Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Happily Ever After Ends

By Lurlene McDaniel. Published February 1992.

Shannon Campbell leads a pretty damned charmed life. She lives in a wealthy section of Chattanooga, where her parents own a stable. She just received an amazing Thoroughbred, Blackwatch, for her fifteenth birthday. And she had a long conversation with the hot new stablehand, Zack. Aww, yes.

Of course, this is Lurlene; we know this won’t last. The title probably leads us to that conclusion, as well.

Shannon has a good time at her birthday party, opening presents and showing off Blackwatch to her Pony Club friends. The only downsides are that her bestie Heather acts weird for a little while, and her dad disappears. Apparently this is not uncommon, as he has struggled with depression.

Shannon can’t wait to start training Blackwatch with her father the next day. Her dad seems better for a while, but after a bit says they should get her mom to help train, too. This is completely out of the ordinary, but her dad insists. Then he gets all weird and moody, and leaves. That night, Shannon goes down to the barn, where her father startles her, and then scares her talking about how life is a nightmare. He just wants to be left alone.

Her dad goes out of town for a few days, but still comes back all moody. So Shannon’s been working with Blackwatch by herself. One evening, she invites Zack to go riding with her. They ride bareback to a nearby stream, and Shannon learns more about him. When they get back to the stable, Shannon is happy to see her father there, unpacking some things from his old army trunk. She calls to him, and he freaks the fuck out, yelling at her to never sneak up on him.

He apologizes immediately, but still wants to be left alone. Shannon asks what he’s doing; he replies he’s just getting his things in order. The things in the trunk are from when he was in Vietnam, including a pistol a friend left him.

Shannon has lunch with her grandmother at the hospital, where she’s a very serious volunteer. She even has an office there. She’s quite concerned about her son’s mood, too. Shannon meets a friend of her grandmother’s, Madeline, who works as a counselor at the hospital.

One day, Shannon goes through her father’s desk looking for stamps. Instead she finds a note he’s written, about how lonely he is, and how he wishes he could crawl out of his skin and be free. It scares Shannon, but she tries to put it out of her mind.

Her father refuses to go to a competition in Nashville. Shannon and her mother plead with him, but he won’t go. He seems to be in a fantastic mood, though, giving them a big, happy sendoff. But when they return late that night, Shannon and her mother find him slumped over his desk, in a pool of blood.

Shannon flips out so much, that she has to be tranquilized, and wakes up the next day in the hospital. That’s where she learns from her mother and grandmother that her father killed himself. I assume this is only a surprise to the unobservant characters in the book.

They have the funeral a few days later, and Shannon is hurt Heather doesn’t come. And then she gets really pissed reading a newspaper article on her father, particularly when it says he suffered from severe depression. She tries to put some of the blame on Zack, because he had been there earlier the day her dad killed himself. Then she takes off on Blackwatch.

Shannon confronts Heather about ditching the funeral, and she’s got all sorts of excuses, like her mother thought she was too young, and she didn’t know what to say. Boo Heather. Shannon’s mom has been sleeping a lot in the week since the funeral, but when Shannon goes in to see her, she agrees it’s time to get up and get the stable back to normal.

Shannon works hard with Blackwatch, trying to get ready for the upcoming show in Knoxville. She gets Zack to help her move fences and watch her form. Then they have a very flirty time washing Blackwatch, with water and stuffing each other’s clothes with hay. Nothing else happens, but it was all good.

Shannon has lunch again with her grandmother, this time at the country club. Her grandmother is happy she’s keeping busy, and insists she and her mother come to the charity ball for the hospital that she’s planning. She mysteriously starts to say “If only-“ then stops herself. Shannon wishes she would share.

In the spirit of getting back to normal, the Pony Club goes on its annual camp-out. There, Shannon and Heather finally make up. Heather explains that it scared her, that something like that could happen to a family that was so perfect; what could happen to hers? She also admits she was jealous of Shannon receiving Blackwatch, and talking with Zack. So Shannon forgives her.

At the Knoxville show, Shannon makes some mistakes. She’s humiliated, and says Blackwatch wasn’t ready, and it’s all her father’s fault for leaving her. She says she’s not competing again. And back at home, she does indeed stop training Blackwatch. She goes through her dad’s trunk, and finds medals, as well as scraps of paper he had written while he was in Vietnam, describing how horrible it was. She realizes she never really knew her father.

