"Sometimes We Choose," excerpted from MY PASSION FOR ANIMALS and Other Sentient Beings

To Journal/Discuss: 

1.  When my grandfather, Genaro, was seven years old, he was literally given away, like a puppy.  This (below) is part of my story.  What's one of yours?

2.  Tell about a great heartbreak from your early life.

3.  Tell about someone who was very cruel/kind when you were growing up. 

4.  Tell about a special bond you had/have with a family pet.

5.  "To be kind, perhaps one has to be cruel."  What does that mean?  What's an example from your life, whether it made sense at the time or makes some sense now, or not.

* * *

Out in a corral Aguado’s youngest rode his strong black colt at a canter. Genaro was practicing turns, making them tighter and tighter. The boy wore a miniature charro outfit, in the tradition of the Spaniards, replete with black pants, vest, jacket and wide hat. The pants and jacket were adorned with real silver buttons and clasps, as well as white silk embroidery. His shirt was crisp and white. While wearing a heavy wide-brimmed sombrero, staying on the spirited young thoroughbred was no easy task. But, for a small seven year old, he did it with great gallantry and aplomb, keeping his back straight and not tilting his head overmuch to look this way or that. Little Genaro inhaled the dust being kicked up by his horse’s hooves, literally tasting his land, imagining he was an aristocratic gentleman, and that he was proud, wealthy, and successful like his father.

“Genaro!” Aguado shouted, startling the boy from his daydream.

Genaro immediately stopped his horse, turning it precisely. He wanted to impress his father. When the boy reached him the man said, “Get off the horse.”

The seven-year-old jumped down a little awkwardly, but landing poised in his small black boots. His father squinted at the sun and didn’t smile down at him. What had Genaro done wrong?

“You know my friend, Joaquin?”

“Sure Papa.”

“He doesn’t have any children.” The man squinted tighter and spat tobacco slime in the dirt.

“I know, Papa.”

“You go inside. Change your clothes. Put whatever you want into the big bag. You’re going to live with Joaquin now.”


“I gave you to him. He’s going to be your father, and his wife will be your mother from now on. Junior will take you. You can ride the colt over, but Junior will bring it back. You’ll come and ride whenever Joaquin lets you.”

“For how long, Papa?”

“Are you deaf? Can’t you hear? He’s your father now. I gave you to him.” Aguado thought this was the best way. Like weaning the calves from their mothers, and later, at the de-hornings and castrations. Get it all done swiftly, in one shot. It’s better for the animals and safer for everyone, with no hesitation, and no turning back. To be kind, perhaps one had to be cruel.

“N-n-n-no, Papa,” Genaro stammered, attempting to swallow, to breathe, and trying hard not to cry, while struggling desperately to understand. He let go of the reigns and his arms reached forward, imploring. The child’s face and eyes, his entire being begged, “Why?”

“No me digas que no!” yelled Aguado, slapping the boy with the back of his hand. Genaro’s head snapped sidewards. The young horse flinched then instinctively headed towards Mare Alley in the barn, though only unweaned foals were kept there with their mothers.

The little boy’s lip bled into his mouth. He sucked at it and ran into the house. He wanted to bawl, but he didn’t cry out loud.

“Junior!” Aquado called his eldest from the stallions. “Go get that damned colt from the mares!”

Moments later Docille held her son. The little boy stood with his bag. He had told her what his father wanted, that he could come back and visit her anytime. Aguado’s wife didn’t bother with protests. She had tried in the past. But that only resulted in beatings for her and for the children.

Aguado had told her numerous times, “I provide for you, I put the food in your mouths and the clothes on your backs. You’re mine, just like everything else I own.” He would always end by grabbing one of the babies by an ankle and holding her upside down, out in front of him, like a thing with which he could do whatever he wanted. The child might giggle, but Docille would not, and neither would Aguado.

Out in the yard, Aguado stood by the corral with one foot up on a rail and his arms crossed high in front of his stony chest. Genaro still didn’t cry openly. He handed the bag to his older brother who reached down from astride his horse. While the older boy secured the bag over his thoroughbred’s rump and fastened it to the back of his saddle, Genaro hoisted himself up onto his shiny black colt for what he decided would be the last time. He gently scratched the side of the horse’s neck and they started out of the corral.

When they had gone a few horse lengths, Genaro turned the animal smartly and walked it deliberately to within an inch of where his father stood. The horse’s muscles were rocks against the inner lengths of the child’s legs. Not one week earlier it had bitten a six-inch chunk of flesh right out of the back of a cruel ranch hand. And here was the face of this man. And there were his feet. It would be so easy to grab a big bite right out of his face, or to simply step down, completely and utterly crushing the bones in the man’s foot, hobbling him for life. Horses, everyone knows, are completely aware of all four feet at all times. If a horse ever steps on a man, it is never by accident. But the colt remembered viscerally, if not consciously when Aguado kicked its own mother in the stomach several times to make her do his will. And it had just witnessed this man striking his child. The colt stood poised, tense, ready.

Finally the man looked up at his waiting son. He gave him that. The child stared at him for a long cold moment, then spat out, “Adios Papa!” He spun his horse around, then ran it, pounding the hard earth with the animal’s hooves.

That night in Joaquin’s tiny house, lying on a small hard cot, under Joaquin’s best if heavily-mended quilt, the boy cried and cried. “Como un perrito,” he wept, “like a little dog, you gave me away.”