Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Abandoning The Family

I am not built like a man in any way. Fact is, most third graders in America probably outweigh me.
Suffice to say I am a twig of a human being physically. This fact never stopped me from attempting to work like a man though. On my grandparents ranch I saddled my horse all by myself as early as I can remember. I got in the sorting pens amongst 300 plus pound weaning steers and heifers and herded them with the cowboys.  I  have had my share of herds turning on me in the pens and running me over.  I have had my share of being rammed by a full grown 2,000 lb cow up against a fence, the ground, and a truck door.
I have been stepped on, sat on, ran into, throw off of, and kicked by both horses and cattle more times than I can remember. However, even with all these "hazards of the job" I still found myself in love with horses and caring about the welfare of the cattle.
Nothing brought me more joy than the birth of a new calf or foal (baby cow or horse). I have witnessed this miracle literally hundreds of times in my short life and every time is still just as awe provoking as the last.

As I got older my grandmother turned over the responsibility of how the cattle were handled and worked to my father.
When Grandma was in charge we hired help to come out twice a year with horses and spend 3-4 days rounding up cattle. We would cut out the old cows who were beyond calving years, trade bulls to different pastures and take down all numbers for my grandma's records. We weaned, vaccinated, castrated, and de-horned 500-800 head of cattle in each round up.  I rode across the 1,000 acres jumping creeks, swimming on horse back across ponds, getting bush whacked by buck brush and headed off a stray cow as best as my horse and I could.
I perfected my riding skills on these huge round ups and learned a lot about cattle and horse psychology.
As mentioned earlier my grandmother handed over the responsibility of these rounds up to my father.
He decided we did not need as much help and our green broke (poorly trained or newly trained) horses were enough to bring in the herds. He made me learn how to do all the castrating of the young bull calves so they could be sold as steers to the meat market.
I learned how to knotch ears, give vaccines, burn off horns, castrate bulls, deliver calves and more. I learned how to do it all by myself.
I learned how to operate the hydraulic chute (a metal box that holds the cattle still to be worked on) and I ran it well.
I had 4 brothers and a sister around at the time to help but none of them knew the whole system the way I did.
One afternoon during one of our "family only" round ups there was a cow in the sorting pens. She needed to be brought through the chute and checked. She was not one of our shorter red  Limousine cattle (breed of cow). She was a much wider black Belgian cross. Basically, she was a big cow even for our chute and putting her through it was a risk.
On ranches it is a common practice to use shock sticks. They are a battery powered long stick that ranch hands use to "shock" a cow if they refuse to move or even at times get "stuck" in a corner.  Cattle are so deeply herd minded they act blind or really stupid when they are being chased or driven and they will go in circles or stand in corners acting like they can't even see the direction they are being pushed or herded towards. When this happens a "bite" or "shock" is usually used to bring them out of it. However, the shock stick is over used often and can drive cattle over fences and make them charge too.
This wide black cow had made it into the chute and while she was being worked on she laid down in the chute. Cattle sometimes collapse under stress in tight spaces and that is what happened with this cow. My father grabbed the shock stick and repeatedly shocked the cow to get her to jump up. This is a great example of how this stick is misused. Like a tazer on a human beings the over use of shocking can cause the heart to act up and causes great distress in the body.
The cow was bawling and my father grew more angry the more he shocked her and she refused to get up. He beat on her, twisted her tail and shocked her more.
I finally screamed. I remember jerking the stick from his hand and yelling at him to stop it.
His eyes were wild and furious. I saw him clench his jaw and stare at me thinking of what to do next.
I couldn't stop my mouth now. I spent all day riding hard, getting knocked around, kicked and more. Between getting hungry and begging my mother to come pick me up early so I could leave (for what I don't remember anymore) I was spent. My filter was off and I just remember emptying my guts of things I wanted to yell at him for a long time. I returned his "You're so stupid" right to his face and at the top of my lungs I just kept yelling. "YOU CAN'T DO THIS! SHE'S DOWN, SHE'S STUCK! NO AMOUNT OF SHOCKING HER WILL GET HER UP!" This was, I am pretty sure, the cleanest of what I said and the only thing that made sense coming out of my mouth. I remember telling him we had to widen the chute and kick out the bottom board to get her up. He refused to listen and grabbed a regular board and busted it across her nose. She bellowed deep, and blood ran from her nostrils. I saw her eyes in a panic.  More yelling and shouting took place and finally I kicked out the board myself. It was a miracle in a way. I am and was so tiny. The board was a actually a short heavy metal wall and with a cow laying up against it, getting it out should have been hard to say the least. I was furious and my adrenaline was up. After kicking out the board the cow jumped up and took several deep breaths and bellowed real deep again. Then I looked at my father and yelled "I TOLD YOU LARRY!" 
It was an unspoken rule in the house not to call him by his first name. I had just broken that rule and I had no remorse.
This final outburst of rebellion was too much for him. He had held his tongue in front of my siblings and knew he was wrong, but there was no way I was going to get away with this. He swung at me and I dodged it. He then rose his hand up in the air positioning it to back hand me to the ground. I was still on an adrenaline rush and my eyes met his. I stepped closer into the swing and said "DO IT!"
He was caught off guard and hesitated. I took another step towards him and then in a very calm deep voice I said "It will be your last time."
My brothers were all witnessing this act of defiance and waited in fear and expectation of his next move.
I don't know if they were hoping to jump on him if he hit me or, if they were just as shocked about my blatant disrespect as he was and thinking I deserved whatever happened next.
What happened next was so strange (compared to other times) but, I was so glad it happened.
My father clenched his jaw more and straightened his body and dropped his hand from the air. He then took his index finger and pointed it right in my face and started yelling "You're a disrespectful brat, you are not helping anyone here. Leave and abandon us like you always do!"
Tears were welling up in my eyes from all the stress and the ever dropping rush of adrenaline. I turned and lifted my head as I "abandoned" my family in the barn and met mom at the car. I had tears in my eyes and she knew there had been a "disagreement" she was angry at ME for being the cause and being a brat "just running away from your responsibilities" she said.
I said nothing all the way home and left the house in my own car as soon as I got cleaned up.

I did eventually leave the family and "abandoned" them. It would take a couple more years before I cut them out of my life completely. I hold no regrets about this decision.


  1. That was sad, yet really well written. I am proud of you for standing up for that animal. Setting boundaries with abusive parents is difficult, sometimes I have to take away the title of mom and dad when I think of them. Sometimes I'm the mother and I'm the father and they are the children. I closed myself off from an abusive aunt three months ago, but decided we would try to reconnect in a different way this time and learn how to set boundaries with her. Wish me luck! :) Love, Magena (Carmen)

  2. Magena, I am so proud of you for trying again and with boundaries. I feel exactly what you are saying when you speak of taking away the title's "Mom" and "Dad". Good luck to you. Miss you! xo