Of Hope and Horses, Part II, or, The Story of Battle Damage He-Man

California Chrome at Churchill Downs before the 140th Kentucky Derby. He is a very happy horse.

So, California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby. From 1979 (Spectacular Bid) until 2000 (Fusaichi Pegasus) no favorite won the Derby, so it still feels a little miraculous to me. It shouldn’t, given that Smarty Jones, Street Sense, and Orb all won as the favorite recently. Barbaro was a close second favorite in the betting, so he almost counts, too.

The last time I wanted a horse to win the Derby with all my heart was Smarty Jones. I’ll never forget rooting him down the stretch with my sister Becky. It was a glorious. It was also 2004 and I was in a different phase of life. I’d just moved to South Carolina, gotten married, was unemployed. Life wasn’t easy, it was a big shift from LA, but I had a lot of hopes and dreams.

Here is the part of the blog post where I compare a horse to Jesus Christ. (Seriously. This is about to happen.)

When I first saw California Chrome, I believed. Like the Apostles who saw the burial cloths and no body. That part of the resurrection story has always baffled me. I always think, “I’m pretty sure if I saw the burial cloths and a missing body, I’d believe somebody stole the body.” But back to the horse. I saw him and I believed. Even though he’s just a horse, there is a religious aspect to this experience. Watching him run in one race, I could not know that he would hold his form, that he’d overcome the monster challenge of the Derby, that he was sound, that he would run well outside of California. I could not know any of these things. I could not have certainty. Instead, I had faith that this would be so. The last time I had such an experience was when I saw Rachel Alexandra’s first race.

Rachel, even more than Smarty, was a horse who carried my hopes and dreams with every race she ran. That year I’d written a novel, found an agent, and I was filled to the brim with excitement for the future. I poured a lot of that energy into Rachel. I’d be practically vibrating with anxiety as they loaded her into the gate, I wanted her to win so badly. She never let me down in 2009. She ran a perfect season and won Horse of the Year.

California Chrome was different. Even though I saw and believed, as the Derby got closer I listened to reports that he wasn’t settling well, that his gallops weren’t strong at Churchill Downs. Later, after the Derby, I saw some video of his first day at Churchill and those negative reports were greatly exaggerated. He walked off the track with a beautifully relaxed, swinging walk, and if the walk is swinging, then everything’s good.

Maybe if I’d seen footage, instead of just reading about his time at Churchill, I wouldn’t have lost faith in the horse. But I did. Or rather, I transferred my hopes onto my sister’s account. My sister Becky boldly predicted he’d win by open lengths. She never lost hope or her enthusiasm. So I took to thinking, “I hope he wins for Becky.” I wanted her faith to be rewarded.

Perhaps the most admirable thing about my sister, and certainly her most magical quality, is her capacity for hope. She’s experienced challenges in life, like everybody else on earth, but unlike a lot of people, unlike myself, she can still throw her heart into something without reservation. I wish I was like that, too.

A few months ago, I was out with a couple of comedy friends, including a fellow named Camilo Potes. Camilo was 23 at the time, so it seemed reasonable to ask him what his hopes and dreams were for the future. He said he wanted to be a comedy writer, which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was when he asked me the same question. I demurred, not wanting to answer. He kept asking, saying, “You’re one of the most ambitious people I know, surely you have hopes and dreams.” Little did my good buddy Camilo know, I was about a half a second away from losing it. My hope and dream bank is pretty empty these days.

It seems strange, even to me. In this last year, my wildest hopes and dreams from 2009 came true. I’ve had a great time doing stand-up. I’m working on about a million projects that I enjoy immensely. I have more freedom in my day-to-day life than anybody else I know and I enjoy that freedom A LOT. I like living alone A LOT. I am blessed with a bevy of wonderful friends and a great family. But my life is a life lived firmly in the present. I do not think about the future. AT ALL. I do not fantasize about things I hope will happen. I do not imagine what my life might look like tomorrow, let alone years down the road.


