Do Vegetarians Get Divorced?
My husband and I separated because of lust, but, in the end, not the kind of lust one might expect. What propelled me to move out in March was the lust to finally not blame myself for everything that had gone wrong between us for the past two years. My lust was to live by a mantra other than I’m an awful companion, and I’m going to lose everything.
So I moved out of the apartment I shared with my husband, and into my best friend Sue’s house, which wouldn’t be all that remarkable, except that Sue and her husband Chad live and work on a functioning dairy farm. Cows in the backyard. Milking twice a day. Calves being born once a month or so. I’m serious.
Even the fact of me living on a dairy farm wouldn’t be all that remarkable if I weren’t a compassionate non-meat-eater. I’m also a very light dairy consumer, never drinking milk but sometimes eating cheese. Here on the farm, animals exist for the nourishment of people, even if providing this type of nourishment (dairy) doesn’t immediately result in their deaths (though it does eventually, when the cows are no longer useful milk producers). Understandably, I’m conflicted about this.
But, I’ve read every book there is on the horrors of factory farming, and I have enormous respect for how well Sue treats the animals on her small farm. They have big corrals to wander around in and a safe barn to sleep in. They have locally grown hay to eat. They have 4H kids and other visitors to wash, clip, and pat them. Sick cows get treated like sick people; the doctor comes, and serious healing measures are taken. All of them have personalities: Pumba is the first to come to the fence to say hello, but she’s also not the brightest of the bunch. Tay Tay is sweet and craves affection. Plur is a calf-show-off who can’t get enough head scratches. If there has to be farming of animals, then this is how it should be.
I’ve seen my share of the realities of farming in the months that I’ve lived here. I’ve seen healthy calves born, which is wonderful, but this past weekend, I held Tay Tay’s hundred-pound head in my lap for a little bit while she tried to give birth to a bull calf whose foreleg was stuck behind her pelvis. Tay Tay yelled and foamed at the mouth. The calf died while still mostly inside of Tay, but not until after his head emerged, and he opened his oddly bluish eyes, taking in the scene around him. It took the know-how and strength of five experienced dairy farmers and a veterinarian to get the calf out. Tay Tay still hasn’t gotten up off the ground yet (though she’s eating and drinking in the shade beneath a blue awning), and that was three days ago. As I write this, she’s still sitting out there, swatting flies and enjoying the breeze in her ears; probably even she doesn’t yet know if she’ll ever get up again.
And then there was Buttons, poor Buttons, everyone’s favorite lovable Jersey cow with a gangrenous udder that went from technicolor, to black, to gone in about three weeks. When the vet finally removed her udder, we were all excited; the remaining flesh looked fantastic and healthy. But then, Buttons stopped being able to open her mouth; she had lockjaw, and after twenty-four hours and every known drug, she was gasping for air and drowning in saliva she couldn’t expel. The worst had to happen; she had to be put down. Chad came to my room at six in the morning to warn me that I’d hear at least one gunshot. Half an hour later, I heard two.
Those gunshots cleared up my selective hearing; they were crisp, authoritarian reminders that sometimes the one thing you don’t want is the one thing you have to live with, and that sometimes, even the most wrenching ends are justified. Buttons’s body will decompose in a big compost pile, and will fertilize the next round of hay that will feed new cows, so she’s gone, but she’s not totally gone. I’m getting a divorce, but I’m not done with relationships; I know there’s still good love for me, and I will be wiser and more skilled because I had the courage to pull the trigger and hear irreparable change strike the air.