My Fantastic Beasts

As a farmer and an animal lover I have always loved or felt a very strong connection to movies and books involving animals. How to Train Your Dragon is an example, but since it’s release in I believe 2017, the Harry Potter prequel movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been my absolute favorite movie of all time.

For those who don’t know, the movie focuses on a wizard, Newt Scamander, and his adventures in NYC with his magical case full of creatures. From the moment I first saw the movie I have felt extremely connected to Newt as a character. And this has to do with both his personality and his animals. As a person I consider myself a bit of a loner sometimes, and also extremely socially awkward all the time, and many times I find it much easier to be with my animals than with humans. That’s not to say I don’t have any friends or I never talk, I’ve gotten much better at that over the years. But I’m still and probably always will be an extremely awkward person. And the same can be said about Newt Scamander.

But more important are the animals in the movie, and also the connection that Newt has to them. Throughout the movie the love and care Newt has for his creatures is obvious, especially in the moments where they make it obvious that owning and breeding the creatures is illegal in the movie. There is nothing that Newt wouldn’t do for his creatures, which can be seen for viewers after about ten minutes into the movie and throughout the rest of it.

So how does this connect to me? Well to begin, since my grandpa’s day, my family has owned a dairy farm. I bet most people could’ve guessed that by the title of my blog being called A Dairy Farmer’s Truth. For a long time it was my grandpa and my dad working on the farm with the help of our neighbors and my aunt and sometimes me and my sister. But for a very long time, I had no interest in working on the farm myself. In fact when I was younger I wanted a horse, and I even took riding lessons for a while. But then, I can’t completely explain what connected in my brain, but in 2012 when we were doing our yearly visit to the county fair, I saw a breed of dairy cow called Linebacks. Everything changed after that.

It wasn’t long after that when I had my own lineback, Katy, and I began to show cows at the fair. These days I have what my family calls my own herd among our actual herd, which is mostly Holstein, or the black and white cows. This was about eight years ago now.

About a year after Katy, more things began to happen. I lost my first cow, a Jersey named Hazelnut, and at the same time, my mom temporarily lost her job. During this time she had also began to develop and interest in alpacas. She learned more about them during this time without a job, and by 2014 we had seven alpacas and an alpaca farm in what used to be our backyard. Only a few months in, everything was still a learning process, and we lost one of our boys to something called a menengial worm, which is commonly spread through snails and slugs spread through deer poop. And since our house sits across the road from the woods, deer an a very common sight around here.

That being said, good things always tend to follow the bad, especially in farming, from what I’ve experienced. Just last year we almost lost our remaining two boys to the same worm, but with luck, and the will of God, we were able to save them. If we hadn’t lost Prince back in 2015, we probably would have no more boys today.

Another thing we learned concerning this was that ducks eat the snails and slugs that cause the menengial worm. So last year during March we got ourselves four ducks. This in itself was and still is another learning experience. We found ourselves learning how to incubate eggs, and the difference between types of eggs. And then a few months ago, we learned that we also had hawks around here, and that hawks like to get ducks. I bet you can guess what happened next. So, this next March we plan on getting more, but only after we do some work and building out in the alpaca field to protect them from hawks.

Other animals we have include cats and dogs both inside and outside the house. And also for a little while, back before I got into dairy cows my sister and I each had a rabbit that we took care of. A few years ago my sister’s died of old age, and we got another one at a different county fair than the one that I show cows in. We were assured by the owners that the one we bought was a boy, to go with the other boy that I had back at home. This it turns out, was not true. So at one point the rabbits bit a hole through the divider in the middle, and a little while later we had baby rabbits. We eventually ended up with ten. This was a few years ago now, and many have died of old age, so we are now down to three, which is still more than we started with. And after the events of the last few weeks and months, which include my dad getting diagnosed with congestive heart failure and having a defibrillator put in a few weeks ago, and my grandpa dislocating his hip for the third time on Christmas, I have become the only one with time to take care of the rabbits anymore. So just a few days ago I decided that I guess they were now my rabbits.

