It’s hard to describe the sense of detachment that I developed when my own mother cast me out. I knew that she was under a lot of stress but to a child the only thing more certain than the existence of Heaven is a mother’s love. I had learned far too early that Heaven was just a ruse, and within a year I discovered the same of my mother’s love. There really wasn’t anything left that I could trust.
I’m not sure what my mother told my father but I am sure that he, unlike every other adult I had been exposed to, didn’t see me as a disturbed, creepy child. It was a big sacrifice for him to take me in, though. He and his second wife were working on plans for a big hippy commune. They lived on several acres of land on an island off the west coast. The island was sparsely populated and still lacked most hallmarks of community, particularly a school. He had remarried and had two more daughters but they were still infants and he and my stepmother had felt they had plenty of time to develop a plan for home-schooling. They really hadn’t a clue what to do with me.
My stepmother decided to just dive right into playing teacher. She had no idea what she was doing but I have to say that I think the experience was a very positive one for both of us. Few of the neighbouring hippies had any children, so several of them pitched in as well. I was only nine years old but I was hearing great stories about Kerouac, the beatnik revolution, and the antiestablishment movement. Our closest neighbours, Nicole and Loretta, were a lesbian couple who subscribed to the practices of Wicca. I have to say that at first I regained a lot of respect for adults - having finally found a group of them that didn’t cling so pathetically to ridiculous social constructs.
They seemed to fully understand my bewilderment with mainstream adult behaviors. Rather than fearing my lack of social integration, they applauded what they viewed as my purity of mind. To them, I was living proof that the mind of a child was pure and only became corrupt through the constant bombardment of society’s lies. I felt like a regular celebrity everywhere I went. Nicole and Loretta were very eager to help in my education, although mostly just to impart their misandrogenous philosophies.
It wasn’t long, however, before I spotted some holes in the facades of this new group of adults. They constantly berated the role of money in society but they frequently argued about problems that arose from not having any. They praised the merits of free-love and never falling into the trap of possessive relationships but they often exhibited signs of jealousy. They all talked the talk but failed to walk the walk.
My respect for them was often bruised but never vanquished. This served to remind me of the bitter lessons I had learned about blind trust, and I became quite disciplined in keeping my innermost thoughts to myself. Whenever I wasn’t certain that my thoughts or feelings would be welcomed, I would instead repeat the thoughts or feelings of those around me. The results were extraordinary. I quickly learned that the easiest way to gain someone’s trust is to affirm that which they already believe.
I have to say that I couldn’t have fallen into a more perfect situation. My basic education was remarkably accelerated by being the singular student of multiple teachers. On top of that, I was able to greatly direct my extra studies in almost any direction my whims and fancies blew. The educational resources seemed limitless with so much of the population being devoted to such a wide array of arts and crafts. I learned pottery, gardening, weaving, and even bee keeping.
The most succulent opportunity arose from the local devotion to sustainable living. There wasn’t a yard on the island that wasn’t littered with chickens, goats, pigs or some other form of livestock. In those days, vegan ideals weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are with modern-day tree-huggers. They not only loved their meat but they also had high regard for maintaining a close relationship with the food chain. Although my father seemed to want to shield me from animal slaughters he didn’t voice any concerns about me visiting Nicole and Loretta during the process.
I weaved my way in gradually, however. Nicole and Loretta thought it was wonderful that I was comfortable with sitting on their porch, plucking a chicken for dinner. Plucking by hand was slow, so they were more than happy to let me undertake that task almost immediately. All I had to do was ask a few pointed questions about the organs in order to gain an invitation to take part in the gutting process as part of my advanced curriculum. It wasn’t long after that that I was given the opportunity to dispatch the chicken myself.
I was quite disappointed to find that the standard practice for killing chickens involved cutting the head off with a hatchet. I found it very abrupt and impersonal but my lack of enthusiasm was interpreted as an abhorrence of death. They seemed relieved that I wasn’t completely repulsed, though, and so my education continued. Eventually they gained enough confidence to let me undertake the entire process unsupervised.
It was quite irresponsible of them to let an unsupervised ten year-old dispatch chickens with a hatchet; I could have easily lost a finger. I decided that would be my cover story if I were ever discovered dispatching a chicken by breaking its neck. In the meantime, I covered my tracks by chopping off the head at the break with the hatchet after the chicken had passed. This gave me ample opportunity to observe the life draining out of another living creature.
