19 12 / 2011
The Chicken’s Spirit Still Follows
As it hung from the ceiling, my eyes began to fill up with tears. The pure sight of the monstrosity weakened me to my knees. My anxiety increased as the odor of death gobbled me up. I was stuck in a white room with bloodstains on the wall. The cow’s immobile body petrified me. Staring into the cow’s eyes made me forget the reason why I was at the meat market. I had tuned out the Spanish-speaking ladies around me. It was as though it was the cow’s body and I in the room. The longer I stayed in the store, the more I wanted to cry and scream for help. I was in a trance that was causing my depression and my inability to move. It was soon broken by the cashier’s voice, “ ¿Como te puedo ayudar?” As I placed my order, I wanted the cashier to notice the sadness in my eyes. I wanted her to see that I did not want to be in Mexico. I wanted to return to California, far away from my evil grandmother. But no, she handed me a red bag filled with meat, smiled and said, “Que tengas un buen dia.” How was I supposed to have a good day when I had to walk home alone with continuous flashbacks of the past, feelings of loneliness and sadness, and with a bag filled with meat?
The summer of 1997 in Michoacán, Mexico, was when the slaughtering-solitude curse was bestowed upon me. It occurred in my grandparents’ small farm. My grandparents owned several farm animals, but my favourite animals were the chickens. Although I knew it was a terrible idea to chase my grandmother’s favourite animal, I enjoyed chasing the chickens. The chickens were smaller than me and they could not out-run me. One day I took the chasing to the next level. I chased the chickens with a broom around a bush. I would smack the ground behind the chickens. The chickens would chirp with a tremendous fear. The chirping was my source of fuel to continue chasing the chickens. After a few rounds around the bush, a few chickens would run off from the bush, but there was still one left. Unfortunately for that one chicken, death was nearing quickly without either of us knowing it. As I continued to smack the broom behind the chicken, my broom met the chicken a few too many times.
In front of me laid the chicken’s immobile body. Its body crushed by my weapon, and blood oozed out of the chicken. It did not register what I had done until I heard an angry woman yelling at me as she got closer. With every step she took toward me, her rage and my fear increased. What was coming my way was scarier than feeding the pigs, and the coming events passed by quickly. My grandmother smacked me as soon as I was within her reach. After receiving two or three smacks, my grandmother picked up the dead chicken and pulled me by the ear toward the kitchen.
With a loud and hateful voice, my grandmother told me that I was going to eat the entire chicken once she was done plucking and cooking the chicken. She went on to lecture me that one does not kill an animal unless it is going to be eaten. It was a law she abides by. As she plucked the chicken, I was forced to watch her pluck the chicken. All I could do at this point was wait for my grandmother’s chicken soup to be ready and cry for help.
Once served, I was instructed not to leave the kitchen table until I had finished the entire pot of chicken soup. I starred at the floating chicken chunks in the soup before commencing to eat. With every bite, I thought to myself, “why did I kill the chicken?”
I ate the first bowl of soup with tears running down my cheeks. I wasn’t crying because of the punishment, but because of what I had done to the chicken. It was too late to feel sympathy for the chicken or to ask for forgiveness. So I continued to eat until I cried myself to sleep. Since I was left alone in the kitchen, no one noticed I had fallen asleep until a few hours had passed by. My family teased me about what I had done during the rest of the vacation. I thought that the teasing would only last until we returned to California. But I was wrong.
Up until I was 12 years old, the teasing only became increasingly hurtful. When family members would find out I disliked eating meat and I would refused to eat another animal, they would rudely remark, “You’re going to have a short life if you don’t eat meat;” “ You’re going to become anaemic;” “You’re a disappointment to the Mexican culture;” “You’re such a drama queen.” My family members, unknowingly, began to push me away with their rude remarks and disgusted faces. The mocking continued even after years after realizing I was vegetarian. In some instances, my relatives took the mocking to the next level. They would try to sneak meat into my food. When it would happen, I could not understand why it was so important to them that I did not eat meat. Why could I not be Mexican and vegetarian?
Once I was old enough to stay at home alone, I would politely refuse any invitation to family parties. I did not want to surround myself with people who did not want to accept my meat-free diet and me. I did not want to be teased and I did not want to go hungry while I watched everyone else eat. Since my family is Mexican, there was never any vegetarian friendly food. All the dishes had meat or a trace of animal product. Whenever I did go to family parties, I was excluded from the eating table. I did not like the smell of meat, cooked or raw, and sitting next to those who ate meat made my stomach churn. It was also pointless to sit at the table with an empty plate and pretending to be fine. Not one aunt, uncle, godparent, or parent ever thought to make a vegetarian dish so I, for once, would be able to eat at the table. As a result, I would wonder away from the table, the people, and the food. I was alone, sad, and longing for someone to understand me.
Being alone and feeling sad was not enough of a punishment. The teasing and exclusion continued. During high school, I was the only vegetarian in my friend group, and may be in the entire Mexican populated high school. I shared the chicken incident with my closest friends, hoping that they would understand why I was vegetarian. My friends’ reaction to my story was the opposite of what I accepted. My friends laughed at my story. I must have either told it funny or it was just funny that a five year old beat a chicken to death and then had to eat it. Very funny I assume. So after my story, my friends would offer me a bite of their chicken burger or chicken nuggets. Some friends honestly forgot, and some were painfully teasing me. With every teasing remark I wanted to cry inside. How was it possible that not human being could accept me? How was it possible to be so close to my friends and yet feel so alone? I have questions but not answers. I had friends, but I was still alone.
Fourteen years later, I am still vegetarian and I am still keeping my vow to not eat or kill an animal. I still face the issue of exclusion from friends and family. Food has become the barrier between others and myself. My friends and family will not stop the teasing, even after sharing how it makes me feel sad and secluded. I have met vegetarian people, but not one has offered a helping hand. Not one person wants to end my solitude.
My name is Jonathan Reyes. I am vegetarian and Mexican. I killed a chicken at five years of age, and the past still follows me. I am alone, different, and I will always feel disconnected from you.