As you can tell I have about as many creatures as Newt Scamander. And like he does in the movie, I take care of and love them with all of my heart. Another similarity I find that also connects me to this story so much is the amount of people in the movie that don’t understand his creatures and are trying to get rid of them. This reminds me of the millions of times I have done my best to educate people on farming through social media and this blog. Indeed Newt writes a book on how the creatures should be protected and not killed. I myself have written a small book on my life on the farm with all of my creatures, which I self published, but I hope to maybe refine and publish through a bigger, actual publisher in the future. There are also a few things that Newt says in the movie along the lines of trying to educate other wizards about his creatures and protect them from humans, who are as he says, “the most dangerous creature on the planet”. I couldn’t agree with that statement more.

But protecting animals from humans really comes in farming. I have tried many times to educate people on my animals and my farms on social media and this blog all the time. There are many bad ideas and stereotypes about farming out there everywhere that people got into their heads by being uneducated. Those ideas include; shearing alpacas hurts them, when in reality it is just like getting a haircut and keeps them from overheating in the summer, moving dairy calves away from their mothers is cruel and that they cry for each other, when in reality 99% of the time the mother cows don’t even know what happened and won’t even give their newborn calves a second look, and moving the calf away is for the protection of all parties involved. Also more recently I have heard that artificial insemination is supposedly rape, which is not correct at all in that cows and animals have no concept of consent, and also go about reproduction in much different ways than humans. In fact every three weeks cows will come in heat, meaning their bodies are screaming at them to reproduce, and they will jump on anything they can, including humans or other cows. AI is the best way to calm this process and to protect the herd. In fact one of my cows in my herd had a back problem a few years back because of being jumped on like that and had to stay inside during the summer for a bit. There is also one more idea that agriculture is the biggest factor in climate change and is what everyone needs to be cutting down on and getting rid of. And I can see that maybe in large scale agriculture there is some things that maybe could be done more efficiently, but there are so many other things in cities and just in general that could be done that would dramatically reduce climate change more than getting rid of farming ever could.

What a lot of people don’t realize is how much farming is important for every day lives of humans, and also how much farmers take care of an love their animals. And that goes for every single one that I discussed above. Of course there are bad people in every bunch, and that’s most likely where the bad ideas come from in the first place. Which is why my 2020 resolution is to continue and work more on educating people about farming and all of my animals. I can’t call it my New Year’s Resolution because I didn’t really think of it until yesterday, and also putting it in that category will more likely make me forget. But education in everything is important, especially in farming. Which is why if you’ve read this and stayed with me up to this point I encourage you to comment on here or read and comment any of my other posts with questions you may have. I will gladly have civilized conversations with anyone and would love to spread my knowledge into the world to work on giving farming a better name. Farming is important, and animals are taken care of and loved 99.99% of the time. Without it, all of these animals would be lost, and like it or not most likely so would the human race. Farming isn’t going anywhere, but most likely neither are the people who spread rumors and refuse to understand it. Which is why I will never stop trying to educate people.

A Review of the Year, A Review of the Decade

During this time every year, people look back and reflect on everything that happened over the past year. This year it’s even more special because it is also the end of the decade. And a lot of times at this point in the year I find myself looking back at only the bad things that happened. Sure there were a lot of things that happened this year, because a year is a very long time. They weren’t all good, and they weren’t all bad. And when reflecting back on the year in someone’s life, it is important to remember both.

This year began with our two boy alpacas getting sick with the same menengial worm that killed our other boy back in 2015. It’s weird to think that this was almost a year ago now, and that we were lucky enough that with experience and the help of God that we were able to save them, and that they are still here today.

Also this year was the first polar vortex in a long time, and possibly my life time. It resulted in my college closing for two days last January for the first time since I think the Civil War. Also during my college year I finished my junior year of college, made new friends, got even more involved in the newspaper, which at the beginning of the decade I never would’ve thought that I would be doing. And now as I head into next year I am somehow already a senior in college and also am looking at possibly becoming a co-editor in chief in my final semester.

