We delayed what was coming by delaying my visit. It wouldn’t happen until I came up and I knew from talking to her that she wasn’t ready for it to happen. We made plans for this day or that day, but things would come up. Or the day would come and go and neither of us would mention it. The days were getting shorter, like a cruel metaphor for Jill’s time left with her first horse. Neither of us wanted to pick a day.
“I’m coming up tomorrow,” I typed slowly and deliberately on the computer one morning.
“What halter should I put on him?” was Jill’s response.
We talked about what they’d wear and where we’d go, and how we’d go about everything as if we did it everyday. We do do it everyday. Everyday, we take pictures. That’s our job. Jill and I are photographers. We’re also best friends: horse-crazy little girls at heart that talk about our rides, silly things our horses do, what new saddles we want, how we finally got that jog or lope we’ve been after for months. In our line of work, the line between our job and our personal life is almost always blurred- our clients become our friends, our pictures become their memories. Emotions often run both high and deep in our world, and we’d have it no other way. Jill and I are fortunate enough that we’re able to mix business with pleasure and friendship every time we’re together- weddings, weekend outings, nights on the town- our job melds into our friendship and each one defines the other. When Jill asked me to drive to New Brunswick to take pictures for her the day before she was putting Bill to sleep, I swallowed and smiled at my computer screen- knowing that she knew I would, knowing that she was ready for it to happen.
When I drove into the yard, everything was quiet. Looking out the right front window of my car, I could see Jill walking up the driveway, Bill not far behind her, her mouth moving as she encouraged him to follow her up the small hill that he was having some trouble with. I got out of the car and she smiled at me as she passed, on her way to run a brush over the old guy one last time. Camera in hand, we walked down the path through her fields and when I stopped she kept walking, knowing exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I was about to capture. I found myself letting the camera fall from my face and watching with tears in my eyes as she did all the things I tell my clients to do- pretend I’m not there, snuggle with your horse, kiss him between his eyes, get as close to him as you can and act like no one’s around to watch. It was clear that Jill had done all of this before, that none of it was staged and that this horse knew how to love her back. He stood still and buried his head into her chest. He blew warm breath into her palms, and perked his ears when she kissed his nose. He dutifully followed her everywhere she went, happy to stand and be loved on whenever Jill’s feet stopped moving. I’d remember what I was there for and start clicking away again, glad for the auto focus feature of the 5D mrk II, as the tears made it hard to decipher what was supposed to be sharp and what wasn’t. Jill was brave, and smiled for me, and for her friend of many years, knowing that these pictures were what she’d ultimately remember him by. The light was stunning in the morning, and even at noon, with no clouds and a bright sun shining down on us, there was a lingering afterglow of the soft beginnings of daylight.
If you’ve ever seen an afterglow, you’ll know that it shows up when it shouldn’t. Afterglows are the lingering phenomenon of light remaining when no apparent source can be seen or found. It remains for just a short time after the sun sets, and then, when it should be dark, it isn’t. These pictures are the afterglow of my very short time spent with Jillian and Bill together. May they help keep a small light in your heart forever, friend.