It was Saturday morning and the bright yellow sun gleamed down across the snow-covered field without an ounce of warmth to spare. The sky was perfectly blue and the sunlight’s glare was too bright. It was as though I had been indoors for way too long and my eyes could not adjust to sun’s glare.
“Better get down to the barn,” I was told. “Better move it too.”
I turned around to face the man in charge. I was too new to know his name. I only knew his voice sounded as if he were angry. I looked at him with a sense of quiet rage. My eyes darting as if to show him that I was tougher.
He was taller than me, but slim. He had pale skin with the red cheeks and red nose of an Irishman; he was blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and the bridge of his nose appeared as if he had seen his share of brawls.
“Well? What the hell are you waiting for? Get going!”
Bundled up in an old jacket, boots with two pairs of socks, and long-johns beneath my clothes, I stepped off the front porch of the main house and headed down the long walkway. The acres of Upstate farmland sat in a clearing, which was surrounded by the landscape of tree-covered mountains, which were all laced with snowy white frost across the crystal-like pine trees.
I walked down towards the big red barn where two white geese meandered in front of the side doorway.
“Damned geese! They’re always looking to snap at someone.”
After reaching the bottom of the walkway, I crossed over the frozen-muddied road that led to the visitor’s parking lot, and then I turned in to walk through the side entrance of the barn.
I shouted at the geese, “Get away from me,” but they were not afraid. The two snowy-white bastards with orange bills waddled towards me with open mouths and hissed.
Swinging my leg to prevent an attack, I nearly slipped on a patch of ice.
“I hate this place,” I thought to myself.
The tip of my nose was red and felt as if it was about to freeze. Dangling driblets of glistening mucus ran from my nostrils; my fingers stung from the frigid temperatures and my toes were numb from the cold.
I walked through the side door into a hustling barn crew with a loudmouth barn boss. “Let’s go,” he shouted. “Move it!”
He commanded, “It should take you no more than five minutes to feed those pigs! Let’s go. Move it. We haven’t got all day!”
I thought to myself, “That son of a bitch better not talk to me like that.”
The barn boss was young; he was much younger I was. He wore a blue corduroy Dallas Cowboy baseball hat. The gray hood from his hooded sweatshirt covered the back half of his head and his black mud-stained overcoat was zipped up to the top of his neck. His pale skin was red from the cold, his blue eyes watered, and smoke ran from the barn boss’ mouth as he continued to bark orders.
“You,” he said to me.
“Get a pitchfork and clean out those pigpens.”
I walked over to the pens. By this time, I knew the larger pigs were less trouble than the smaller ones. The bigger pigs had less room in their somewhat small quarters, and they were less interested in moving at all. But the little pigs were tiny nightmares.
I leapt into the first pen, scooped my first pitchfork filled with hay, mixed with pig’s shit, piss, and slop. Then I scooped my second pitchfork, which was filled with more of the same. By the time of my third scoop, the barn boss began to ride me. “You have to move faster,” he told me.
I complained, “I’m going as fast as I can.”
He said, “Then you’re gonna have to learn to move faster.”
I leapt from the first pen and went into the second. This time, the pen was filled with four smaller piglets. They screamed and rushed around the pen. They ran into my legs, nearly causing me to fall.
“Son of a bitch!”
I shoveled my first pitchfork, then my second. But the barn boss was not impressed.
“Ben, you really need to move faster. We haven’t got all day!”
“I’m going as fast as I can!”
The barn boss walked over to my pen. “Do it like this,” he said.
Then he jumped over the chin-high, wooden planked fence, and grabbed the pitchfork from my hands. He scooped one, two, three, four scoopfuls of hay, mixed with pig’s shit, piss, and slop out of the pen and into the long indented trough that ran across the concrete floor.
Then he handed the pitchfork back and said, “I want you to do it like that from now on.”
Meanwhile, a man on the outside scooped the trough into a large gray garbage pail, which was then taken to a place called “The Shit Pile.”
As the barn boss leapt out of the pigpen, I mumbled and complained under my breath.
“Son of a bitch! He doesn’t know who the hell he’s talking to. Who the hell does this guy think he is?”
But the barn boss must have read my thoughts. Maybe it was the way my eyes stabbed at him when he handed me the pitchfork. “He doesn’t even know who the hell I am,” I thought to myself.
But he must have known what I was thinking because as the barn boss walked away he shouted, “And I don’t care who you think you are. Down here, you’re in my barn and you’ll do as I say.”
“Son of a bitch!”
It was cold and the smell was strong. Not even the low temperatures could rid the smell from my nostrils.
“I have to find a way out of here,” I thought.
“I have to get out of this place before I toss one of these damned pitchforks into the back of someone’s neck.”
One of the rules of the farm was newcomers were not allowed to stay with each other without supervision. The reason was contempt is often contagious. And it certainly was in this case. Newcomers were just in from the world. We were all ex-junkies, or drunks. All of us went to the farm for either behavioral problems at home, or like me, we were sent there because the New York Courts mandated us to drug and alcohol treatment.
I was new to this scene. I hated everyone and everything they made me do.
I hardly slept in my first few weeks because the farm took on a case which they had no cure for.
One of the young members in my bunk house was easily riled. And in the depths of night when the room was at its darkest, his Turrets went wild
He would scream about killing another house member named Brad.
He’d scream and squeal. “Gonna kill you Brad. Gonna kill you!”
This went on for at least an hour. But an hour of sleep means a lot when the alarm goes off before the sunrise.
Then after a burst of violent obscenities, he would refer to another house member named Shane.
“I love you, Shane.”
Shane was well liked by most. But the young house member with Turrets hated Brad. He hated Brad almost as much as I hated the farm.
I was on little sleep and angry. It was obvious that I did not want to be there. It was obvious that I did not want to listen to the rules, or wake up before the sunrise, and listen to someone yell, “Move faster.”
Chris had arrived on the farm a few months before I did.
He saw that I was struggling and tried to explain, “If you ask me, you’re going about this all wrong.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You got to go along to get along here. They’re just going to break you down until you can’t take it anymore.”
“Is that so?” “
You can do what you want,” he suggested. “But while you’re here . . . you’re here. And every time you resist, everyone in the house is going to jump on you.”
Chris could tell I was not ready to listen.
“Look, I ain’t saying it’s easy to do. But it sure as hell easier than getting yelled at all the time.”
He told me, “It’s called the path of least resistance. But I guess you’re not ready for that yet?”
And Chris was right.
There was no rest in this place. There was no such thing as idled time. From the early morning until bedtime, there were no still moments except for time of prayer. But I wasn’t ready for that.
There was no place in my heart for God the Father, or any sort of good orderly direction. I was godless in a sense, but yet, I knew that someday I would have to face my sins. I was godless, but not faithless—I knew all about the spirit as well as the exact nature of my wrongs. Perhaps this is why I ran so fast and so far; because the thought of facing my wrongs was petrifying, so rather than stall and face the persecution, I ran as hard and as fast as I could.
After barn crew, I returned to the main house to change from my barn clothes and clean myself. The bathroom in the ground floor was equipped with two toilets and a shower stall. There were no partitions around the toilets—so there was no privacy at all. This was also done to cut down on the opportunities for the members to masturbate.
Nevertheless, the house members cleaned the toilets. We cleaned the bathrooms and the kitchen. We swept and mopped the floors before waxing them by hand. And I hated that part . . .
My hands always dried out after waxing the floor, and there was always a cleaning supervisor standing over me. “Come on Ben, you need to move faster!”
“Son of bitch!”
Sometimes, I forget the lessons I learned when I was on the farm.
“You have to go along to get along.”
I forget that