Another thing that happened this year was that our family got ducks after we learned that they help to eat the snails and slugs that cause the menengial worm that almost killed our boy alpacas. Unfortunately we didn’t know that we also had hawks and that hawks can get ducks. So while we got the ducks in March, we lost all four of them by the beginning of December. We will be getting more next year when they return to Tractor Supply, and also after we figure out a better way to protect them from the hawks.

And now to the dairy farming part. Out of my special show cow heard I have only had one successful calf born this year, Kit, who is the granddaughter of my Katy. Since then a few have had bull calves, and others have had miscarriages. In October I thought we got lucky and we finally had another heifer calf, Jamey, but being born a week and a half early there was most likely something wrong inside that we couldn’t see. After about eight days she got bloated like calves sometimes do, but this time, for the first time that I’ve experienced, we couldn’t save her. It was heartbreaking.

Then came Charlie. She was born in July during my second to last year showing cows at the fair. She was a Milking Shorthorn, one of the three that we had in our barn. Just recently she became old enough to breed. Only when the vet came to check, he told us that she could never be bred and that she was likely to become dangerous. I had already seen weird and slightly spastic behavior from her, but I didn’t want to believe it. Only there was nothing to be done, and we had to get rid of her. This was only a few weeks before finals. Every time I lose a cow it’s different, and it hurts in a whole new, unique way that never completely goes away. I especially learned that after this year.

This year I learned what it was like to hold more responsibilities on the farm when my dad was diagnosed with cellulitis and congestive heart failure. Just two weeks ago he had to spend the night in the hospital after getting a defibrillator put in. I spent two nights home alone, watching and taking care of all of our animals. It was probably the two most stressful nights in my life. And then just last week my grandpa dislocated his hip for the third time in his life. We got lucky that it was the week after my dad’s surgery and not the week of. But this adds more work and stress to us on the farm, which we accept because we have to and because there’s no way we are going to let grandpa come back out to the barn for a while.

Other small things that happened include; I continued to practice my writing skills and am well on my way to writing my first novel, and also a cow stepped on my toe and my toenail fell off, which is not something I realized could happen until this year.

Altogether it is much easier to focus on the bad instead of the good when so many bad things happen in a year. But looking at the decade I see so many other good things that have happened. I grew up, and became the person I want to be. I got into dairy farming and got my own cows. I learned how to be responsible and love something so much more than I could ever love myself. I learned what it was like to lose, and also to win, both at the fair and in life in general. But even more than all that I learned how important it was to live this life. I learned what it was like to become an advocate for agriculture. I learned what it was like to have someone disagree with your lifestyle, even when you know that what you do is right. Dairy farming is important, in so many different ways. More than anything it, my cows, and all the rest of my animals made me who I am today. And no matter what comes in the next year, or the next decade, I know that I will still be found out in the barn among my cows and my animals, where I was always meant to be.

Decisions

One of the things that I hear so often that always gets me going on social media is that us dairy farmers don’t care about our cows, and its all only for the money. That is the number one thing that as soon as I see someone say that in a comment, I know for a fact that I am dealing with someone who actually has no idea what it’s like living this life.

I’ve probably said this a million times before, but if we really were only in it for the profit then why exactly do I find myself constantly curled up in a corner sobbing when things go wrong. As a dairy farmer, some days it feels like my cows are the only ones that understand me, and I’ve even referred to them as my best friends from time to time. And I know even to other dairy farmers that sounds ridiculous, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

I do know that there are things that happen on a dairy farm that most likely look weird to people who don’t live and understand the life, that are all done to help benefit the cow, not the farmer. Most likely that’s why all the stigma around dairy farming started in the first place, one confused person looking and not understanding what was actually happening.

