Time Ticks On

I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot about the passage of time lately. Especially around this time of the year I find myself looking back at everything that has happened in my life. Specifically yesterday I was thinking about how by the end of next month it’ll have been six years since the worst day of my entire life. Other random times I’ll find myself thinking about how old some of my first cows are getting, and about how much we’ve been through together.

Today specifically I find myself thinking about all that, plus one thing more. One year ago today I went home from college for the weekend and heard the news that my ag teacher, the one who throughout all of high school I referred to as my favorite teacher, was arrested for possession of child pornography. A year ago I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to handle it. Today I find myself a lot different.

A year ago I was still trying to defend him, to wrap my head around it. Here was this gentle, kind man that I had known for what seemed like my whole life. He wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t a monster. So many other people were so quick to jump up and say he was disgusting and why can’t I just see that. And I know I couldn’t have been the only one feeling that way.

Today I feel different. Today it has sadly become a fact of life. I couldn’t stop crying for days after that last year. But today my feelings are different. I no longer cry about it. Honestly today I feel a mix of things. I feel anger, angry at him a little bit, but more so at the world and whatever could’ve happened in his life that I wasn’t a part of after I graduated to make him decide that he needed to do this. But mostly I feel pity. Pity that something did in fact happen, and that whatever happened it made him feel that he needed to turn to this. I don’t know if I forgive him or not, because he didn’t actually do anything to me, so it feels weird to think that I actually have to forgive him for anything. Except what he did, it affected everyone he knew. When a person who is so well liked and respected does something like that, it affects the whole community, whether they realize it or not.

Another thing that I have been thinking about lately is my cows. Specifically my older ones, and during this time of year I’m always thinking about one in particular, and one night in particular. October 30, 2013. I was fourteen years old. I was a child, still learning how to be a decent person and how to speak up and defend myself. I had just recently gotten my cows, around a year before to be exact, and they were teaching me things that I could never have noticed at the time. Well that night was the night that I always say I grew up, and I became an adult before I needed to or was expected to.

No one expected it to happen. Hazelnut was my first Jersey. She was nine months old, she was meant to live for many years later. Until suddenly she wasn’t.

The one thing I’ve learned from farming is to always be ready for anything. Expect the unexpected. Except sometimes there’s no way to expect or prepare for something like this.

The last time I saw Hazelnut she was a bloated mess laying on the floor. That sounds disgusting, but that’s the only way I can describe it. And even now I can still picture her so clearly in my mind on that last day that it’s even caused me to have a panic attack in the middle of a college classroom one time last year. Even now I find myself thinking about it and shaking a little bit.

I never know how to explain myself to my friends here at college. They all know how much I love my cows, and what they mean to me. But every year I find myself saying how much I hate Halloween, and having to just say it’s for personal reasons because I don’t know how to explain it, and because honestly sometimes I think I might start sobbing still when I try to explain it.

I’ve been thinking about this, because as it is September Halloween is on it’s way. A lot of my friends are all excited for “spooky season” but I can’t get on that boat anymore. It might’ve happened on the 30th, but she died the next morning, Halloween morning. And so I hate Halloween, and probably will for the rest of my life.

This year it’ll have been six years since that terrible night. If it hadn’t happened, and it really shouldn’t have happened, she would’ve been six years old this upcoming February. I can’t even imagine that. In my head she will always be the little nine month old Jersey, taken way too soon.

I can’t help but think of this and everything else I’ve been through when I hear people saying that dairy farming is wrong or bad in any way. It’s accidents like this that make people more likely to think that, but what a lot of people don’t get is how dangerous this job actually is. They don’t get that there are some things that just can’t be prepared for. Farmers are not around their cows every single moment, and sometimes things happen in those moments. And then people say well it’s just for profit, and farmers don’t give a crap if a cow dies, except that they’re sad that they lost money. This has never been about money. And if you don’t believe me, well you must not have been reading this blog post very carefully.

Things happen, and sometimes those things serve to define who you are as a person. Life is hard, and sometimes it’s extremely hard. Sometimes you’re left to question how you move on, and what could possibly come next. But those things that happen, I fully believe it is God sending a message, or making you stronger. The hardest moments in life are the things that you come out of on the other side as a stronger, wiser, and more beautiful person than you were before.

I don’t know who I would be today if I didn’t farm and I didn’t write. Those are the two things that I feel that I was always meant to do, no matter how many people tried to tell me not to. I say this all the time, but I mean it. If it wasn’t for my cows I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And if I didn’t write, I don’t know if I actually would’ve made it through some of the things that I’ve been through. If it wasn’t for those two things, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I might not even be in college, or if I was, it wouldn’t be studying creative writing.

