A Filthy Old Horse Named Dolly



Swayback3The only thing that made those weekend visits to my dad’s bearable was a neighbor’s filthy old horse named Dolly. I thought her to be very sad, and she was horribly swaybacked, but somehow we understood each other intimately. Dolly allowed me to climb up onto her weary, old, bare back, where I would slide down to the lowest part to feel cradled. She and I, ever so slowly, would walk way out into the big pasture, where we would daydream our way through the day. Sometimes I would cry into her matted mane while she nuzzled my neck. I always brought Dolly any carrots I could find when scavenging in the dumpsters. Like the big old eucalyptus trees and broken dolls I befriended, Dolly never cared about my filthy feet or matted hair. We became good friends over the three years I was forced to go to that wretched trailer.

Everyone but Vi laughed at my tears when I was told that the old mare had died from starvation. To console me, Vi made me my very own bowl of mashed potatoes my favorite way, with butter stacked on top. Later I could realize what a kind stepmother she really was—most of the time.

I was glad that my Ronnie was not forced into the weekend visits: he would have tried to protect me, and being older, stronger, and violent, my stepbrothers would have seriously hurt him. He never had to witness the deafening mayhem that precipitated incredible violence between Howard, Vi, and my stepbrothers—airborne pans and pieces of fried chicken flung at one another in heated warfare. The frequency with which this occurred made it seem like some kind of demented family ritual. By the time the food was put on the table, it was difficult to imagine the intended menu. I could only guess by the color of the mess on the plates, piled with food off of the floor. Being in a state of perpetual hunger, this never bothered me—besides, the food was still better than what I didn’t have at home.

As difficult and frightening as these peculiar afternoon rituals were to me, they ultimately served to calm the family atmosphere, sort of like a pressure cooker that has blown its top and has no steam left. Afterwards, the family squeezed around the card table, eating supper as if nothing  out of the ordinary had just occurred. My insides felt like scattered alphabet letters. However desperate I was to put my parts back into some order, I just couldn’t figure which way they went.


Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe at


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