As a preteen I took horseback riding lessons at Huron River Stables in Ann Arbor. Eventually I learned to jump, and even joined the Drill Team that practiced Saturdays after lessons were finished. With a dozen or more riders I maneuvered my horse in and out of various formations in time to patriotic marching music blaring through loud speakers while the arena filled with dust from the horses’ hooves. I often brushed knees against other riders or the horses flanks and necks as I posted and cantered through fancy figure eights.
At one end of the arena was the visitor’s center where parents attended quarterly horse shows and watched the Drill Team perform. My parents never came to see me ride. My father wasn’t the participatory type; my mother said she couldn’t watch in case I fell and got hurt.
Whether it was the mesmerizing experience of sound and rhythm while being carried on the back of a majestic creature, or the feeling of neglect from the absence of my parents, I fell prey to disembodied voices that taunted me. During Drill Team a prickly feeling would spread from the roof of my mouth and over my tongue. Voices chided me, over and over, in a sing-songy rhythm timed to the trotting horse as I posted up and down: “You are stu-pid, you are stu-pid. You are ug-ly, you are ug-ly.” With each taunt I sank deeper into isolation.