Open 2021 Open Stories - D.R. Garrett


Wild Horses
By D.R. Garrett


Dean was twenty-five when I met him. I picked him up in the middle of a smoked filled street on a beautiful summer day. Firecrackers and beer cans were cracking open everywhere, but it wasn’t the fourth of July. It was Chunk 666’s annual Chunkathalon. Every punk rock Peter Pan and Wendy was drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon, wobbling on broken down Frankenstein bikes under a rare sun-drenched Portland sky. It was like a Halloween parade of tall bikes, clowns, ripped jean jackets, and stupid stunts.

He looked out of place, standing alone, gripping tightly to his skateboard, his fringed auburn hair blowing in the wind.

In general, I found it hard to be alone with myself. Some people take pills for depression. My drug of choice was romance. It made me feel good, like shooting pharmaceutical dope without the chance of an overdose. Dean was my drug of choice standing there on the street, all six foot two of him. The cure to my six-month bouts of melancholy lay in the fantasy of a rough and tumble prince charming from the wrong side of the tracks. Dean fit this bill perfectly. He had recently left an illegal weed operation in Mendocino County for a spot on his older sister’s sofa. Just like me, he was continually looking for the answers outside of himself.

I didn’t mean to use him like a drug. But looking back at it, I see that’s exactly what I did. In turn, he did the same. I was out to exploit him just as much as he was out to exploit me. The only difference was he wanted to use my body. I was looking for something much higher than that. This impossible thing I wanted from him I could not express with words. Even if he could give it to me, I never knew how to ask for it.


I started hanging out at The Vern not long after I met Dean. The place was a mess of decaying colors, broken people, and scattered happenings. It was like any dive bar in America with the same stained carpeting and cracking laminate oak countertop from when it first opened in the 1960s. But it had lost its charm years ago, much like the few toothless dinosaurs who sat together at the bar eternally sipping from tallboys, mumbling nonsense at the bartender such as, "The worlds really gone to shit," and "Why don’t any women come in here anymore?”

We liked it though, my friends and me. We found the water-damaged ceiling, the old jukebox, and the bearded bar back who would yell at exactly 1:45 each night, “Shriners drink up,” to be enduring. And when my friends got sick of hearing me vent about my relationship with Dean. It was a good place to drink cheap wine alone and write self-deprecating poetry in some darkly lit corner with a constant cigarette hanging from my lips.

When I found myself out of love, with Dean’s child inside me, the place took on a new meaning. It became a much-needed distraction from the unbearable emptiness that felt like an ice storm inside of my soul.


"I'm sorry," Dean said as he looked off into nothing. We were standing in a gray sterile-looking city park. It was a frigid spring morning, and the sight of the dried-up three-tier fountain with no water coming out of it was pissing me off.

“No, you’re not.” I was sick and tired of being nice. I felt as bitter as the Vicodin the nurse had just given me at the abortion clinic.

“It’s not yours.” I lied.

“What is wrong with you?” But still, he didn’t care.

Why won’t you love me? Nothing I seemed to do would make him care for me like he did those first few months we were together.


When I told him I was pregnant, he looked like he had an itch he needed to scratch. We were sitting on my bed in a room tangled up with dirty clothes and the residue of broken promises. Looking down at those two pink lines made clear with my piss, I wanted him out of my house and out of my life. Instead, I looked up at him and asked him what to do, cause the thought of being alone at that moment felt worse to me than death. He did what a man raised by a single mother would do. He asked me what I wanted. Looking at the dark circles under his steel-gray eyes and the sweat beading around his temples from another late night of whiskey and shuffleboard, I couldn’t imagine having a kid with him. In fact, the very thought of it made me want to vomit.


Looking across the street at the tower of steel and glass that housed my fate, I thought about the baby. Did it have a face? Squeezing my eyes shut, I imagined some tiny tadpole-looking thing curled up in the center of my womb, covered in blood and veins. God, please make it not be human.

“I don’t want to go back there,” I said to Dean.

"What? You mean you're changing your mind?”

Ignoring him, I walked across the street toward a line of sunken-faced picketers standing in front of the heavy glass doors of the abortion clinic. They were holding oversized signs with the same half-dead fetus on them, the words STILL ALIVE written in big sloppy letters over the poor creature’s umbilical cord.

“Get out of my way,” Dean hissed as he pulled me past a pamphlet-wielding Christian lady.

“Jesus loves you. You are a child of God, and so is your baby," the lady forced a pamphlet into the palm of my hand as the receptionist buzzed us in.


"You sure you want to do this?" The nurse said, looking down at the unsigned waiver that lay on the ground next to my feet. I was looking at a glossy picture of a white-robed Jesus floating in the sky with a blond, blue-eyed baby in his arms.


Setting the pro-life pamphlet down on the chair next to me, I looked up at the nurse. She looked tired, like she hated her job.

“Yes, I want this," I said, nearly jumping out of my seat.

If the only thing good that comes out of it is to never see Dean again, then yes, I would kill the only thing left living inside of me.

Dean walked into the room, “do you have a smoke?”

My first impulse upon seeing his stupid face was to kick him as hard as I could in the nuts and just keep kicking till I was sure he could never use that appendage again. The truth was I hated Dean, but I didn’t know how to say it.

“I left the cigarettes in the car,” is all that would come out.

