it did warrant an insurance claim, because she would need rehabilitation, time off of work and physiotherapy and on and on and on; and that would all begin with a healthcare professional, like her family doctor, indicating that yes, on presentation after her car accident, it was highly likely that yes, she had a concussion.  Which as he had indicated, he would not be willing to do. 

3: Mid-Life Crisis

By the time she climbed out of the back onto the snow, cars were starting to pull over and people were getting out and walking over to the wreck. 

Molly wandered in a fearful haze until there, she saw her.  There was Betty, standing at a distance in a cornfield.  She was facing Molly but didn’t come forward. Molly tried, in the most encouraging tone she could muster, to call Betty over as she walked towards her. She didn’t recognize her own voice. 

“Oh God don’t run away Betty, it’s me.”

Betty slowly began to wag her tail and tentatively came toward Molly.  She looked like a dog who had been reprimanded for stealing food from the kitchen counter and wasn’t sure if they were forgiven yet.  Miraculously, she appeared physically uninjured. 

A man and woman came over asking questions, which Molly couldn’t understand, or answer. The man handed Molly her phone, “I think this is your phone,” he said. Molly took the phone but couldn’t remember what to do with it and handed it back. The man informed her that his friend had called 911, and it wouldn’t be long before help arrived.

Molly felt cold, and realized she didn’t have a jacket on. Gently taking Betty’s collar, she meandered back towards her car for a coat and a leash, both of which she found strewn about in the snow.  

She needed to call someone, she needed to call Frank. He needed to come get her. She took her phone from the man and still, she couldn’t use it. She handed it back and asked him to find Franks number and dial it for her. It rang and went to voicemail. She tried again, voicemail again. Why wasn’t he answering? She thought. He always answered his phone. 

She tried to reach him for over an hour, calling his cell and landline. When he finally picked up she cried, blubbering out some details and a rough description of where she was. When Frank arrived, he apologized that he had, unbeknownst to him, dropped his phone in the barn while doing chores and hadn’t even noticed it was gone. He was walking by his house when he heard the landline ringing inside and had thankfully gone inside to answer it.  

Fast forward to March 23, 2019 and things are quite different.  Like, for example, Molly was six years older and having what seemed suspiciously like a mid-life crisis.  She was turning 44 years old. 

She had slept well the night before, and was planning to make a list of everything she was grateful for as a way of celebrating the day… the day she was born. The list included the health and welling being of her dog Flicka, her horse Benjamin, her family, friends, her own health. Health was a bit of a big deal as there had been a lot of death and disease in Molly’s family fairly early on; and it just kept on coming over the years. It was never something to take for granted when things were settled down in the death department. She’d also lost her first two Great Danes quite young, young for a Great Dane even, to very sad circumstances. She was grateful her current one, although recently diagnosed with Addison’s disease, was still alive. So, a list seemed like a good thing to do. She’d read in a self-help book that writing down what you’re grateful for is a good thing to do, gets you thinking in the right way.  “The right way…huh,” she thought.

The day ahead looked promising, the sun was out, Frank was down to visit and they were making plans for the day. Frank had asked her to come out and watch the Kincardine farm the following week while he was away, which was very enticing. Molly was unemployed and not having much luck finding work since she finished her contract job at the local government services office. In fact, she hadn’t had much luck finding work since she quit her job in 2017.  While she didn’t regret the decision to do it, she had never really planned out what to do in her career after that; except a vague sense to “do good”. The motivation had been to get away from her old job, and take some time off follow other dreams, which she did. But she had no intention of going back the way she had came.

2: Where’s the dog?

A millisecond later she recognized the car was sliding, and tried to correct its course – but over-corrected.  The back-end of the car swished one way, and with another small correction, it swished the other way and then… Molly was no longer in control of her vehicle and it truly seemed to take on a life of it’s own, swishing back and forth making bigger and bigger fish tails along the highway, with increasing momentum.  Molly just froze, and a slow motion effect set in, just like in the movies. A surreal understanding that you are completely and totally out of control as something enormous takes over your life. It could all be over in a second.

This is what imminent death must feel like. Here it comes.

The car went from fish tails into a complete 180 degree turn, spinning across the highway and through the oncoming lane. The force of the car was jarred when it met a pile of dirty melting snow and dirt on the curb, launching the car into the air, flipping it. It finally came to land with the driver side of the car jammed in the ground.