Battle Damage He-Man. Three levels of damage, one action figure!

When I was a kid, I loved He-Man. I had a huge He-Man collection, including Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. (Again, God bless my parents for letting me be me.) The one thing I didn’t have was the real He-Man. You couldn’t find the original version at toy stories. Instead, I had Battle Damage He-Man. He wore a breastplate and if you turned his arm dents would appear. More and more dents for every turn of the arm. I loved my He-Man figures so much, but I didn’t like Battle Damage He-Man. I wanted clean, pristine, undamaged iconic He-Man.

So, here’s the thing. I’ve written a lot about my divorce on this blog, largely in positive terms. Certainly, my life post-divorce is much better than it was pre-divorce. Evan and I have gone through this process as kindly as possible. We are still friends, and without a doubt, living in honesty is a million times better than living in the anxiety of falsehood.
But divorce – and perhaps more specifically still, all that leads up to divorce – constitutes a lot of turns of the arm, to use the parlance of Battle Damage He-Man. I have a lot of dents, my friends, a lot of dents. But it’s okay. You all do, too. We all have dents. Lots and lots of dents.

That said, I do think it’s hard for a lot of people to wrap their mind around. I do not think I appear particularly dented and there are a lot of ways in which I’m doing great. I mean, hey, just check out my Facebook wall. Nothing but glorious victories, you guys. But that is Facebook. And this is my blog, where ish gets real and the reality is far more complex.

I believe the problem is not the dents themselves, but rather, the temptation to believe that the dents disqualify us from that which we most need. They do not. I know the people who read this blog. I know you to be beautiful people who both love and are worthy of being loved. Just as you are. Dents and all.

5 thoughts on “Of Hope and Horses, Part II, or, The Story of Battle Damage He-Man

  1. RG says:

    Marriage is a person promising to be in your future, by definition, right? Only parenthood, in my (hastily formed, blog-comment-like) opinion, represents the same level of commitment, a promise made by your younger self to your older self: “From here forward, all things change.”

    A divorce – your divorce in particular – can be a wonderful wiping of the board, a chance to reinvent and do some things over, to recommit to yourself in a way that being part of a pair (or more) simply does not allow. But it’s also another promise made, from young present Carrie to older future Carrie: “From here forward, all things change.”

    I have all these deep thoughts about time being a continuum, even though we think we experience it linearly it’s actually more mixed up than that . . . and current Carrie has to grieve the younger Carrie’s bold, hopeful step of marriage, while also learning to really love the idea of future Carrie enjoying the hell out of her own, reclaimed single life. There isn’t a lot of room for hopes and dreams of the future until all that junk settles down and you start to feel the experience of your lifetime in a linear way again. But I can’t get it down right without sounding like a pretentious ass, so I’ll simply say that you are simultaneously dented and also perfect, a beloved whole for whom we are all cheering, and with whom we are all also grieving.

  2. mom says:

    There are harbors for “grievances” and there are safe harbors. I hope to always offer you a safe harbor that you can trust in and relax….you may also voice any grievances you have knowing my love for you, as you are, dented but hopefully not too daunted, is constant and abiding.

    You are special

  3. Becky says:

    Wow Carrie – wow! I love how ‘real’ you are, open and honest. Thank you for the so very kind words. As you know I am naive to a fault, and will always believe the best instead of the worst. You are beautiful inside and out, and as you say – we have all been banged up and bruised but it is our response to these beatings that we encounter in life. You have responded with grace, and by being truly authentic. Jesus is smiling at you sis, and btw, California Chrome is going to win the Triple Crown! Love you!

  4. Bri says:

    I love you even MORE with your dents! Much like Battle Damage He-Man, each twist of the arm that you share makes you stronger. I’d like to think it makes us stronger too; realizing that sharing vulnerabilities & “dents” is where true strength comes from.

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