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THREE POEMS
ELIZABETH ELLEN


from BRIDGET FONDA


MY BEST FRIEND GROWING UP HAD A STICKER ON HER CAR THAT SAID 'PARTY NAKED'

We were playing a late night party game after the rest of the party guests had gone home—

Me and Tanja and Tanja's boyfriend and my husband—

Tanja said, "Okay, what's your deepest regret?"

I looked at Tanja.

Tanja was looking at my husband.

I looked at my husband.

He was reclined in a chair with our dog.

Tanja and Tanja's boyfriend and I were all seated around the same round table.

My husband started to say something and then stopped.

Tanja and her boyfriend told people they had been together—"off and on"—

Six years.

My husband and I had been together—"off and on"—for thirteen.

We had just celebrated our fourth anniversary.

We were living in separate houses in the same city.

Sometimes that summer we had worn our wedding bands and sometimes we hadn't.

I was wearing mine now but I wouldn't be wearing it tomorrow.

"Don't think, just answer," Tanja said.

"Well," my husband said.

I could see what he was thinking; he was thinking his deepest regret was marrying me.

I couldn't make out if he was wearing his wedding band or not.

Tanja thought I was kidding.

"You guys are just joking," Tanja said.

"No," my husband said. "She's right. That was what I was going to say."

I don't know why but I wasn't that bothered by my husband's answer.

"It doesn't bother me that much," I said to Tanja.

"Maybe we're just super honest with each other," I said.

"How honest are you guys with each other?" I asked Tanja.

Tanja looked at her boyfriend.

Tanja said, "I don't know."

Later Tanja's boyfriend kept saying "are you mad?" to Tanja.

Tanja's boyfriend seemed to worry about Tanja being mad a lot.

My husband was falling asleep.

My husband got up and went to bed.

Tanja and Tanja's boyfriend and I were still sitting at the table.

In an hour I would get in bed next to my husband.

The night after that I would get into bed alone.

It didn't bother me that much.

I'd stopped worrying if my husband was mad at me.

It didn't seem like he worried anymore either.



HERCULES

On Mondays and Tuesdays I volunteered at a therapeutic equestrian center.
For three hours each night I walked beside a horse and held a hand or my arm on the leg of a child or young adult so the child or young adult wouldn't fall off (someone else walked on the other side).
The children and young adults had a variety of mental and physical disabilities—autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, brain tumor, cancer and other conditions I did not know the names of.
(We were not told the specific disease or condition of a child or young adult to protect his/her privacy but often the child or young adult or the parent of the child or young adult mentioned it; once a girl I had been walking beside for six weeks said, "that was when I had my brain tumor removed" and that was how I found out about that.)

Mondays my last rider was Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was ten and had braces on his legs and wore thick glasses.
When he wanted to see something—like a ball or a toy horse—
I handed it to him and he held it close to his face and his eyes moved back and forth rapidly as he turned the object just as rapidly in his hands.
It was hard otherwise to tell what he could see because he didn't turn directly toward an object like the rest of us did to view it.

I didn't know what was 'wrong' with Jeremiah.
Aside from the braces and glasses, I mean.
He rocked back and forth in the saddle when he got bored and didn't hold his reins unless we reminded him and the instructor seemed to remind us to remind him a lot.

"Use your mother voice," she would say to me. "Be firm."

But I had forgotten my mother voice or I didn't know how to be firm or I didn't want to be.

"Jeremiah, pick up your reins," I would say in a voice that wasn't a whisper but wasn't firm either.

"Jeremiah!" the instructor would shout from the middle of the arena. "Pick up your reins!"

Jeremiah always picked up his reins when the instructor yelled and then immediately dropped them again after we passed her. Then Jeremiah would ask us questions, like, "What's your name?" "How do you spell your name?" "Where did the sun go?" (Jeremiah's lesson was between eight and nine and the sun set during that time.) "Is it nighttime?" "Who is that on the brown horse?" "Can I play with Trevor (the kid on the brown horse)?" "Why can't I play with Trevor?"

