Today I woke up at 5:35 a.m. to kill a pig.
My night’s sleep had been short and I still felt exhausted when I awoke, but that was due to the normal goings on of my life; the pig didn’t stir me from my sleep. How the pig slept, outside the abattoir, delivered for its fate a day and a half before, I don’t know. Frightened? Cold? Lonely?
I called Doug, the butcher, to confirm that we were still on for the slaughter. Yes, he said somewhat to my dismay and somewhat to my relief. Could you be here by 7:30?
The gray light of the rising sun through the clouds seemed appropriately ominous. So did the derailed freight train engine near the interchange onto the highway that would take me to the slaughterhouse.
My muscles tightened and my heart rate rose when I turned off the highway and saw Doug’s white brick building. The drive was shorter than I remembered.
Inside it was a swirl of activity as the butcher’s ten employees broke down an entire side of beef; slashing, slicing, sawing. None acknowledged me as I stood by the cases of meat in the front, waiting while another hog was finished in the slaughter room.
Then it was my turn. I was waved back. Then Doug, in his olive-green boots and faded-purple apron sauntered in. He handed me the .22-caliber rifle.
The bullet had to pierce the pig’s thick skull to stun it. The shot’s angle and position are everything. If you drew an X from each ear to the opposite eye, I was aiming for the small depression that lay in the middle.
Even at point-blank, getting in position to shoot a pig is a dance with an unwilling partner. I had the added trouble of working up the nerve to pull the trigger. You have to shoot the pig with it looking you in the eye.
Each time the pig looked at me, every time I had a shot, I was slow to act and the pig would move away.
“I know, I know,” I said, answering the pig’s imagined protests. “This is going to be hard on both of us.”
Admittedly, it would be harder on him.
I clicked my tongue to entice the pig to turn his gaze toward me. He obliged. I aimed. Deep breath. Safety off. I pulled the trigger.
Doug took the gun and ejected the misfired round and handed rifle back.
Again the dance. The pig turned around in his pen. I clicked my tongue. Doug reached in to push the pig back around to face me. He squealed in protest. Doug sprayed water on the ground and the pig turned, put his head down and drank. Aim, Safety off, trigger.
Doug took the gun. I laughed. Doug cleared the misfire then opened the backdoor, aimed toward an open snow-covered farm field and fired. He closed the door and handed the gun back.
The pig didn’t seem distressed by any of this. He just stood there. He looked at me. Aim, safety off, trigger.
The pig’s face went brain-dead blank and he fell to the ground. Doug reached in and cut its throat. The pig thrashed, kicking the wall and gushing crimson. Its movements eventually slowed and its life was over.
Knowing that I would, well, butcher the butchering, I had Doug skin, eviscerate and split the pig.
I was disappointed that I didn’t feel a profound sadness or emptiness. But that disappointment was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride and accomplishment. The killing was an act necessary for the eating of meat but a part that I usually give little thought to while I am eating.
Maybe I’m a heartless asshole for not feeling sadness. But this pig was destined to die so someone could eat him from the day he was born. By participating in his death and dismemberment, I rather think I’m just not in denial.