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Gavin McIlvaine

Grade: 12

University High School

Instructor: Lee Fallon

Youth.

Personal Essay/Memoir

Youth.

Youth. When I think of that word what comes to mind is an experience, a feeling. Youth is the somber lullaby my mother sang as I slept. Youth is the melted ice cream in my hand on a hot summer day. Youth is the bliss of ignorance and the shelter it provides to an innocent mind. However, just like anything, a shelter doesn't last forever. The summer going into 6th grade brought a storm that my fortress of solitude couldn't withstand. I was being sent to my uncle's farm in New Hampshire for the rest of the summer. The year previous, my brother had gone to the farm but had fled home within the first week. Naturally, I resolved to stay through the entirety of summer, to show up my brother. Upon my arrival, I was both disappointed and relieved to note that there was nothing special to the farm. Ducks, dogs, and chickens roamed the property freely. Livestock such as cattle, pigs, and sheep all had closed-off areas. The mixture of manure and sweat from the animals lingered in the thick summer air. The pungent smell burned my nostrils with each breath. My uncle lived in a cabin that was, well, one might be kind and call it "cozy." The air within was just as hot if not hotter than outside, but it smelled more of dust and mildew than manure. The floorboards squeaked with every step as my uncle briskly escorted me to where I would sleep. We entered a room towards the back of the cabin. Sunbeams filtered through a skylight in the ceiling and brought to life the dust particles that seemed to levitate in the air. The back wall was not much of a wall at all. There were long planks of wood with drywall in between each plank where a real wall should have been. When I asked what had happened, my uncle replied, "Bear," as if that would explain anything. The rest of the room was filled with children's toys of my newly born cousin and a beaten, threadbare couch where I would sleep. As the sunset and the animals returned to their shelter, the night air became filled with life. The buzz from the bugs and rhythmic croaking from the frogs reminded me that I was not alone as I slept. The only sound that I dreaded was the scream of the rooster announcing that a day of hard work was about to start. It came all too soon. The day's work consisted of feeding livestock, bailing hay, and shoveling manure. To keep myself occupied I would often hold fake conversations with some of the animals and give them names. I would soon come to regret this, however... One fateful day, my uncle brought me to the pigpen. He explained to me that we had to put down some of the pigs. He grabbed a rifle from a nearby shed and started loading it. The barrel of the gun was similar in style to a pipe that the pigs were sometimes fed through. Without hesitation, the pigs all gathered around what they thought was going to be a treat. My uncle handed me the rifle and I responded with a confused look. He explained that I was old enough to help him kill the livestock. Slowly, as if I had never seen a gun before, I pointed it down at the pigs. I winced as my favorite pig, whom I'd named Fatty, a large, affable fellow, came and put his mouth on the muzzle, expecting to be fed. "It's loaded and the safety is off," my uncle said, impatiently. I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger with reluctant slowness, in regretful increments. When the trigger had gone all the way back, it felt as if everything had collapsed in on itself. The loud crack of the gun was followed by a sharp, cut-off, squeal from Fatty. I opened my eyes to see my uncle bent over the now dead pig. He dipped his fingers in its blood then drew a line under both of my eyes with it. "Congrats on your first kill!" he said, as if my actions had taken any skill. "Next time, don't close your eyes, though." He continued in his attempt to lighten the grim mood. The next pig walked up as if nothing had happened to his fallen comrade and put his mouth on the muzzle in his turn. I looked into his thoughtless eyes as I pulled the trigger once more, this time with less hesitation, if no less remorse. After the bloodbath had at last ended, we returned to our regularly scheduled work. When my aunt asked my uncle what we would be having for dinner, he replied, "Porkchops." He winked at me, and I forced a smile onto my face as I held back tears. I didn't sleep much that night or any of the nights after, for that matter. The slaughtering of the animals didn't stop, but with each time I confess it became easier. But I no longer talked to the animals or gave them names. I stayed the summer, unlike my brother, but returned home a killer, or was it a man?