He pulled a stray piece of hair behind my ear, and my stomach burned.

My rage was not yet my own. It wouldn’t come till nearly a decade later after I had found out Dean had gotten married and had a little girl of his own. It would take that long for the venom inside of me to burst like a puss-filled cyst oozing out everywhere. Back then, I just wanted the truth to be wiped clean. That truth was that I would stay with him no matter what he did to me. It must not be so bad if he wasn't cheating on me or beating on me.

"Are you sure there aren't any in your purse?" He said, grabbing for the worn leather bag draped around the plastic waiting room chair.

The sight of his hands digging through the contents of my bag sent chills down my spine. A flash of blurry Christmas lights from a drunken night and the feel of his hands digging into my shoulders as he pinned me down to the bed shot through my mind’s eye in all the many muted colors that shame can bring.

"Stop!" I snapped, grabbing my bag from his hands. The contents of my womanhood spilled all over the shiny checkered floor. I felt naked as I shoved tampons and drug store mascara into the used-up leather opening of my purse.

“The doctor is ready for you,” the nurse said as I looked up from the floor."


There I lay on a cold metal table in the birthing position. Naked except for a loosely tied hospital gown. Dean held my hand tightly; perhaps he did care about me, even a little. The feeling of the tube deep inside of me sucking away bits and pieces of the tiny gooey thing that could never be my child was muted by the doctor’s wrinkled hand caressing my naked thigh.

"It's okay, sweetheart. Almost there. You're doing a great job," the doctor said, his face hidden in-between my legs, his hand still on my thigh. Good. I was doing good. He said those words like he was talking to a kid learning to tie their shoes.

“Tell him to get his hand off my leg," I looked up at Dean, the numbing euphoria of the Vicodin dissolving into the cramping pain of being scraped from the inside out.

"What was that, dear?" The doctor couldn't hear me through the awful buzzing sound of the abortion machine.

“She said get your fucking hand off of her,” Dean snapped back.

Broken images of the night it happened cracked through every dark corner of my mind as I looked over at Dean’s hands. My body was half-naked, splayed across the bed like a dead fish. The twinkle of the Christmas lights hanging from my bedroom ceiling. My brain was paralyzed in a state of intoxication beyond my control. Unable to tell him to stop. How easy it was to forget the night that led to the conception of a life that could never be. The wine and cheap whiskey made it easy.
“You can’t hold your liquor,” Dean would say, “You shouldn’t be drinking.”

When the procedure was over, I lay on a rubber hospital bed. Another girl lay across from me crying. Rolling over, so I didn't have to look at her, I looked out at the city ten stories below me. The Willamette River lay there dirty and wet, breaking up the east and west. Dotting the edge of the river was a neat row of pretty pink cherry blossom trees puffy and virginal standing out against the sad gray people who walked along the promenade with their heads down. The tree branches bowed gently in the wind against the cold concrete surrounding them as if to remind me that life would continue to thrive if I would just let it.

There must have been something wrong with me because I couldn’t cry. No, it wasn’t till years later, long after Dean had been rubbed out of the many rooms and corridors of my heart, that a tear broke forth for the life I had ended.


I wanted to see a Pogues cover band the night of the abortion. Dean convinced me not to go.

“Please stay with me," I said, asking him for reverence. But he was too unholy to harbor such feelings for me. Instead, he had plans involving a woman named Nicole and a bottle of Old Crow. Fuck him; I'll waste away on my own. There was no better place in the world to do that than The Vern.

Alone at the Vern, I sat, but I couldn't write. My ovaries felt like stones. My stomach was still cramping even though the procedure had ended hours ago. Wild Horses echoed through the dusty speakers of the ancient jukebox. Closing my eyes, I became aware of a deep ache inside my heart for a place that could never be. When I opened them, an old hippie couple was dancing. They were the kind of people who wore the memories of their youth in the form of tie-dyed scarves, Tibetan prayer beads, and faded blue jeans. I couldn't help but feel a chill run down my spine as I watched them look into each other’s eyes as Mick Jagger’s wailing voice broke into every dank corner of the room.

No matter how I tried, I couldn't remember a time when Dean and I had looked at each other like that. We were too afraid of what we might see. As if our eyes were windows into a haunted house of our deepest fears, and if we shared those fears, it would ignite a bomb triggered by our own vulnerability. For us being vulnerable was a fate worse than death. This is because it was never safe for us to be exposed. It had never been okay for us to be honest with anyone, not even ourselves.


The truth was what Dean did to me was just a re-enactment of an earlier rape, an earlier decimation of all that would someday comprise of my shattered and contorted womanhood. Dean’s actions were just a symptom of a greater problem. What happened was more than just right and wrong, more than what should be deemed legal and illegal. It started when we were too little to know any better. It began when we were told what a little girl was and a little boy ought to be. In the end, I did cry. I cried hot sticky tears for a world where men feel they have to exert their power over women and women feel obligated to give away that power.



D.R. Garrett from US is a poet, filmmaker, and writer who has been putting pen to page for over two decades. Her award winning films have screened all over the world and her writing has appeared in Modus Operandi and DMZ. For her writing is a means of transcendence. Her work centers around themes of spirituality, trauma, and addiction. When she is not writing you can find her working on film and television sets its a production designer in Austin, Texas.


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