What If

Last night was a nightmare. A heart-breaking nightmare. It is a night I cannot stop replaying over and over in my head, and yet it is one I want most to forget. How cruel our minds can be! I promise–I am not trying to be dramatic here. I am not building this up because it would add anything to the story. So here it is:

i have had a strange & uneasy (to say the least) past few weeks. It seems nothing in my life has been going the way it is supposed to, and personal issues keep cropping up and my self-esteem keeps taking all these hits. But all these probably-imaginary problems are nothing compared to the carnage that greeted me when I came home from derby practice late last night.

I opened the back door to let my dog in, but couldn’t see him. I looked out and noticed first that i had NOT closed the door to my chicken coop before I left, which I always do. And then I saw my dog, face buried in the belly of a blonde ball of feathers.

I screamed his name and he ignored me for a moment, then came racing over, muzzle yellow and blonde with feathers. I didn’t want to believe it, I was too horrified that It had finally happened (he has attacked my ducks twice before but I was always there to stop it). Sure enough, as I spun around I noticed the backyard was littered with feathers. I saw another chicken not too far off, a large wound on her back. I knew she would probably have to be put down, but I couldn’t even continue looking at this point. I sank down sobbing, and fumbled for my phone. Even now my heart races to remember the horror I felt as I began to understand what had happened. I had forgotten the most basic safety precaution in my haste to be out the door, AND loosed in my own backyard their predator.

I will not get too much further into gory details, as I did not let myself see them. I called my boyfriend, hysterical, and he came speeding (I’m sure) from work to my rescue. As i didn’t want to see who else was gone, he did a backyard sweep and came up with a body count. He also put down the hurt chicken, which I know was excruciating for him, as he’s been a vegan for thirteen years. I have no doubt it was a herculean effort, and the love he showed for me in doing that, unasked, carries me through.

If there is absolutely any silver lining to this horror, it is that my two favorites managed to survive–George, my best little chicken, managed to get over the fence (and even came home this morning for breakfast!) and Margot, my green-egg-laying bully, although she has a substantial wound and a gimpy leg, which I nursed this morning and am hoping to help her overcome. One more survived, miraculously without injury, but that’s all. Out of a flock of 7 chickens, four were killed, including my magnificent rooster, Frodo. He put up quite a fight apparently, and tried to protect the hens until the end, but that has left an enormous pile of feathers in the yard that makes my heart hurt to see.

I don’t even want to be in my own backyard anymore. It’s a place of trauma, a place of death. There are patches of feathers still attached to skin, and when i took the dog out to pee this morning the three remaining sounded an alarm–they will not forget so soon. I am so saddened by this feeling of destruction & stress in what is supposed to be my haven–I had spent that afternoon cleaning up the yard and prepping for spring, so excited about the warmer weather, and pulling out fencing to protect the garden from chickens. A moot point now.

I cried so hard, wailing so that a neighbor came out to see what had happened. Then I sat on my couch and cried until Jon came over, while he cleaned up, and afterwards too. But as I cried, I let myself feel how much it hurt, gave myself permission to feel the bad stuff, to let it wash over me and to get it all out. I know that today is awful, and tomorrow probably won’t be much better. But they are the living, they are life. Just as death is a part of living, so too is pain a part of pleasure. One is not complete without the other. But there will be no pleasure in this memory, no funny ha-ha to help ease the pain of what’s happened. This is simply a grisly opportunity for growth, a chance to refine my character and let it inform future decisions.

So now my dilemma is this–do I keep the chickens I have left? Do I try again for spring chickens, with more chicks now? I have the brooder and a bit more experience, although I did not expect to use either again so soon. What about the dog? Because right now it is so hard to look at him–I don’t even want to try. It makes me sick to my stomach. I KNOW he was just doing what dogs do. I know that in my head. But in my heart it feels so much like a betrayal–like he has shown his true immoral self. I guess I think of him so much as a companion and person that I forget his dog instincts, his primal callings, which i know can be such a dangerous habit. He doesn’t have a soul, he is not governed by a moral compass. To him, it is, “what is right in front of me?” But still–how can i forgive this? I can’t look at him without seeing his muzzle covered in feathers. He twitched a lot in his sleep last night while I tossed and turned all night, and all I could think was he was reliving his executions. And all of it was my fault.

That’s the very worst of it all. I made a mistake–I didn’t think. Because of that mistake, four deaths ensued. Granted, they were poultry, and I understand there is a perspective needed to their deaths. They were only chickens–but they were my chickens, and I loved them, loved watching them grow and discover. The fact of the matter is, they trusted me to keep them safe and I failed them so completely. It is not grief so much as it is horror–my soul is reeling from the violence and utter disregard for life. That it came from such a sweet puppy is horrifying, that it was my own doing is almost unbearable. It is the biggest “What If” question I have ever faced–this mistake has become my biggest regret. There is so much guilt wrapped up in my sorrow.

Of course there is some grief, as when you lose any animal in your care. I’m sad to have lost fearless Balina, who always came right up to me, and Frodo, my gorgeous feathered-feet rooster (“fro-toe”). I’m sad that Lucy & Eunice, one who laid the biggest, most beautiful rose-colored eggs, would have felt so much fear and pain before the end. These four were from the batch of five I raised together, the chickens my late Mamaw “bought me”. I just don’t know how to wrap my mind around the fact we “modern” (i.e. sheltered) humans tend to forget–nature is chaotic and has absolutely no regard for our feelings. Death is a very real, very present part of life. The dog killed the chickens because dogs chase chickens, have sharp teeth, and are generally able to do so. He had no quarrel with them–he wanted to play with these soft toys.

There were many questions without answers in the long sleepless night, one of which–do I keep the dog? Because once they’ve killed a chicken, there’s no way they’ll stop. Or do I forgo chickens–if not, I’ll have to be vigilant every moment of every day. Because Hero isn’t loyal to me because he understands my wants and desires and comprehends the plans I’ve made and wants to help me accomplish them. He obeys (sometimes) because I feed him and wrestle with him. He has no higher motivation than his present needs.

At one point, in between sleep and waking, I thought it had all been a very violent nightmare, a dark dream from which I’d wake. It certainly had some of it’s unreal qualities. And, as I’ve been playing Skyrim for the last month, I had the wild (and nerdy) thought that I could simply reload the previous save, and all the bad things would be undone and I’d have a chance to start again. I could check the coop door and none of it would have ever happened. But there’s no such thing.

This is already long enough, and while it certainly helps to ‘say’ all these things, there is nothing that will make it feel better and I am tired of thinking it over. There is no tidy resolution to this piece. I just had to put as much of it out there so it doesn’t stay in here, draining my energy. Thanks for reading.

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