Trigger warning/disclaimer: This post includes senseless chicken deaths and dog hate. It should also be said that, yes, I feel crass heavy-handedly bringing my writing into serious situations like these. It is not my intention to make light of any death whatsoever, no matter how small. But this is my life. If I cannot draw from my experiences- the good, the mundane, the spectacular, the awful- then I wouldn’t have much to write about. If you read this post and feel the need to tell me I’m horrible, please know that I agree with you and feel horrible enough already.
In the midst of my desperate brain-wracking, I rediscovered this from a month ago:
“Well I just had an absolute nightmare of a weekend. Literal blood and mayhem, and me running around the yard in a bathrobe screaming murder. And then I thought for sure I was going to get kicked to death by a moose while trying to rescue my stupid dog who was obliviously hiding bodies at the time.
“But my birds! My beautiful, sweet, egg-pooping, I-raised-you-from-chicks birds. My birds are gone. Maybe it’s stupid to be so heartbroken over livestock, but I loved them anyway and this was not what I wanted for them.
“I’m going to start bawling again if I think about it too much. I’m so glad my husband’s home. If I’d been on burial duty, I don’t think I would have made it out quite the same.”
And then a much shorter note two weeks later:
“The only thing more depressing than digging a grave is digging a grave in the rain.”
So it looks like I got to be on burial duty after all. Just think of all the character I must be building.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with my dog. I know this is probably the worst thing I could confess on the internet, but he drives me absolutely nuts. He stalks me with his eyes everywhere and freaks out any time anything moves within like three miles of him. He’s disgusting and annoying and, despite being pretty smart on the doggy scale, mindbogglingly stupid about some things. Despite all this, I love him. I don’t like him most days, but I certainly love him.
Unfortunately for Jasper, I love my chickens more, and I like them too, and they’re actually useful. So when Jasper kills my chickens, he’s not winning in this equation. And when he kills them again, and then again, he’s paving the road right back to the shelter. But I don’t, don’t, don’t want to do that. I brought that dumb dog home with every intention of keeping him forever. He went for years without killing any of the chickens. They wandered around the property together without trouble. The chicks ran around his yard hunting bugs while he napped. His yard shared a fence line with the chicken yard and he kept the ravens and the foxes away. It was perfect.
And then it suddenly wasn’t.
The first time was an accident. The second time a slaughter. And this most recent one, despite my best attempts at prevention, was an act of single-minded determination.
So what do I do now? I have a helpless flock of birds that I lavishly adore, and a horrible slaughter-beast that I inexplicably love who is determined to kill them. Getting rid of the chickens would break my heart. Getting rid of the dog would break it too, and my kids’ as well. But keeping both seems to mean accepting that my sweet chickies are going to die horrible, painful, terrified deaths, and then I don’t even get to make any use of their bodies afterward, making their deaths pointless as well. And even if I do give up my birds to keep the dog, he’ll only go after my neighbors’ chickens. There are four flocks that I know of just on my block, and probably more besides. If all my birds were gone, Jasper would only go hunting further the next time he escapes.
But I just can’t get rid of him.
I don’t know what to do, and I feel like each night I go to bed without having made a decision is going to lead to the day that I wake up to find him with another bird in his jaws again. I feel like I’m breaking a little more with each dead bird. A cloud of awful inevitability haunts me all the time, and all the outcomes are terrible.
I’m too emotionally exhausted for graceful crafting here, so let me just draw the parallel. I am a miserable, distraught mess hurtling inexorably toward the breaking point; when you’re writing, your characters should be too. If your characters don’t have to make choices about things that matter to them, there’s no way those choices are going to matter to your readers. So make it matter.
Force your characters make the choices that make them sob violently and pull their hair and call everyone in their phone for advice and still be paralyzed with indecision because every outcome sucks. Force them back into corners with no good way out and take away all their ideal options, and then force them to make a decision with a time bomb ticking in the background.
Which is exactly where I am standing right now. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. I’m still paralyzed. But I know I have to figure it out soon. Until next time, keep hitting that keyboard, and wish me luck.
Postproduction Update: It happened, just two days after I wrote up this post. Jasper managed to get loose again. The poults got away, but all my chicks are dead. I cleaned the blood off his muzzle, held him, and sobbed for hours. I wept on the phone, and then all the way to the shelter. I sobbed in the lobby as I filled out the papers to make my “smelly puppers” available for adoption. Then I held him some more and cried and cried and finally handed his leash over to someone else. I could hear him crying for me all the way out to the parking lot.
The deus ex machina I was hoping for never came.