When the Legends Die
Part III: The Arena: Chapters 37–39
Tom prepares for the night show at the Garden, where the crowd cheers wildly when the announcer introduces him. However, Tom simply does not invest feeling in his performance and soon loses control. After a struggle with the roan, both of them crash to the ground, with Tom remaining on the horse's back. The crash seriously injures Tom, who becomes unconscious and must be rushed to the hospital.
During Tom's first week in the hospital, he falls continually in and out of consciousness. Watching the sunrise one day from his hospital window, Tom's memories of his mother occupy his thoughts. Having broken several ribs, his pelvis, and his thighbone, Tom grows furious at having hurt himself so seriously. His nurse Mary Redmond takes very good care of him, and he shows neither appreciation for her care nor interest in her desire to chat with him. After Dr. Ferguson examines Tom, he advises him to stay in bed and rest for six weeks and to permanently stop riding. Tom refuses to acknowledge the gravity of his condition and insists that he must return to the ring.
Tom attempts to impress his nurse Mary by acting stoically toward the severe pain from which he suffers and by bragging about his accomplishments in the ring. Mary, however, shows little interest in his riding. In fact, she finds his behavior cruel. She disappears from his room to return only after several days have passed. Tom's dreams continue to trouble him, and, in particular, he recalls the ride that had almost killed him less than a week ago. Reviewing the ride in his mind, he concludes that fear and panic had gotten the better of him. He resolves to return to riding and to overcome this fear. Thinking about Red and Meo, Tom suddenly realizes the irony in Red's statement that Meo has been a penniless hero when he recalls that Meo has paid for Red's burial as well as his own. Mary finally returns to his room after her days off, but Tom continues to act rudely to her. She recognizes the fear in his voice and his behavior and soon realizes that he fears that he will become crippled forever. Recognizing his anger toward the world in general, she concludes that he does not intend to direct his anger at her in particular.
In Chapter 37, while Tom observes the number-one rider at the Garden, Borland writes, "He was good, and he knew it, a boy on his way up . [Tom] resined his chaps, remembering when he was a boy on his way up. When the crowds cheered and whistled and stomped for him. When he was riding for points. A long time ago." Here Tom becomes saddened by the realization that the days of his youth have long ago passed. The rider reminds him of his younger self and of the hopefulness and sense of progress he had possessed as a young person. Now, an older man, riding will only become more difficult, especially given the physical toll the many years of riding have taken on him. He will later recall this moment of reminiscing and of coming to terms with his limitations. He will also later blame himself for this mentality and this fear, as he believes it caused his fall and his injury.
As Tom watches the sunrise from his hotel room at the beginning of Chapter 38, Borland writes, "He watched it, and the memory of another dawn came to him, the dawn when he and his mother, on the flight from Pagosa, bathed in the icy pool of a brook, then sat naked on the rocks and sang the chant to a new day. The rhythm of that chant throbbed in his memory like his own heartbeat for a few moments." This memory provides us with the sense that Tom's heritage continues to play a role in his life. Memories of his childhood pain him, and he continually represses them. However, the fact that Tom felt the chant in his own heartbeat also seems to indicate that Tom has still not completely lost his connection to his heritage. While he wishes to cut all ties to his painful past, he will never succeed in doing so. The Ute ways reappear, against his will, in his thoughts and dreams.
In Chapter 39, Tom experiences growing resentment toward his nurse Mary. Despite her kindness toward him, he treats her with bitter cruelty. We soon understand that although she does not deserve his treatment, he cannot separate Mary the individual from what she represents to him. Of Tom's attitude toward Mary, Borland writes, "But her very efficiency and gentleness emphasized his helplessness, his need for care. She represented this whole infuriating situation."
While resting in his hospital bed, Tom contemplates his role as a hero. He attempts to define the spectators' opinions of him, thinking, "Life plays strange tricks. Tom, too, was a hero of a sort. Not the kind the crowds come to cheer, but the kind they watch with morbid fascination, hoping to see him kill a horse—or a horse kill him. A dark-souled hero."
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