Another important thing that I constantly stress is that not all animals are the same, and animals are not humans. Animals are so much better than humans, but they also have different anatomies, and different ways of having a healthy and happy life. One example would be that most of the time people will take their kids to get a flu shot during flu season. Cows don’t need flu shots, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another animal getting one either. But even more important than that, is I’ve seen people compare cows or calves to things like puppies. It doesn’t work to compare two completely different species and say that they are exactly the same. Dogs and cows need completely different things to be healthy and cared for. Would you give your dog cat food?

Where am I going with all of this you may ask? Well as I grow older and I find myself more involved with the goings on on the farm, lately I find things get harder. Just last month I lost a calf after only eight days of life, and there wasn’t anything I could do. And now, I find myself faced with a decision about one of my heifers.

The other day the vet came to the farm to do pregnancy checks, to see who all was officially pregnant or not. Every one of my cows who were supposed to be were, except for one, Charlie.

For constant followers of my blog, this name might seem familiar. I’ve talked about her a few times, especially during the blog posts from my last year at the fair when she was my Reserve Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, just like her mother. Well recently her mother became unable to have more calves due to prolapse. Prolapse is a weird thing, and sometimes it can kill a cow, but other times it might even fade with time. But if we had bred her again, with her next calf she would have bled out internally. So we were relying on her daughters, Rey and Charlie, to keep bringing Milking Shorthorn calves to our farm.

Well the vet came, and before he even checked her, he said that she was dangerous and that we should get rid of her before she hurts someone. They had to have a halter on her to even be able to do the check. And then after the check the vet said she most likely will not breed ever, which is not good in humans and is definitely not good in dairy cows.

And so now I find myself stuck with a decision. When I was younger, things like this, though this hasn’t happened to me yet, but when bad things happen it was never down to me. It always happened to quickly or it had to happen or the cow would die. And now I’m older, and I make my own decisions. But I don’t want to have to make this one.

I’m in college, and the only thing I want to really be worrying about right now is my finals coming in two weeks. But I find myself having to sit here and write this out on the first day of Thanksgiving break before even trying to work on school stuff, because it’s all I can think about. And I don’t want to have to be thinking about it.

If dairy farmers were only in it for the profit, this decision would be a no brainer. She’s never going to give milk, so out the door she goes. Except that’s not how any of this works. Because we do care, we care a whole awful lot. And I know the vet said she was dangerous, and that she has the possibility of hurting someone. And I know we’re already struggling, just because dairy farms don’t bring in that much money in the first place, and we have more medical bills and stuff now because of what happened to my dad a few months ago. I know what the decision will most likely be, and will honestly probably have to be. But I don’t want to have to face it, and I don’t want to have to do it. Because I am a dairy farmer, and like it or not, or understand it or me or not, I and every other farmer like me, we care about our cows.

The one in which I go into a feminist rant

Throughout my relatively short life on the farm there are two main stereotypes I have heard and had to deal with. One: dairy farming is a cruel industry, and two: it’s a man’s job. I might come back to the first one because I talk about that a lot, but today I’m choosing to focus mainly on the second one.

As a woman in the dairy industry I sometimes find the second stereotype to be even more annoying than the first one. I’m not sure what it is that made me think a lot about this lately but it seems to continually come up and weigh on my mind in these past few days. But maybe it’s just the fact that I have yet to post on this topic that made me think that now is the correct time to do it.

There are many things over the last few years about why women shouldn’t be farmers. The biggest one is that it’s a “man’s job” because women can’t handle the “hard stuff”. It’s either that or when women want to be farmers their immediately labeled a tomboy or assumed to be a lesbian. I’m not saying that being a lesbian is a bad thing because I don’t think that at all and many of my friends are or a member of the LGBTQ community.

