Five Years

The first thing I want to say in this post is that it’s more of a personal blog post, not one about the goats so much themselves, though of course they have their place within. Please feel free to skip it and wait for the next goat story if you like!

It’s been five years since our home burned down just before Christmas in 2012. I felt like I am ready to talk a little bit about the years that followed, and the changes in my life, because they’re pretty big changes. Of course, to understand them properly, I need to talk a little bit about what my life was like before the fire.

Life was really different then. Through a mix of stubbornness and hardwork, my husband and I bought a little “fixer-upper” house on three acres in a tiny town in Texas. The house was way more than we could handle, as we’d find out, but livable, so we scraped along. We had our little goat herd, and a couple ponies, and a variety of poultry. Our dog pack was big, filled with all manner of dogs, all of them as dearly loved as pets can be. Especially the oldest two, who had been with Steven and I since before we were married, and were at our sides through some of the most difficult times we experienced.

At the time the only work I had was what freelance work I could pick up on the Internet. I built websites, wrote code, painted models – whatever I could do to pay for my animal’s feed. I have always been very good at making ends meet and finding solutions where there don’t appear to be any. So we lived well enough honestly, even if our home was not very attractive. I spent a great deal of time on the Internet, just as I do now, but my actual life outside of the computer was very different.

I unfortunately live with a number of health problems that affect my everyday life. For a long time I would ignore issues until they began a major incident, only to repeat the cycle. Depression is a hard horse to ride, and I was no different nor stronger than many like me, who give in and let it run their life. I had no “spark” then. I just lived through each day, only getting up because the animals needed me. I’d sit in my chair and brood over wrong doings from the past, and online I was more confrontational and aggressive in debates. I would blow up at my dear husband for ridiculous reasons, leading to fights that left us both heartbroken and angry. My physical health suffered terribly as well, both from the stress and from preexisting conditions, and I let some of those build up so badly that they can never really be repaired. I just lived with it. There were days the pain from something or other was so bad I would pace back and forth, wishing for death.

I am a stubborn creature, even now I think. So we continued to live. When I met Honey Doe Farm, I remember wishing that I could make a living out of the goats. For now they paid a little bit of their keep with kids, but for the most part they were a money pit I worked hours online to pay for. When the farm owners invited me to come help butcher turkeys, I was delighted. I knew how bad I had become – I knew my life as it was was unhealthy and destructive. A part of me desperately wanted to find a better balance, and new friends that offered work that could help ease some of the burden was a great start. From there I started working more and more with HDF, selling goats for them, coming out to help with chores, and our relationship began to really grow. As I watched the dairy being built, I couldn’t help but try to casually mention a couple times that I “knew someone who would love to work here.”

Steven worked in management at a grocery store 40 minutes away, which meant I was alone most of the time. Our neighborhood wasn’t very good – there were drive-by shootings, stabbings, and unfriendly neighbors everywhere one looked. It was very nerve-wracking to be alone all the time, in what felt like a very open vulnerable area. HDF had been very receptive to the idea of us continuing to work there, but there was another obstacle – being visually impaired, I cannot drive. And honestly in my opinion, someone in charge of so many animals needs to be much closer to be effective in caring properly for them. I floated the idea of moving to the dairy with the farm owners during one of our get togethers, and they jumped at the idea! I was so excited. We began to work on an apartment for us to live in, and at home we packed up in preparation. It was slow going, we didn’t feel the need to rush. Towards the end, we loaded up the goats and moved them to the dairy first, which was tough to do, trust me! Later I would be eternally grateful that we moved them so soon.

The day our home burned to the ground I was at HDF. We were doing copper bolusing and vaccinating the pregnant does. It was a great day! When Steven got off work, he came to pick me up and Francine (one of the farm owners) said I could go home, but I insisted on staying – I wanted to help them finish. You can’t help but wonder how things would have changed if I had gone home on time… but I do my best to never dwell on that. How could I have known?

The neighbors called when we were on our way home. The rest of the ride was spent in terror, and we could see the inferno of our home as we made our way down the bumpy dirt road. I knew right away my dogs were gone. Our cats too, mostly likely. I remembered with horror that one of the ponies had been stalled right up against the house. I’ll never forget standing in my front yard watching the fire dance merrily in the night, destroying everything I’d managed to hold onto through the years. Everything we’d worked for. Everything.

Neighbors we knew well took us home and fed us – and gave us a few drinks – and a place to sleep off the shock. How I cried that night. My babies were gone. Killed in the most horrible manner. Alone, terrified. To this day I cannot think of them for long, nor speak of them. Even now I can’t stop myself from crying, I can feel the iron grip of grief on my chest, and so I will move on.

