Cows by Kaas Baichtal

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Picture me at age eight. A big girl - and I mean big. Big boned, broad shouldered, and extra chunky from growing up on a dairy farm. They even called me "fatty" in school.

By the time I got to junior high school, my mother was frantic because I'd never had a date. And I wasn't just big anymore, either - I was a klutz too. The one date my mom managed to set up for me took me dancing and I stepped on his foot so hard, he had to be taken to the hospital.

I went to my first football game in the fall of my freshman year in high school. That's when I knew what I'd been waiting for: the crowd, the pushing and shoving, the roar of hundreds of voices shouting in a burst of triumph or challenge, the stomping of a thousand feet. The feeling of being a part of one great animal. And the boys! Husky, red-faced big boys with clumsy feet and explosive energy, charging and scrimmaging and tackling!

I started dating, and my mother and I drifted apart. I guess she figured her work was done. I was hungry for human contact and my high school years were jam-packed with with football games, beer parties, and sex in the back of cars. I felt on the brink of finding out who I was.

After high school I went to work at the cannery as a packer. There I met the man who is now my husband, Bruce. I loved Bruce at first sight. He was just my type: big, loudmouthed, cheerful. He'd even played football in high school in Branch Forks, the next town over. But I really knew he was the man for me when he confessed that he drove all that way every day just because he wanted to work at a place that made food. He just liked the idea of working for a food company.

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After Bruce and I got married, we moved into a trailer in a park where a lot of other cannery workers lived, and talked about buying a house. It wasn't going to happen on cannery wages, though, and plus I was starting to get a funny feeling about my hometown. Sometimes when I'd walk down the street I felt like everyone there was strangers, and I'd only see one or two pairs of eyes that even seemed alive. I had never yet felt so out of place. So one night when we were paying the bills I asked Bruce how he would feel about moving away, and I will never forget the look on his face. He looked so relieved.

We moved to the big city that winter, when the cannery work dried up.

It wasn't as hard as I thought to get used to it. It was dirty and covered with concrete and the people weren't as friendly but I needed big crowds. I wanted to get pushed down the sidewalks like one cow in a million head of cattle.

Even though there were a lot of dead eyes out there, there were also living ones. Hundreds of them. Thousands. And we were all moving in the same direction. It felt like the right place to be.

Bruce felt the same way, and so we went to monster truck rallies and auto shows and the big football stadiums, where the tramp of thousands of feet and the roar of thousands of voices would lift us up.

And we were happy in the city for a while.

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One time Bruce met a man at a gun show who had some interesting ideas about the future. He said he had a bad feeling that something was going to happen, and that everybody better be prepared with food and weapons and underground shelter. Bruce came home and told me about that, and I knew right then I'd been feeling that kind of fear my whole life.

"That man is right", I told Bruce.

And he said, "I know it."

But like so many other people, we were not prepared when the time came.

It began early one morning, as I'm sure you've heard before. It was all gray and fog and the sun hadn't come up yet, and there was gunfire. Not just nearby, not just distant. From dozens of places here, there, all over the city.

Within hours you couldn't go anywhere and be safe. People who knew each other started to join up for protection, and Bruce and I both swore we could tell who was OK and who was not. He said it was in the hands. I knew it was in the eyes.

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Farms should not have walls.

But now there's nothing but devastation left of the town where I was born, or the town my husband was born, or even the city we lived in. And the kind of people who'd live outside our walls aren't any kind of people at all, but skeleton hunters with dead eyes. Sometimes I don't quite remember when I knew the outside world had gone horribly wrong -- if it was a sudden thing that one gray morning, or long and slow throughout my life.

Inside the farm, I see hard working, loyal and dedicated people, real people, with the good light in their eyes and the good energy to them. And every one of the children here is broad shouldered, husky hungry kid who trips over his own feet.

I hope every one of them is for always.

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