I can’t remember not being pony-mad. I didn’t actually meet a horse until I got taken to the zoo at 7, but my obsession started years before that. I got in trouble my first week of kindergarten for taking home a toy horse (the concept of “stealing” was alien to me, at three, because I was pretty hazy on the concept of “property”; that little event taught me). By the time I started school, I’d collected enough toy horses to be considered officially weird. It wasn’t normal for Italian girls to be pony-mad. It wasn’t the done thing. We were supposed to be into pretty clothes and dollies and babies, not large herbivores. Luckily for me, I couldn’t care less about that.
Apparently my family decided that as they couldn’t cure me of my fetish, they would try to mitigate it, or redirect it. I can’t remember how old I was, but I wasn’t 10 yet when I got summoned to my Auntie’s house for A Very Special Moment.
I was told that they knew how much I liked horses, so they got me a special present. That sounded good to me. I was heavily into presents. I was expecting another toy horse. When I tore up the wrapping paper, however, I found myself holding a handbag. A handbag made of real animal skin; the skin of a skewbald horse.
On reflection, I guess it was a good thing that I liked ponies, not babies. My family could have gotten into all kinds of trouble had they presented me with a gift of cured baby parts. Instead, it was me who got into trouble. Although I managed not to break into tears, I wasn’t properly receptive to my Auntie’s kind gift. She’d gone through all this trouble to get me something special, something I should have loved, and I was being ungrateful. I was a horrible child.
I still can’t quite follow their thought process. “Here’s an object made out of the carcass of the thing you love the most, you’re welcome”? I can’t quite make it stack up. I’ve never loved anything so much that I wanted to see it killed and made into a fashion accessory. The experience didn’t leave me entirely clueless, though. I learnt that people’s feelings are very important, and I needed to respect them. I learnt that I needed to think about how my actions would make people feel, and act accordingly. And I learnt that none of the above applied to me.
My feelings didn’t matter. My Auntie’s did. The fact that my Auntie’s action had hugely upset me didn’t matter. The fact that my reaction had disappointed her did. The fact that I didn’t just immediately do the right thing, instinctively opt for the right response, showed that I was a selfish, unempathetic, wicked child. A child who didn’t deserve this or any other gifts. A child who would have to work damn hard to make up for her obvious iniquities.
I was a lesser person, whose feelings mattered less than anyone else’s. If I wished things to be otherwise, that made me a bad person. It’s a rather neat system, really; you get to pick whether you want to be a second-class citizen, or evil.
I didn’t want to be evil; you go to hell that way. So I tried to make up for my badness. I wore the bag, but that was not enough. I had to smile and stroke it and say how much I loved it. I had to wear a dead horse around my neck, for all to see, and pretend to like it; because that’s what good girls do.