But that is off subject a bit. As a woman who is definitely a tomboy but not a lesbian I find every single stereotype about women farmers to be annoyingly stupid. As someone who has also been a feminist for a very long time I find basically every single stereotype annoying. Another aspect that continually comes up is that a straight woman farmer needs to have a boyfriend or get married so they’ll have a man to help them do that stupid “hard stuff” that I mentioned before. I have never had a boyfriend in my life, through nothing but my own choice. And I may never have one or get married because I don’t know if that is what the future holds for me or not and because unlike another stereotype that comes up not just in farming but in everything a woman’s life should not revolve around a man or being in a relationship.

Whenever I tell someone at college that I plan on taking over the farm after I graduate I always get a slightly surprised reaction no matter who I tell. It is probably because I am going to college for creative writing and not at an agricultural school but I’m sure my being a woman is unconsciously a part of it too. Because it’s a man’s job that still to this day some people think only a man can do.

The idea of something being a man or woman’s job is ridiculous to me. I firmly believe a person should be able to do the job and career they want without being judged or having things assumed about them because of that type of label. Why shouldn’t I as a woman be a farmer, and why does that have to be so uncommon? Because of the hard stuff that I keep mentioning?

Let me tell you about this hard stuff that I supposedly can’t handle. I can lift grain bags that weigh up to fifty pounds. It can be a struggle but I can do it. And if I can’t do something like that I figure out a way that I can. But that’s not the hard stuff I hear about the most. What I hear most is about the emotional hard stuff.

When I was thirteen years old my first cow died. She was nine months old and while I did not actually see her body after I saw her the day before and it’s something I will never forget. When I was sixteen on the way home from a bowling match I got a call telling me my cow that was having a calf that night had the calf that was born dead. A few months before on our alpaca farm we had an alpaca die for the first time. That was the first dead body I ever saw. And about one month after the cow had the calf that was born dead, the cow had to be taken away because if we had waited one more day she would no longer have been able to stand. She died on the trailer. And when I was eighteen nine days after my newest calf was born she died and we still don’t know why. And just last year my third cow that I ever had and that I loved for five and a half years died. Not to mention the other pets I have that I’ve lost. All this and I only stopped being a teenager last year. So you tell me, what exactly is the hard stuff that I can’t handle?

Life with asthma

I normally just write about farming things but I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, because it’s just as much a part of my life as anything that I do. I have had asthma since I was eight months old, with one period of time in there where it had faded enough that I didn’t need to do anything about it. I don’t remember being told that it was gone, but I do remember a few days in there when I realized how much harder it was getting to breathe, and I remember telling my mom that we should go see the doctor. I remember the appointment and getting Advair once again and for the first time in my life getting an inhaler. I wish I could say I never had to use that thing, but if I could say that then I obviously wouldn’t have needed it.

I don’t remember how I felt on that day, but I sure know how I feel when I have to use my inhaler. I know how it feels when I can’t breathe, I know how terrible it feels. There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve felt utterly helpless, and at least 50% of the time it’s after I’ve had to use my inhaler.

I don’t really know why, but I think that feeling is really why I don’t like to talk about it. I never realized I didn’t like to talk about it until one day in high school I mentioned it in the middle of a conversation and my two best friends I had at the time freaked out. Do you know how weird it is to realize you’ve never told your best friends you have this problem? Because I didn’t either until that day.

Not being able to breathe as well as others was the number one reason I never got into sports, at least not running ones. It’s also the number one reason I hated gym class. It would’ve been fine except for all the teachers I had would continuously yell at me, whether it was running the mile (I know y’all know what type of torture that was, but imagine it when you can’t breathe after half a lap or earlier) or just tea doing anything that involved exercise. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was told to “just keep going you’ll be fine!” When you’re in the middle of an asthma attack that’s not what you want to hear.

Before I graduated high school I entered into my school’s fitness class thinking it would be better than gym. In ways it was, but in some ways it was worse. I remember jogging on the treadmill and having to stop because I couldn’t keep going because of my asthma, and my teacher looking at me like I was dying, and realizing she didn’t know or hadn’t realized I had asthma either. If I had thought she would let up on me a bit after that I was wrong. After that it once again became “you can do it!” But this time added to it was “you shouldn’t be so scared of it, you keep exercising and by the time you graduate I bet we’ll have gotten rid of it!” Nope. No. Just no. If it was that easy don’t you think I would’ve done it a long time ago? And I’m not scared of it, maybe I used to be but once you’ve had something for twenty years you know how to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean you want to, or should be forced to use your stupid inhaler that’s supposed to be for emergencies only, every other day.

