Riding Away From Pain

A local writer recounts how she overcame a harrowing past with help from an equine friend.


Let the Tornado Come by Rita Zoey Chin

Published by Simon & Schuster, 336 pages, $16

It’s fascinating, while reading a memoir involving family violence, to wonder how a child rose from the floor of degradation to write about it so lyrically. Starting at age 11, scared, brave and reckless Rita repeatedly fled her parents’ abuse and became a runaway, connecting with dangerous men and using drugs. Her survival involved ill-gotten money, stripping and stints on the streets and in various corrective lockups for teens. As an adult, she values the darkly adventurous powers she had in those early days, even as she evolves into a sensitive writer, earns an MFA and marries a calm neurosurgeon.

But then, post-traumatic panic attacks bubble up into her new peaceful life. Paralyzed in everyday tasks, she describes her body as feeling “like a guitar in the hands of a child—plucked and smacked and thrumming.” And when she tries cognitive behavioral therapy, she only finds herself feeling worse. These wild waves of misery lead her to horses, which become her lifesaver. After months of riding lessons, she develops a sympathetic connection with Claret, a 1,400-pound chestnut whose own anxieties and vulnerability serendipitously echo her own. Gradually, they develop a kind of mutual therapy; she gets the help she needs by giving it to him. Throughout, Chin’s various selves make for riveting reading.

From page 150: After I cantered with Rascal, all I wanted to do was canter. When I wasn’t cantering, I was often talking about cantering. “It’s amazing,” I kept telling Larry. “It’s like this great rush. It’s better than any drug. Maybe even better than sex.”

“Hmmm,” said Larry, furrowing his forehead.

“It’s so free—it’s like the opposite of panic. It’s powerful and graceful and even a bit clumsy all at once. It’s

“It’s like you,” he said.

And it was sweet, what he said, but not entirely true, because panic was also like me…

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