The ponies survived – the mustang tore the fencing down and took his friends with him. Neighbors caught them and put them in a pasture for safekeeping. Many of our poultry were not so lucky, and those that survived I gave to one of the helpful neighbors. HDF showed up shortly afterward and met us at the ruin of our home. We picked through the remains, taking what we could. Only one thing actually came out of the house itself – a clay turtle my father gave me years ago. We pulled down fencing to take back to the dairy. As we walked around, one of our two cats came over, unharmed but shivering. The other cat was no where to be seen, but my husband would find her in the rubble a week later and brought her to the dairy.

We moved to the dairy that night. Friends showed up with their trailer and the ponies, bless them, loaded up while wearing just bits of string and rope, in pitch darkness no less, onto a strange huge trailer. That night as we sat with the Honey Doe Farm family, the entire world felt surreal.

Little did I know the entire world was rallying behind me online, and oh how they rallied. People were generous in their donations to get us back on our feet, though I felt very strange about the entire thing. To this day, we most certainly still use much of what was donated, and I often think of the person if I know who it was. Many people sent us beautiful cards, and I kept every one and saved them in a box.

The fire caused a year long bout of depression where I felt completely detached from the world. I could not stop thinking of everything that could not be replaced – I still think of some of those items often. I would break down and cry while working if no one was around, and more than once I couldn’t control myself and broke down in front of the farm owners. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing HDF was handling the aftermath of the entire ordeal. They opened their home to our without question. They were taking a huge chance on this budding partnership just as we were, and instead of getting the fairly stable couple we had promised, they ended up with two severely damaged and shell-shocked people. We had some bumps in the road, but in the end I think we all feel very secure and comfortable as a family. I cannot express the appreciation and gratitude I have for them all. For everyone, in fact, who stood up underneath us to lift us up when we were at the lowest point in lives full of low points.

So all of that talking to get to the actual subject I was going for! I hope you can forgive all the rambling.

While the fire will remain as one of most of the awful things that has ever happened, there can be no denying that it played a part in the change in my life, though the dairy itself is the true catalyst. When I came to the dairy, I was quite unhealthy. I went from caring to a handful of goats to over a hundred overnight, and it was like jumping headfirst into ice cold water. Kidding season came before the smell of smoke had even faded from my jacket, and I buried myself in it, using it to block out the endless internal blackhole that swallowed all of my emotions besides grief. More than once I worked myself to exhaustion and then just cried for hours, as quietly as I could so not to upset anyone else in the house. I had no muscle mass whatsoever on my body and I struggled desperately with the hay chore. I slowly began to learn the goats on a personal level, and I began to take over milkings within the dairy.

The changes that came were gradual, as all good things tend to be. Slowly I gained stamina and strength in my work. The farm helped me get to doctors to handle some of my more serious health issues. I began to use medication to control others. I found myself softening as I drove home the thought that happiness was a choice into my head. Often I would stop and look at where I was and remind myself, this is your goal. You achieved it. You are allowed to be happy. Over and over I pushed myself into putting a smile on, into thinking good thoughts. I looked deeper at everything until I saw the beauty in it, no matter what it was. I found new hobbies in photography and video editing.

I found more confidence as the months drifted by and I gained a stronger footing not just on the farm, but in our goat community. People began to ask my advice, which to this day often feels a bit strange, though I am always happy to help. People even stopped at the farm’s gate to ask me a question, and would tell me someone else had recommended me to them; that I would help them and answer questions about their goats. It made me feel happy when someone liked my photos, or told me how I had helped them. And I deserved to feel happy.

So I turned everything around and I did my best to be the person I wanted to be. I certainly was not – and am not! – perfect at it, but every effort makes a difference. As time went by, it became second nature to just… well, be me! Many a person has called me entirely too nice for my own good, and it’s true, perhaps being so patient has led me into troublesome spots, but I will always rather be the person I am now than what I was once.

The goats have changed my life. Before the goats I was filled with darkness I couldn’t defeat. Now their noses brush against my fingers and their breath blows it away like so much chaff in the wind. Though I have been “good” at many things in my life, only with goats has the key fit perfectly in the lock. Dozens of other hobbies have I picked up, enjoyed, grown bored of, and put back down again, but the goats are always there in the morning, and the hunger to know more about them has never even come close to be sated. The feel of a newborn kid squirming in my hands will always fill my heart, which was once cold and painful, with enough warmth to get me through any winter. Only with goats do I stand with confidence denied me through out the rest of my life, and they stand beside me and pull out my pockets, looking for the treat they know is there. Because of the goats, I have done what was impossible before.

No, my life isn’t perfect, and every day I still fight against demons that will always belong to me, but my life is good. Goats gave me freedom. Goats gave me my life back.