Since coming to college I’ve used it less. And somehow I’ve become more comfortable talking about it. In high school I knew like two other people who had asthma, and one of them was my cousin, the other my best friend. Here you make one small mention of it in a group chat, and next thing you know you’ve met five other people who have it too. Then a work friend’s sister has it, then suddenly you’re talking about it in a Nonfiction Writing class and you realize you finally don’t feel weird talking about it. But you know it’s still hard to have it happen and to even have to think about pulling out your inhaler in front of people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to throw my inhaler across the room. Last time was literally a few hours ago when I went out in the cold and felt my lungs get the cold and heavy feeling I get in the cold weather sometimes, and suddenly I felt like I might pass out before I got back to my room and I had to concentrate on every step so I wouldn’t fall out there in the cold. I’ve heard my grandpa talk about having problems breathing in the cold, and it’s the same thing. It’s not just a problem older people can have, it’s something that I’m sure most of not all asthmatics have experienced.

The last major attack I had was when my dog pulled out of my grip and ran away from me up the road. There was a hunter on the road that she was originally going after but after he got in the car she just kept running. I ran after her, calling to the hunter to help but if you think he did you’d be wrong. I panicked thinking I wouldn’t get to her and it was a Sunday so outside was pretty deserted. I did eventually catch her, but was weazing the rest of the day.

That’s what it’s like with asthma. It’s not something terrible to live with and talk about, not like cancer or something like that. That’s not at all what I’m getting at with this post. I do think it needs to be recognized more. Anytime I go outside and smell smoke from a cigarette or weed from someone in my dorm hallway smoking it, I have to cover my nose and try to not breathe as much for fear of getting light headed and having an asthma attack right then and there. And if someone doesn’t have it it almost seems like they barely realize it exists sometimes. Not unless it affects them directly. Well take it from an asthmatic. It exists, it sucks, but most of the time it’s fine. If you know someone with asthma you don’t have to watch them every second of the day. They’re not just gonna stop breathing right in front of you. But don’t expect them to run places fast or to smoke or be able to handle being near smoke. And most importantly don’t tell them if they keep going it’ll just go away because that’s not how it works. Just treat them like a person, but be there for them if they need you. Because life happens, especially when you have asthma.

Shame on you

You would think by now I would learn not to comment on posts on Facebook where people are just going to respond and say what I do for a living is terrible, but it seems I haven’t learned. Well today someone said shame on you to me for doing nothing but loving and treating my cows right. And for some reason it’s sticking with me. Because I am not and never will be ashamed of what I do. Nothing will ever convince me the last seven years of my life were wrong and shameful. But if love is shameful then fine, shame on me. If meeting my first cow and having an instant connection so much that she has been my best friend for the last seven years is shameful, then fine, shame on me. If sitting next to a dying nine month old cow that should still have been alive today except for the accident that no one could control, at fourteen years old, and realizing that I was never going to see her again after that night, and therefore having to grow up and become an adult at fourteen years old is shameful, then yeah shame on me. If being told I’m much more mature than any other kid my age, and having the only reason for it being because I learned to be responsible and take care of something other than myself because I had my cows is shameful, then fine shame on me. If having my first panic attack of my life because I thought one of my cows was going to run into the road is shameful, then yup shame on me. If seeing a calf be born dead and see the mother get worse and worse and then get better a bit only to get worse again and then we lose her, and because of this watching and needing updates and watching and checking on my cows every single time they’re pregnant because I can’t let it happen again is shameful, then shame on me. If having one of my cows do a backflip and fall over her head and not be able to breathe until I know whether or not she’s going to be ok, and then going to hide and cry in the bathroom in both relief and horror after what just happened is shameful, then shame on me. If having a heifer slip and fall on my ankle and almost break it, if not breaking it a little and going back into the barn after knowing I could walk on it and feeding the heifers because they needed it and it was time to feed them and never actually getting it checked out, resulting in me walking with a heavier foot fall and having my ankle hurt every time it’s humid, but not really caring because I’m used to it now is shameful, then shame on me. If losing a calf after only nine days, or after one day and having to go somewhere and pretend like everything is normal when it’s really not but it’s a feeling that can’t be put into words is shameful then shame on me. If losing a cow after five and a half years and months later still walking into the barn and feeling like there’s a hole in the world where she should be is shameful, then shame on me. If time and time again I found myself worrying about one or another of my cows for a different reason or another no matter what the results end up being is shameful, then shame on me. If you’ve never felt the love of a cow, if you’ve never had the experience of sitting down next to a cow and having them turn and their head and fall asleep on you, with both of you feeling absolutely safe and at peace and can sit there for hours, then you don’t know what you’re missing. If anything mentioned above seems shameful to you, then you will not understand ever and I’m sorry for you. You may say shame on me, but I will never be ashamed to love a cow.