The first few times I found the experience much more satisfying than my experience at Old Ben Herzog’s farm. For one thing, I was alone. This made the encounter much more intimate and allowed me to take the time to really feel the life flowing through the chicken before I broke its neck. Furthermore, I was the only person for the chicken to fear as it died and the focus of that fear seemed to direct more of the energy towards me. This heightened sense of satisfaction soon began to wane, however. A chicken’s eye is small and just not a very efficient beacon of life energy. The other downside was all the hours I spent plucking those damn chickens, longing for Old Ben Herzog’s spin-o-matic plucking machine. I just didn’t have any other viable options though.
Some of our other neighbours invited me to their pig slaughters, although not that often and for that I am glad. Of all the animals I have seen slaughtered, only pigs seem to understand that they are about to be killed. If you walk into a barn, survey the pigs, and then decide which one you are going to kill, the selected pig panics almost instantly. The only way to separate it from the others is to wade through and grab it by the hind legs as it squeals horrendously. It will wriggle and kick and squeal all the way out of the barn. I never had to drag a pig out like that but I witnessed it more often than I care to remember.
Few of the hippies believed in guns, so they usually killed the pigs by bleeding them out. They would clamp its hind legs, hoist it into a tree and then cut its throat. The pig would continue to convulse until the gushing torrent of blood began to subside. At that point it usually continued to slowly wriggle for another minute or so. Once devoid of blood, the life drains quickly from its eyes and I have to say that I didn’t care for the experience at all. Even if I could have undertaken such a slaughter myself, all that wriggling and squealing would have really killed the moment. I really do abhor premeditated violent deaths.
I did enjoy the butchering though. A pig’s organs are so much larger than a chicken’s. The liver and kidneys are unmistakable and there are a number of smaller organs that can be readily identified. One of our neighbors was very knowledgeable of such things and everyone was pleased that I was so eager to identify the pancreas, bladder, spleen and other organs. They actually chattered loudly that I was bound to become a doctor. I think that for a while the thought of being a doctor seemed quite appealing to me. It seemed like a great opportunity to witness death frequently.
If there was any animal that I found compelling, however, it was deer. There were plenty of them roaming the island and I continually encountered them at the edge of our acreage. When a deer spots a person, it freezes in its tracks and its eyes light up with more life than any other creature that I have ever seen. Their eyes are so big and shiny and full of life, especially in the moment that they wait for their adrenalin levels to rise to the point that they can leap deep back into the forest in a single bound. When I spotted a deer I would freeze in my tracks and my adrenalin would shoot up as I waited for it to spot me. When it froze and its eyes began to flare I could barely contain myself.
I can still vividly remember the first time I experienced this. I was taking a shortcut through the corn field where my father grew his marijuana. As I emerged at the edge of our property a deer was also emerging from the forest. I spotted it first and I stopped instantly, mesmerized by the energy that coursed just below the surface of its flesh. My heart was pounding and my eyes were locked on it when it spotted me, cocked its head a bit, then froze. I could tell its heart was beginning to race and the life in its eye was so brilliant that I could barely contain myself. The feeling was so intense that I can only imagine that it is similar to what other people encounter during their first sexual experience. The tension built up exponentially until the deer exploded with a single bound out of sight, back into the forest, like a popping spring. In that moment I startled and fell onto my back into the corn. I laid on the ground catching my breath for several minutes.
I knew then and there that I had to kill a dear. It was a challenge that seemed insurmountable, however. No one on the island believed in hunting, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to shoot a deer anyway. At the time, I had the delusion that shooting a creature resulted in instantaneous death and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be there as all that life slowly drained out of it.
I wracked my brain, trying to figure out how I could subdue a deer and get close enough to experience its life energy. The idea of breaking a deer’s neck seemed impossible. I imagined traps that would break the deer’s legs but couldn’t imagine how I could set them and then get the deer to trip them while I was still present. The only alternative I could imagine was hitting it with a spear or arrow. Although that seemed impossible as well, I did express an interest in archery and quickly talked Nicole into teaching me to make an authentic medieval longbow. All I could do was to start working towards my goal and hope that a good plan would eventually emerge.