But after everything, the number one thing I’ve learned is that time ticks on. And sometimes things just hurt, and they hurt so much that at the time you can’t help but think that there’s absolutely no way you could ever get through this. And yet time ticks on. And sometimes the best and only thing you can do is to tick on right along with it.

For the love of a cow

Sometimes I feel that people who don’t grow up on dairy farms don’t really understand me. I often find myself trying to explain my life to them, and I’m not always sure how. Even though I am a writer, I cannot always find the words. The only way I can ever really think to explain it is that my cows are my life, they mean everything to me, and everything I do I do because I love them. That in itself is always why when I hear people say what I do is cruel or inhuman I feel the need to speak up and say no. I always tell them when this happens that the easiest way to learn the truth is to find an actual local farmer and ask if you can visit the farm. I’m not sure if all farmers feel the same way as I do, in fact I’m sure there are some out there that don’t, but I do know most farmers are motivated by love for the animals they care for.

Because all farmers do is actually care for their cows, not harm them. Cows became domesticated millions of years ago; like a cat or a dog that lives in the house they would not be able to survive on their own. Farmers are out there sometimes over twelve hours a day or more to make sure the cows are safe, healthy and happy. Every day is devoted to the cows. Not that there aren’t some bad days. I can’t even count the number of times I have left the barn just mentally or physically exhausted and wanting to be home or crying because something didn’t go right or because a cow accidentally hurt me in some way. I’ve even heard my dad on his worst days saying he doesn’t know why he keeps doing this. I never tell him I know the exact reason why; it’s for the love of the cows.

Now I have never had a boyfriend. I have never seen the need. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to be in love. I’ve just had yet to experience it with a human that is not a friend or part of my family . But I know what it is to love a cow more than anything else, including myself. I’ve been showing cows and working on the farm for almost a third of my life. I know what it’s like to feel the ups and downs of life, especially since there’s more of that on a dairy farm than probably anywhere else in the world. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had where the barn was my only sanctuary, and I felt like the cows were the only ones that understood me. And I can’t tell you how much it hurt to see any of them suffer even if they weren’t my own special show cow, because there are no words to describe that. The worst days of my life have often included the words “there’s nothing more that can be done.” And there are no words to describe how much those words can rip your heart out.

Throughout my life I have often found my best friends in my cows. I understand that people who don’t know me, and who’ve never lived or will never live the life I do will never understand that. And I feel sorry for them, because they will never know this love that I do. Maybe someday I will be like my dad, with days where I question why I keep on doing what I do. But then again maybe not, because I know the answer to that question is love. Everything I do is done for love, the love of a cow.

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.

A Letter to the One I Lost

Dear you, you the one I no longer see every day. The one I lost, the one that was found in the field with no explanation. The one I thought maybe I was finally starting to miss less, but who was I kidding it hasn’t even been a month yet. I miss you so much I can’t even make myself write your name in this post. I don’t know what brought this on really, just that I realized in a week it’ll have already been a month, and I swear it was only like a week ago. Or just when I can finally make myself look at the empty stall where you used to stand, and I can laugh at the cats sleeping in a pile in the hay that is all that is left. Did you know for a while I couldn’t even take the milker off of your neighbor when she was done because I couldn’t make myself stand up in there, let alone look at it. Did you ever get the feeling that something wasn’t right behind you, or like something was empty when it hasn’t been in a long time and it shouldn’t be? That’s what it was like for weeks. I sometimes like to imagine you running around in the field with Hazelnut who I don’t really know if you remember or not, but seeing as you’re with her now I’m sure you do. You’re up there with her, and with Cas who I know you remember seeing as she was your calf and she’s barely been gone over a year. Acorn is there with you too, though you never got to meet her. And I thought all of these names I listed would have been the worst, the ones that would hurt the most, but none of them have ever hurt as much as losing you did. I don’t know if it’s just that it’s more recent or what but there are days where it’s some small thing that has me on the verge of bawling my eyes out once again. And I don’t know if you went to heaven, because I don’t know where animals go when they die. I tell myself you do though, because I know that God put you on this earth for me for a reason, and he wouldn’t have done that if I was never going to see you again. It might not be for eighty or ninety years or so, but someday we will be together again. But right now, with this pain I still feel at random times during some random hour of some random day, well it sucks. And it sucks that some people still can’t see it, and they can’t see what dairy farmers go through and that they think of their animals as nothing more than objects, and that we are inhumane and don’t care when you die. Well I care. I care a lot, and it hurts and when I got up this morning and thought about what to say today I wasn’t planning on this but it seems to have happened. Eclipse, there I did it, I got your name in here, not that anyone reading this who knows me doesn’t know who I’m talking about, I miss you so much and it’s not fair that you got taken away, but eventually I’ll learn to accept it, even though this pain will never fully go away.

Until we meet again in eighty or ninety years, I will always and forever be your Sara.