A Letter to My Ex Ag Teacher and FFA Advisor

Well I haven’t blogged in a while but so much has been happening lately that I really needed to take the time to write out how I feel and it had to do with agriculture so I got back on to my blog today. Because I needed to write out a letter. I was reminded this morning that being a writer it helps to write out my feelings, so that’s what I’m trying to do here, and maybe it’ll help me, at least a little bit I hope.

This is a letter to you. The one who I thought I could always count on. I don’t know if there’s even a chance you’ll ever see this, and I don’t really know if it matters whether or not you do. Because this is mostly for me.

I’d been hearing the whole year last year about how bad my old high school was getting. I’d seen it happening a little bit while I was still there, but through everything I’d seen and heard I always thought it would be okay because you would still be there. I always thought “it’ll be okay because no matter what the ag program and FFA will always be there.” And then my life was thrown sideways three days ago.

When it happened a few years ago I don’t think I was all that surprised. I don’t know if it’s just been long enough to have it been fully processed or if it was just something that was a bit more expected with the last time, but this time I don’t know how to process. The man I knew that had been my teacher, that I’ve known for over 75% of my life, someone who I’d looked at as almost like an uncle to me because all of my uncles live so far away, that man would never have done what you’ve been arrested for. Ugh I can’t even say it. I haven’t said it out loud, and I can’t even write it out either.

Travel back with me to my last day of senior year. I already knew when I walked in that I was going to be emotional that day, but it didn’t start until I walked out of that ag room for the last time. That ag room that had always been the one room I thought of as a sanctuary when I was having bad days.

I remember you always saying that year that you felt old or nostalgic that we were graduating that year, and how proud you were because we were the first class you’d ever had at that school. Maybe that’s when things went downhill for you, after we left, I don’t know.

I remember when you first took over the ag program. Before that I had tried to be in FFA and take ag classes before but they didn’t take for me then. I remember being so excited when you took it all over, and I remember thinking that maybe I could try it again. And that was a great decision at the time.

I learned so much from you, more than I can possibly put into words. I learned to public speak, to travel farther from home than I’d ever done before. There are so many adventures and lessons learned from FFA and you that it makes this ten times harder than if I hadn’t, if I had just been a kid in the school.

At first I was shocked, and in denial. I thought, there was no way that this is true, there’s got to be another explanation. Then the sobbing came. And then the anger. I took down my Greenhand degree that night from where it’s been hanging since I got it. I had been meaning to take it down for a while since my cat began jumping up on the place where it was and it got all ripped up, but I hadn’t. But that night I looked and I couldn’t even sit in the room when I could see your name right there in plain sight. So I took it down, and hid it in a drawer.