I answered all of these questions when the instructor wasn't looking and told Jeremiah to sit up and pick up his reins when she was.
I had learned during Jeremiah's first lesson not to laugh at his questions even if they were funny (which they usually were).

During the first lesson Jeremiah had asked questions like, "What if the black horse ate the brown horse?" and "Can Hercules (the horse Jeremiah rode) fly to the sun and burn up?" and "What if Hercules shriveled and dried up like an old piece of Play-Doh?"

I laughed at the Play-Doh question and then Jeremiah laughed and once Jeremiah started laughing he didn't stop laughing until the instructor yelled at him to be quiet so I stopped laughing after that too.

Once Hercules farted and no one said anything and then Jeremiah said, "What did Hercules just do?" and still none of us said anything, and finally Jeremiah said, "Did Hercules pass gas?" and the horse leader said, "Yes, Jeremiah, Hercules passed gas," in a tone that I gathered meant she was glad Jeremiah had reminded us there was a polite way to say fart.

At the end of every lesson the instructor encouraged the rider to thank his/her sidewalkers and leader and to thank his/her horse.

Jeremiah would stand, one hand on Hercules, and one hand in mine, and say, "Thank you, Hercules." Then he would say, "Can I feed Hercules a carrot?"

The first time Jeremiah asked this, no one seemed to know what to say.

Finally the instructor said what she would end up saying every week when Jeremiah asked, which was, "Did you bring Hercules a carrot?"

And Jeremiah would say, "no."

And the instructor would say, "if you bring a carrot next week, you can feed it to Hercules."

Then I had to walk Jeremiah in to his mother who was sitting in the waiting room that overlooked the arena and Jeremiah would say to his mother, "Can I feed Hercules a carrot?"

The first couple of times he asked his mother this question, she looked at me for an answer. I didn't know what to say. I knew we had carrots in the refrigerator in the volunteer break room but I didn't think the instructor wanted me to say this. I didn't think the instructor really wanted Jeremiah to bring a carrot either. But I wasn't sure.

I answered Jeremiah's mother the same way the instructor had answered Jeremiah in the arena.

"Did you bring a carrot with you?" I said.

"Jeremiah, did we bring a carrot?" the mother asked Jeremiah.

"No," Jeremiah said.

"Next week we will have to remember to bring a carrot," Jeremiah's mother said.

But the next week would be the same thing. Jeremiah would ask the instructor, I would ask his mother, ... there was never a carrot.

I decided one week that the following Monday I would bring a carrot. I would buy a bag of carrots the next time I was at the grocery store and bring the smallest one in my pocket and at the end of Jeremiah's lesson when he asked if he could feed Hercules a carrot and the instructor asked Jeremiah if he had brought a carrot to feed Hercules I would pull it out and I would be a hero.

But I kept forgetting to buy carrots. So I had to keep asking Jeremiah's mother if they had brought one. It was a painful and awkward exchange but I couldn't seem to remember to buy carrots.

I couldn't seem to remember to buy carrots and I was never going to be a hero.

Jeremiah still kept asking.


GERALD

Today (like, five minutes ago) I was masturbating on my bed with a hairbrush and thinking about volunteering later today at the therapeutic equestrian center where I volunteer on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays. I was thinking about writing this story I have wanted to write for a while now, which is a story about Gerald, a rider at the therapeutic equestrian center where I volunteer. Gerald is nineteen or twenty or maybe he is twenty-one now, I'm not sure. Gerald has Down syndrome and you aren't supposed to 'talk down to' or 'baby talk' him or anyone else who rides but inevitably people do. Gerald's mother also volunteers at the therapeutic equestrian center and one day I was walking on one side of a horse while she was walking on the other and she was telling us (the horse leader and me) about a day recently in which she discovered Gerald had created a Facebook account for himself. "There were quite a few less than desirable people he had friended on there," she said. "I defriended them and explained to Gerald