Shannon attends the charity ball on her own. She sits with Heather and her family, but gets jealous of Heather being with her dad. But her grandmother has a surprise for her; she’s invited Zack. Shannon is happy to see him, but she doesn’t really want to be there anymore. So they leave, and go for a moonlit ride. Shannon takes him to a place on the edge of the mountain, a place she’d only been with her father. She opens up and talks about her dad some. Then they dance, and Zack kisses her.

Shannon goes on her yearly back-to-school shopping trip with her grandmother, and then spends the night at her condo. They talk about Shannon’s father, and her grandmother tells her of the guilt she feels over not letting him go to Canada during Vietnam.

Shannon finally decides to do something proactive, and goes to talk to her grandmother’s friend, Madeline. She’s able to get some of her feelings out, and Madeline suggests some support groups. Madeline also explains what depression really is quite well. Zack, who gave her a ride, comments that she seems to be in a better mood on the way home.

But when she gets back to the stable, there’s bad news to face. Blackwatch has developed laminitis, a disease of the hoof. Blood congests in the hoof, and causes swelling and pain. He could get better, but if not, he’ll have to be put down. The vet gives him a shot, and then the only thing they can do is keep his hoof packed in ice. Shannon vows to stay up all night with him, and her mom and Zack will switch off staying with her.

Zack takes the first shift. They talk about how he lives with his grandmother, because his parents are raging alcoholics, and just dropped him off and left him. He pretty much says Shannon is lucky because while she doesn’t have a dad anymore either, and she knows where he is. Your story really sucks and all, Zack, it really does, but that’s a bit insensitive. Shannon doesn’t seem to mind, though.

When her mom takes over, they get to talk like Shannon’s been wanting to all summer. Finally Shannon passes out, and when she wakes up, her grandmother is there, as well. Shannon tells them that she went to see Madeline, and she thinks they should all three join a support group. They agree to.

Blackwatch doesn’t seem to be any better. She tells Zack this when her comes in, but says that she is feeling a lot better. And that it’s a beautiful day to be alive. Except maybe for Blackwatch, right Shannon?

And then we jump ahead what I can only presume is a few months. Shannon is back in the ring competing, and aside from wanting her dad to be there watching her, everything in her life is pretty much back to normal. Oh, and the horse she’s riding? It’s Blackwatch! Yay! I couldn’t have handled it if she’d killed him off, too.

o   How’s this for romantic? Zack says, “If I had an Oreo, I’d give you the frosted side, too.” Aww, yeah. That’s the way into my heart.

o   How typical of me. I get more upset over Blackwatch than I do Shannon’s father.

o   I was honestly a little surprised, and maybe even a bit offended, at the way Shannon reacted to the paper saying her father had severe depression. Like it was some terrible thing to be ashamed of. I’m so not ashamed of my own depression that it just never even occurs to me that it might be shameful to other people. Big shoutout to The Bloggess for having a hand in the way I think about it.


  1. Good for you -- I'm not ashamed of my depression either. I've never been afraid to talk about it...not that I run around shouting "I'm depressed, look at me, I'm depressed," but if the topic comes up I jump in. Annoys the hell out of me that mental illness is still such a big deal. Nobody I know is ashamed of having diabetes or cancer or any other incurable but treatable illness, so I don't get why depression, bipolar, etc are treated so differently. And so ends my soapbox moment for the day... :-) (I also agree about The Bloggess...she describes it all so much better than I ever could.)

  2. You don't? I run around yelling that all the time!


    But seriously, get up on that soapbox if you want to! I'm all about it.

    Have you read The Bloggess' book? The chapter where she describes anxiety is just perfection. And so funny, of course.

  3. Oh yes, I'm a huge fan of our Ms. Lawson! She'd get my vote for President in a heartbeat, if only she could be convinced to run.

    1. Hell yeah! She'd probably run the country hiding in the bathroom or from under a table, but she could totally do it.

  4. Replies
    1. :o Oh my goodness. So that just happened.

    2. Wow. Awesome. :-D

    3. Your blog is totally famous now.

  5. I am also in the "not ashamed of my mental illness" club. So much so that I made it my job (peer support for adults with mental illness). I use the wise words of The Bloggess when talking to clients. She really does have a knack for explaining things.