(Haggard is named after the Hall of Fame Country Music superstar Merle. My Haggard can sing, too.)
Have you ever gone to bed at night wondering if there was anyone in the world that truly understands what goes on in your world? In your head. In your body. In your soul.
Better yet, have you ever searched your data base in-between your ears and wondered if anyone — just one — truly gave a damn?
If you have not had to battle those night sweats, then count yourself blessed. Among the chosen few. Among the cherished. Consider yourself the lucky winner of a Pick-6 Jackpot. Worth zillions.
From experience, I can tell you that it isn’t any fun.
The thoughts of doubt bounce around in your head like a tennis ball crushed by Rafael Nadal.
The jitterbugs in your tummy are more like a frenzy of locust on steroids.
The only thing drowning out the base of your heart beat is the patter of your nerves.
You scuffle and scramble just to find sleep. Yet, the dreams are so vivid and disturbing that you desperately want to be awake. You are left begging for just a little rest, while, at the very same second, wishing for some sunlight to put a dagger in the night.
It is the birthplace of depression. Where sadness calls home. A torture chamber that guts you to the bone.
In short, it is hell.
And, it is there that you are left wondering, searching as if lost in the wilderness for 40 years.
Is there one person that understands? Is there just one who gives a damn?
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you feel a warm blow against your cheek. The body leaning against yours. The comforting touch from what seems like God’s own hand.
(Haggard this morning)
(Crosley is named after the old baseball stadium in Cincinnati, where my parents would take me as a kid to watch the Reds play. It was one of my most favorite places to visit. It was a special place for me. And, Crosley is a special friend, too.)
Slowly, and sometimes with a great deal of fear and suspicion, you force one lid to break the surface, like a submarine through an icy crust of lost.
And, what to your wandering eye does appear?
Nope. Not eight tiny reindeer.
Just a trifecta of the most wonderful creatures God ever gave this Earth.
There is Crosley — our 4-year-old Golden Retriever — with his nose nearly touching mine. His deep brown eyes are not looking at me. They are looking into me. Seemingly by instinct, he knew the turmoil within. Lovingly, by instinct, he offered his help. Over. And, over. And, over.
It came in the form of a 125-pound dog lying on my chest. And, as soon as he saw me awake, it came in the form of kisses on my face.
Just on the other side of Crosley laid Haggard — our 2-year-old Golden Retriever. He is Crosley’s full-brother. And, he has the same heart. Haggard’s head was on the pillow. He loves a good pillow. His eyes focused on me, too. With him was his trusty “Aflac Duck,” a stuffed toy that he has taken on to love. A very, very, very special gift from lobbyist Pam Jenkins, who happens to represent the health insurance provider.
Slowly, Haggard nudged “Duck” towards me, as if to offer him up as solace.
After all, “Duck” works for him. And, Haggard was there to help brother if the need arose. He, too, was there to help me.
(Belle Belle doesn’t swim much any more. But she does dip her toes.)
And, on the floor, just to the side of my bed, there was Belle Belle — our 13-year-old Golden Retriever. Her little head was lifted up and staring at the scene above.
Belle Belle has never been a great care-giver. She will allow you to rub her back and give her dog treats, but she would rather not talk about it.
Yet, on this morning, she seemed willing. If not able.
And, before dawn had ever managed to rustle out of bed at my house on Kentucky Lake, it dawned on me.
Yeah. There was someone that truly understood what was going on with me. There were three of them.
Yeah. There was someone that truly gave a damn. There were three of them.
Yeah. There was truly life after death.
Is there any wonder that some genius, long ago, said that a dog is man’s best friend?
(By the way, according to a bit of internet research, the credit for that old and true saying goes to King Frederick of Prussia. Way back in 1789, he was quoted as saying it in an apparent reference to his pride and joy Italian Greyhound.)
On this day, King Frederick of Prussia was proven correct.
Three times again.
Don’t know much about King Frederick’s politics. But I think I would have liked the man.
Before I moved out of the bedroom to tackle this day, I hugged them all. All kidding aside, all three hugged me back. And, we took off to do what they love to do most:
Run as fast as they can to the water’s edge. Splash. Play. Chase. Run. Love life. (Editor’s note: Belle Belle walked and stayed a healthy distance away.)
Slowly, but surely, the sun began to rise just over the hills that shoulder the “Land Between the Lakes.” I thought to myself:
“Sure enough, the sun is going to rise. Today. And, most likely, tomorrow, too.”
About 4 years ago, I left Frankfort, KY. and a 30-year career as a lobbyist and former sportswriter (both honorable jobs, despite the critics), and embarked on a self-imposed mission. Looking back, it was probably more folly than vision.
Yet, I had a dream to build a club in downtown Louisville dedicated to promoting the horse industry. A place to celebrate the sheer exuberance of the sport that I love and share with both friends and family. A place to gather and enjoy fine food and drink. A place to tell stories of yesteryear and create memories of a lifetime. A special place where everyone knows your name, and you feel right at home.
After all, it seemed to me back then, that if Louisville and the grand Churchill Downs can host 146 Kentucky Derbies, then we should be able to build a place to host some of the people; capture part of that glory.
It has been four long years in the making. Four very long and challenging years.
Countless times, I thought it would never happen.
Two times, I thought I would never happen. Two times in the past four years, I have ended up in the hospital with life-threatening blood clots bridged over my lungs. The last time, just about two years ago and right before the KY Derby, I faced the last battle royale. Never good when a doctor comes into the room and says you need to call your kids. You are not going to make it.
I have lost faith, at times. Many times, if you want to know the truth.
I have lost friends, too. Didn’t have time to tolerate doubters, I excused myself. I should have tolerated more.
I have pushed too hard at times. Patience is a virtue that I was not overly blessed with and a practice that I have not mastered still.
I have pushed people away, too. I am sure of it. Didn’t have room for non-believers is what I convinced myself. I should have made more room.
I have sacrificed time with family to meet with this person, and that person. Because I thought they were important. I should have spent more time with the most important people — my loved ones.
I have sacrificed my health — both physical and mental — to meet this deadline, and that schedule. Because I thought it was important to do what I pledged to do. I should have taken better care.
In short, I have made many mistakes over the past 4 years. To those that I have shortchanged because I have been shorthanded, I want to say I am sorry. I hope to learn from those shortcomings. And, I hope that someday I can make amends.
To my lovely wife, whom I have ignored way too much and taken for granted way too often, I hope that someday I can show you the love and attention that you deserve so much. You are — and have always been — my soul’s groom, trainer and, most of all, owner.
This race has taken a toll. But all really do, don’t they? If you race to win?
Yet, I am happy to announce, that despite my mistakes and only thanks to the considerable efforts of both Mike Schnell and Dave Steinbrecher — two friends and Founding Members who believed enough in the mission to give it a try — we are going to make it across the finish line.
I don’t know the exacta (yes, I know I wrote exacta) date yet. I can’t tell you the exacta moment in time yet. But I can tell you that The Louisville Thoroughbred Society is going to happen. Stay tuned.
And, when it does?
It will be about as pretty as that sunrise that Crosley, Haggard and Belle Belle got me up for this morning.
It will be worth the stress and strain.
And, it will be worth all the tough times.
I just hope that my partners allow Cros, Hag and Belle Belle one small visit beforehand to check things out.
After all, there have been nights over the past 4 years where I have gone to bed wondering if anyone in the world knew what was going on in my world. Or if there was anyone who gave a damn.
And, I can tell you today, there are 3 of my “Best Friends” that do.