Silence. 

When Molly came to, after what must have been just a few seconds, she couldn’t move and couldn’t get out. Her brain was struggling to deliver this information having sustained a whollop to the front and side of her head, with no air bags deployed.  

Where’s the dog, why can’t I hear Betty?

The memory came back of the last moments before impact, where the car had been flying through the air. Molly had felt Betty’s body fly past her head, between the front driver and passenger seat, she heard and felt the dog scramble in mid-air, her 130 lb body passing by like a sack of potatoes, catapulted from the back to the front, thumping the dashboard and then Molly had blacked out. 

Betty was nowhere to be seen or heard. Molly tried to call her, but her voice croaked, raspy and weak. She tried again to get out of her seat but couldn’t, she felt stuck.  She sat back again, and fumbled for her seatbelt, but couldn’t remember how to undo it. She touched her chest and realized she was attached by a seatbelt. Running her hands along the strap, down to the release button, she pressed it and felt the seat belt let her go. Her body slumping into the open space, unrestrained. She tried to open the drivers side door but the door was bent inward from being jammed into the ground.

Panic was starting to set in. Was Betty dead in the back?  Molly still couldn’t hear anything and hadn’t been able to turn around.  She turned to look for the dog and saw that the rear window had been blown out, along with all of her things, onto the ground outside, and still no Betty in sight. She had to get out and find her. 

Grasping the passenger seat headrest she pulled herself through the middle of the front seats, into the back seats and then pulled herself over and into the hatchback area. Still no Betty.

She couldn’t breathe. 

1 of 9: Setting out

On March 22nd 2013, Molly was in a ditch. More specifically, she was about to be catapulted into a ditch. 

She had taken the day off to drive to Kincardine and see her fiancé for the week-end. It was her birthday tomorrow. It’s a little under three hours drive to get to Kincardine from Burlington, so if she left in the morning, she’d have the whole day to enjoy. Spring had started the day before, the sun was shining and only the largest of the snow-plowed drifts remained, dirty and melting, after a long, cold winter. 

She carefully packed, ensuring the comforts of the suburbs were easily accessible from her bag. The town she was headed to was somewhat remote and Franks home, affectionately referred to by Molly as the “the cottage”, was cozy and equipped with the basics, but no more than that. After a quick check to ensure she had enough dog food for her Great Dane, Betty, they were off.

As she drove out of her townhouse parking garage into the sunlight, a wave of relief and excitement washed over her. Something about setting out on a trip, leaving the daily grind of work behind and having a place to go where someone’s waiting for you.  

As she settled into the drive, Molly checked the rear view, catching a view of Betty, sitting up, ears perked, watching the traffic go by, unaffected by the large trucks roaring on the highway. Such a good girl.  Reaching for the radio dial she tuned into the local pop station for a song that fit her celebratory mood and settled on a predictable top ten count down. 

About an hour into the trip they had reached the end of the Guelph city line and headed onto Highway 89, a busy transport truck highway. The road was marked at a speed limit of 90 km an hour with a couple of adjustments for tiny towns where the limit went down to 50 km for the length of the little towns intersection. Typically this was about the length of two eye blinks.  It was a fast highway and if you stuck to the speed limit, you were likely to encounter an obnoxious driver going well over 120, dangerously passing you, narrowly missing an oncoming car or truck in the process. 

It was around 10 a.m. and the sun was coming out on a brisk morning.  You could feel spring just around the corner. Molly hadn’t encountered any of the crazy week-end drivers yet. They tended to come out around 2 p.m., furiously making their way to cottage country on Lake Huron. A key detail to mention is that Highway 89 is quite straight, except for one area where it snakes a little to form a fairly sharp “S” as it passes through two farmsteads and weaves around their old stone landmarks.

Molly was going the speed limit in her little hatchback and was looking ahead bopping along to the number 2 song, some overly produced piece of crap with an undeniably catchy melody to it.

She considered whether to pass a small, slow moving vehicle up ahead.  A confident driver, Molly had no issues navigating slow moving vehicles and felt they were quite dangerous on a highway.  As she contemplated the bumper of the car ahead, she headed into the the “S” curve of the highway.

It was at this moment she felt a subtle and unnatural shift, followed by the spine-tingling awareness that something terrifying was about the happen. In that second, she could feel the car continue straight when it should have followed the curve. Molly stiffended as the thought of black ice flickered across her mind.