Then the next day my mom, my sister, and I went to see the movie Unbroken: Path to Redemption. I’d known the story of Louis Zamperini for years, but I think God knew that this was going to happen, and that I would need to see that movie yesterday. As I sat there and watched Zamperini forgive all of his captors that had tortured him for years, even the worst one, I knew that’s what I needed to do to.

And so yesterday I forgave you. Or at least I thought I had. I forgave what you made me feel, and it helped me to feel a bit less sick, and a little bit less like I might throw up. But then today I went to church where everyone was still talking about it, and I thought about your family, and what this has got to be doing to them. I thought about all of the kids in FFA right now, the boys I used to call my FFA brothers and sisters that were still there and had to worry about what came next. I thought about the Sherman FFA and how much we’d all done together and how bad they also feel.

So the tears came again. I went for a walk around the block during Sunday School to try and clear my head. But when I came back I don’t think it worked at all. Because the whole thing just hurts. Any time I thought of someone looking at child pornography or pedophilia it was always something from the news or television shows, or the big cities. Always one of those things that could never happen to me, could never actually affect my life. Until it was.

There’s a newer musical that came out about a year ago called Dear Evan Hansen, I know you are into musicals, heck we’ve been in some together, so maybe you know what I’m talking about, but maybe not. There’s a song in there called Requiem that the sister sings in the musical after her brother dies of an overdose on drugs. There’s a line in there that says “so don’t tell me that I didn’t have it right. Don’t tell me that it wasn’t black and white. After all you’ve put me through, don’t say it wasn’t true, that you were not the monster, that I knew…”

That part of the song is getting to me on so many levels at the moment, mainly because if you switch some words around it is almost exactly how I feel about this situation, and as I sit and write this I think I finally realized it. If you switch the words to “After all that we’ve been through, don’t say it wasn’t true, and that you were not a monster… that I knew.” I used to always think of pedophiles as monsters. But the man that I knew was not a monster, as far as I knew. I believe that it didn’t start until after I left, until I’d only seen you a few times over the year. And those few times I thought something was different, but at the time I didn’t notice, maybe because the last time I saw you I was in the middle of the fair and half asleep 24/7.

There are a few times I even find myself thinking how dare he?! How dare he do that to all of us?! But then I feel bad about that, like I shouldn’t feel that way, like I don’t have the right. But no matter what I do I can’t help feeling a little bit mad. And I can’t help but think that I hope you feel at least a little guilty, I hope you know what you did is wrong. And I hope that you get help, because you need it.

I may never see you again, and you may never read this, but I wrote this for me. And if you do see this, the one thing I want you to take away is that I forgive you. Maybe not completely yet, but I forgave you yesterday, and I will continue to every day for as long as it takes until I finally don’t feel sick anymore, and till I think I can finally tell someone about it without crying. And I don’t know what the future will bring, but I can only hope that somehow the Clymer FFA continues, that someone takes it over. I can only hope that you get the help you need, and that when you get your sentence, and when you get out of jail that you know that it’s terrible and you won’t even think about doing it again. I hope that your family can forgive you, and that the community can too. And I need you to know no matter how bad I feel I won’t let it ruin the memories. FFA was one of the only things I could hold onto during those years, and I refuse to look back on all those memories now and let this ruin it. Friday night I went to put on my pajamas and almost couldn’t because it was my FFA shirt from State Convention. That was when I decided something changed since then, and I’m not going to let this change the good times, and the good memories. Because those were some of the best days of my life, and I refuse to look back on them without anything but happiness, despite what you’ve done. But I’m praying for all of us to get through this, for you to get the help you need, for everyone to make it through this, and for everyone to find a way to forgive you. Because I’ve already tried, and slowly I think I’ve began to forgive you. And I hope you know how to forgive yourself, and that this one bad decision doesn’t ruin what has previously been the wonderful life you’ve led as far as I know. And I hope that you can make it back to the man you were before, the one that I knew.

Sincerely, me.