I will never forget my great grandmother's farm. It is where I slaughtered my first goat. I was 9.
Earlier that summer my overworked single mother was dismayed to learn both her sons had been kicked out of day camp. Again. The exact causes are lost to me. I think we made a camp counselor cry. They rightly refused to put up with our shit for any longer—unsurprisingly, so did our mother. She made good on her longstanding threats to, "Ship uno raasclaat pickney fi yuh grannys farm." (Translation: Ship you two miserable fucking children to your great grandmother's farm.)
Despite circumstances I thought this would be a vacation. That fantasy died in the Norman Manley Airport lobby upon seeing my great grandmother's sour, old, evil face. There were no tearful hugs or happy hello’s; she regarded us with all the warmth of a shark. In clipped patois she ordered us into her car and demanded silence for the perilous drive up to her mountainside lair.
My late great grandfather built two houses to lord over a few craggy acres. He neglected to put electricity and plumbing in both buildings. My younger brother and I shared a small room with lizards called ‘croakers’. They hung out on the ceiling and dropped onto us like heat-seeking missiles in the middle of the night. We figured the sneaky fuckers got their name after scaring someone to death. Our sole solace was knowing our great grandmother suffered the same creepy-crawly hell a few doors down.
Years later, we learned she stole away at nights to a nearby gated villa she rented out to tourists when not torturing children.
The crone wasted no time setting us to work. She believed in an old, iron Jamaican saying, "Hard ears pickney nyam rockstone." (Translation: Disobedient children must learn the hard way.) If we wanted food, we had to work for it. We rose before the sun to pick crops until morning found us dirty and tired. Then we lumbered back to the main house, ate porridge, then tended to—or more often, contended with—livestock. There were all kinds of animals trapped with us, but this is a story about goats and chickens.
Goats were my friends. Hopscotch was my best friend. He was the happiest thing without dreadlocks to gallivant beneath the warm Jamaican sun. His prancing antics drew out my laughter whenever I thought it lost (one time he even jumped on my great grandmother). Chickens were my mortal enemies. These diminutive dinosaurs got a sick pleasure out of chasing and pecking me hard enough to draw blood. Eventually, I stopped feeding them. In time the chickens grew ravenous, succumbed to their baser nature, and started eating each other. My great grandmother was unnervingly calm as she ordered me to catch and kill the cannibals. They had learned the Forbidden Truth: Chicken Is Tasty. Even to other chickens.
My great grandmother’s revenge came the next day: we were to help fête her neighbors. I was happy, but wary. On one hand, this would be the first meat I ate in weeks. On the other hand my great grandma made it clear I was to help with the slaughtering. I could deal with scalding, plucking, and gutting cannibal chickens. There is poetic justice in that. But no, I was to prepare goat.
The Wicked Witch of Portland Parish chose Hopscotch. She grabbed a mallet, knocked him out, then handed me a large knife and said, "Cut."
I resisted, but those cries fell on deaf ears. Her reasoning: I was the eldest and needed the toughest job to, "Become ah mon." (Translation: Stop play with girls’ toys.) Heart racing, mind reeling, I approached Hopscotch's splayed out fuzzy figure. The next seconds go by as if underwater, the knife coming down slow in a Matrix-like bullet time. I cut through flesh, bone, and my childhood.
During the post-feast fugue I was full of shame, but mostly stuffed with goat. In that moment I realized why you never name livestock.