“The Rider” by Brandon Bagwell

I loved the boy in the playground.

At eight years old, it was fine to ride
           the unicorns,
           around and around,
his was white, mine brown. We’d play tag
though he always caught me in the end.

We’d hug, hold hands, and pretend.
We’d ride into battle, swords in hand,
rescuing fair maidens through the land,
though such things didn’t interest us for long.

At twelve, we felt we belonged.
Not just to ourselves, but to each other.
The other a brother,
or more,
as we learned hobbies, games,
and the sorts of things
a mother can’t teach their child.

His favorite was chess,
and he was the best.
He’d beat everyone who’d try to press
their bishops past the fourth rank. And like
            a pony,
            he’d whinny and whinny,
as his knights would fork pieces.
He neglected Queens, preferring
Kings between royalty.

At sixteen, he got his first car. A beat up
            vanilla Mustang
bought with a jar of quarters and
the promise
to not go too far from home
with girls in the backseat.

He’d greet me with a smile.
I rode shotgun as we’d drive
            mile after mile,
down freeways and toll roads,
I counted pennies so we could cross
the gate trolls which he’d file
as one of those jobs technology
should rapidly dispose of.

I was in love. And he knew it. He felt it too,
but after you show me yours
and I show you mine,
he said it was time to look past it
and pick out which girls to bring to prom.

At twenty, I said goodbye to mom.
I was in school,
and such a fool to not
follow him into the army. 
I studied math, and he went into
           the cavalry.
           write and write,
always in code.

“Don’t ask,”
He begged. I promised,
                      “I won’t tell.”
This is why being in love isn’t soaring,
It’s Hell.
It felt more like I fell
and couldn’t get back up.

I remember the truck.
And the flag. I
            cried and cried.
The body bag was
never something I got to see.
Only a gold star in a window
greeted me. A
            rider-less cremello
pulled the hearse to a funeral
I wasn’t allowed to attend.

At twenty-four,
I ended my life.
My strife found peace
when my hero released me
from pain without end.  We
            laughed and laughed.
For years, I awaited the chance
to hold my Prince Charming again.
I met him not as an adversary, but
as a friend.
                      “It has been too long,”
I said,
                        “You always rode a pale horse.”

Brandon Bagwell is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with fifteen years’ experience in the IT industry. His passions are in engineering, chemistry, and psychology. Most of his writing focuses on drug use, drug culture, and stories of rehabilitation. His writing style has been described as raw, expressionistic, and romantic. He openly describes taboo and controversial topics drawing from his first-hand experience as a former meth user. His work includes themes such as addiction, paranoia, homelessness, and LGBTQ issues. His upcoming collection, Something Else in My Veins: Slam Poetry, releases June 2020.

Image: “Unicorn Brain on a Slab” by Nicole Monroe

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