Tuesday, January 25, 2005

the tale of the pig

"I guess it all began when I was four years old, on the day of my aunt's wedding. This was when we were still in Mexico."

The woman in the chair was listening intently; she nodded as if she was trying to piece it all together. She was waiting for me to continue with my story, and although I had never told this story before, I felt like I could trust her. She'd never tell a soul, and for some reason, that simple fact made the whole situation feel very safe for me.

"Well, I had no siblings near me in age, so to that point, my best friend was our pet pig, Poco. It sounds silly to think that I was friends with a pig, but we were very poor, and believe it or not, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. Poco would follow me around and would play with me, but would never be too rough, as dogs can be sometimes with very young children. There wasn't anything special about him... he was just the first one who would spend time with me unconditionally... I feel very silly talking about this."

"No, please go on," she said calmly. I was trying to figure out her angle in making me go on like this, but I was new to this whole 'self-analysis' thing. I had to trust her judgement.

"Okay," I tried to regain my train of thought, so that I could lead the story in a direction that would help me to understand the correlation between this experience and my current behavior. "I was only four, and Poco was my best friend... he had been around for as long as I could remember, but it was the day of my aunt's wedding, and Poco was to be the main course at her banquet. My mother had seen how close I was becoming to Poco over the years, and always tried to prepare me for the day when this would finally happen, but I never understood what she meant. To me, Poco was like a person... the thought never crossed my mind that he'd one day be killed to be eaten."

"That's horrible, Manuel," she said with compassion that seemed to be authentic, but I wasn't sure if it really was or not. I decided to be optimistic about her intentions and continued talking.

"I think that this was a very traumatic experience for me... I was getting very mixed messages from my father. You see, to my father, I was becoming old enough to start doing chores and helping out with the family, and killing animals that were to be eaten was one of a man's duties. I don't think the thought crossed his mind at that point that Poco was my friend... he just wanted to teach me how to prepare dinner. We couldn't afford to go buy pounds of pork at the market, but feeding an animal scraps for a few years, waiting for a big occasion, was feasible. Now that such a big occasion had come along, my father wanted to make sure that I learned how to handle the process; it would probably have been a few years until I'd have another chance to learn this. He saw it as a father and son bonding experience... preparing the feast was a great honor, and he was trying to share something very special with me, but I think that I was just too young to go through this."

"I remember the experience very vividly... this may be the earliest memory that stuck with me with such clarity. I remember my father bringing Poco and me over to a spot of grass behind our home. He pet Poco and said a few soothing words to him, then got on his knees and braced Poco tightly. He was holding him still with both arms, and was leaning onto him, so that Poco would have no chance of escaping. Poco didn't even know what was going to happen... he had been the family pet for years, and had never seen anything from us but kindness... he wasn't trying to get away, and I didn't yet understand why my father was holding him so tight. Poco never ran from us... he would just stand by you, waiting for you to notice and give him some attention. My father continued to hold Poco tight with one arm, while he reached into his pocket with the other. He drew out a knife and handed it to me."

The woman started to show some signs of emotion at this point. She didn't say a word, but her eyes were darting around a little... I didn't want my story to make her uncomfortable, but I guess it's hard to hear a person tell stories like this without having an emotional response. It struck me that she was feeling more emotion from the story than I was... I was just telling a story... these were like words on a page to me.. this was simply what happened. It must have been sympathy that she was feeling; this touched me a little, but I didn't want to get caught up in the emotion of the scene... I wanted to make sure that I got through the whole tale.

"It wasn't until he actually handed me the knife that I understood what I was supposed to do. I remember standing there sobbing, but standing there strong with the knife in my hand... it's like I was two different people at once. Part of me was a child who didn't understand why something like this had to happen, and the other part of me was a tiny little man who was learning the ropes of his familial duties. I remember trying to reason with my father... there was never a question in my mind about following through with the act, but I had to know that such an act was just before proceeding. It was important to me to do the right thing, but I had to truly know that it was the right thing. My father himself was the one who taught me that hurting others was wrong, but when I brought that fact up, he told me that this was different. He could see that I was too young to understand that difference, so he told me that killing is only wrong when the thing you're killing has feelings. I remember standing there as he was saying this, thinking of all the time I had spent with Poco... I knew this animal very well, and I knew for a fact that he had feelings. This was a huge contradiction that plagues me to this day... killing something that has feelings was bad, but I'd have been bad if I didn't do my duty and kill my pet..."

I think that this was when I saw the first tear run down her cheek. I really was feeling better for even having told this much, but I was starting to feel guilty for upsetting her. "Are you okay?... should I continue?"

"Yes, I'm fine, please go on." Even as she said those words, and tried to engage my eyes, I had the feeling that she wanted to leave. I considered ending my tale there, but I had been running from this for so long... I wanted to put all of my effort into dealing with it once and for all.

"After a while, I gave in to my father's wishes. I brought the knife close to Poco's neck and held it there for a moment. Poco was staring at me with absolute trust and tenderness, even at that moment. I couldn't bear to watch it happen; I shut my eyes as tight as I could, and swiped the blade across his neck. After that, I remember looking down at the knife in my hand, watching the blood drip off the blade... it seemed like time stopped at that moment, and I couldn't see anything but the knife."

"I was startled out of my stupor by horrible sounds that I had never heard before. Poco was squealing louder than I knew him capable, and my father was screaming at me to finish the job; it turned out that the cut to Poco's neck wasn't deep enough... he now knew what was happening and was trying to escape for his life, and my father seemed so disappointed in me. This was all happening too fast, and I was completely overwhelmed... everything was so slow before that moment, but now it was like every second was another second that Poco would have to be in pain and my father would have to try to hold him in place. The worst thing about that moment is that there was now no question in my mind that Poco was capable of feeling... he was in such pain and was so scared... I had never seen him that way before. I'm not sure if my father could understand my words, as they were so heavily distorted by my sobbing, but I tried to tell him that Poco could feel, and that killing him was wrong; he just kept yelling for me to finish him off before he got away. It was then that I decided that it was better to end Poco's suffering than to let him go on in that state."

I now knew that my story was making the woman uncomfortable. Tears were streaming down her face, and she was making a conscious effort to not look me in the eyes. I felt a little betrayed... I was sitting there, pouring out my soul, and she seemed to be judging me, as if this experience was somehow my fault. I touched her hand lightly and said, "Don't you worry, little piggie... there's nothing to be afraid of." She probably thought I was crazy... I knew that she wasn't a pig, but I just thought I'd mess with her a little... just a tiny bit of revenge for taking advantage of my vulnerability.

Immediately, she started sobbing uncontrollably, whipping around, and screaming. It was like she had been saving all her energy for that moment to try to wriggle her way out of her bindings. I pulled out my father's old knife... which was given to me after he passed away a few years back, and looked down sadly at it. I really wanted to finish telling my story, but I couldn't stand to let the moment last too long. The woman now knew that she was going to die, and I didn't want to let her suffer like that.