Carmel was tall with tan brown legs. When I walked into the living room with her for the first time, introducing her to my family, mom’s jaw dropped. “Whitney Allen!” she screamed. “Get that goat outta here!”
Because I bottle-fed Carmel, she followed me everywhere. She acted more like a dog than a goat. She even followed me into the house, but mom lacked a sense of humor about animals inside. “That goat doesn’t know what she is,” mom said. “She thinks she’s human!”
Inside the house, Carmel transformed: this docile little pygmy goat morphed into something wild. It was something about being indoors that gave her the urge to run. She’d run into the living room, jump on the couch, then the La-Z-Boy, and then she’d take off for the dining room, dashing across the hardwood floors into the kitchen. She’d circle the table, then sprint back into the dining room to complete another loop.
After running, Carmel would tire. She’d stand on the couch and pant like a dog. Once or twice, she squatted directly onto mom’s couch and urinated. “No, Carmel!” I shouted, half-heartedly. “Bad goat! Bad!” But goats aren’t like dogs; they don’t drop their heads from guilt. Instead, they look back at you, oblivious.
This couch smells like pee,” mom said.
I shrugged and lied, “I don’t smell anything.”
Then one day, in the dining room, mom stepped on a goat turd—these little black pellets. “Whitney Allen!” she yelled. “Don’t you ever bring that goat inside again!”
When I got Carmel, I was in middle school, and in middle school, my friends started growing armpit hair. In our group, Todd Miller was the first. When he came over to my house to show me, he wore a tank top. Lifting his arm, he displayed the three or four strains of brown hair. “Look,” he announced. “I’m a man.”
But I already knew about Todd’s armpit hair. In my prepubescent eyes, Todd was a man. The summer between sixth and seventh grade, I studied Todd’s body. Puberty had made his fingers long, his legs hairy, his butt beefy. That summer, we sat on his porch and drank Surge. Using our fingers as measurements, we told each other the length of our penises. Todd stretched his index finger and thumb as far apart as they’d go, saying, “Once you hit twelve, it gets huge.”
That summer, we rode our bikes to the West Lafayette Pool. When Todd climbed out of the water, his trunks clung to him, outlining perfectly what he bragged about on the porch. And to me at the time, he was right—it did seem huge. A little pervert (even then), I encouraged Todd to jump off the low dive. “Again!” I shouted, treading water in the deep end. So again, Todd swam to the ladder, climbed out of the pool, and let his trunks cling to him like Saran wrap. Strutting to the low dive, Todd stepped onto the board. He sauntered to the end, then gently bounced. Behind him, the sun—his body a silhouette. He looked down at me, and asked, “Cannon ball or suicide?”
I stared up at him, at his new muscular legs, his blossoming body, his trunks, his glory, in awe. I waited as long as I could, pretending to turn the two options over in my head, before saying, “Suicide.”
To neuter a boy goat, a strong rubber band is clipped around his testicles. The rubber band cuts off circulation. After a few days, the hardened sack and testicles break away and fall to the ground.
Mom wanted to band Chocolate, but I couldn’t watch him suffer; instead, I let him become a billy goat. In hindsight, mom was right. Quickly, Chocolate transformed. He became taller and stronger; he grew a beard. Puffy hair sprouted between his horns, and, most noticeably, he began urinating on himself. As if that weren’t enough, often, Chocolate peed directly into his mouth. When he did this, his face contorted into what is called a “flehmen response.” Tasting urine, the animal flips up his upper lip, sucks in air, and then, nosily, he blows it out. He takes another sip of urine and repeats the whole process. Mom and I watched Chocolate do this, over and over. “Oh my garsh,” mom said pissed. “Look what you did.”
In the goat barn, my first kiss. It was the summer between seventh and eighth grade, and the barn smelled of feed, straw, and dust. That summer, I worked at PBF Farms, picking strawberries by the court, or pruning raspberry bushes for minimum wage. To get the job, I had to lie and say I was thirteen, when in fact I was twelve. Joining me in the goat barn that night was Teri Kline. We worked together at PBF, and she was a year older, going to be a freshmen. All of my friends had already french kissed girls; I was the only one who hadn’t.
Somehow or other, I ended up alone with Teri in the barn. I played coy: I leaned against a hay bale. I asked her, “You wanna french kiss?”
So we sat on the ground, our backs against hay bales, and we leaned in, and we opened our mouths, and we licked each other’s tongues. Our tongues circled one another—they swirled, whirled. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, but I think I was Teri’s first, too.
After a few minutes, we stopped. We looked at each other. I didn’t have the courage to speak. Instead, I put my hand to my ear, pretending to hear a noise. “Did you hear that?” I asked.
She shook her head no.
Still with my hand to my ear, I said, “I think it’s my mom.” And as fast as I could, I escaped the goat barn. I ran and found my best friend, Matt Jones, who also worked at PBF. “I just made out with Teri Kline,” I told him. But he didn’t believe me. He asked where. I said the goat barn. He asked when. I said, “Just now!” He thought I was lying. “I just did it in the goat barn!” I said, trying to convince him, that I, too, liked girls.
When Chocolate hit puberty, his testicles grew so large that after he stopped running or jumping, and came to a halt, his scrotum kept swaying, like a recently punched punching bag. Josie and I would chase him in his pen, corner him, and then, reaching up between his back legs, grab hold of his nuts. “It’s like a potato,” Josie said. I nodded, thinking the same thing.
In addition to Chocolate’s physical changes, his personality changed, too. He became obsessed with sex. If one of the female goats was in heat, he’d run circles in his pen, baahing like a maniac. Puberty made him aggressive, too. He started ramming his fence. He did this insistently, until the wires composing the fence loosened and bent, resulting in a gaping hole. With holes all through his fence, Chocolate was able to walk in and out of his pen at leisure. But he never ran away. Instead, he terrorized the females by circling their pen, baahhing and pissing all over himself. One day, Chocolate had an epiphany: he started ramming the female’s fence to break into their pen. Dad and I watched as the girls formed a terrified circle in the middle of their pen. One by one, Chocolate picked them off. He’d chase her until she was tired, then jump on top, and thrust his hips until his tongue quivered. As a result, before Dad and I had finished mending the fence, both Nanny and Carmel were both pregnant.
“Fuck,” Dad said. “That boy’s got one thing on his mind—pussy.”
In the eighth grade, after a football game, my friends and I snuck into Todd’s parents’ bedroom. From the top shelf of their closet, Todd pulled down an Adidas shoebox. Inside the box were VHS tapes. Todd put one into the VCR. Matt Jones, Bryan Babcock, and I all took our places on Todd’s parents’ bed. Todd hit play, and the porno began: two women performed oral sex. To me, their long legs looked like praying mantises. After a few minutes, Todd fast-forwarded to a scene with a man and a woman. They were in the back of a pickup truck doing it doggie-style. Watching them kneel like that, I thought, their knees against the hard metal must have hurt. Again, Todd fast-forwarded: a man with a straw-colored afro knocked on a door. A woman answered, and quickly, the two were on her couch, naked. The man was gorgeous: he had a tan chest and stomach, and a butt so white it seemed to glow. I stared at the man’s legs, his dick, and the blonde hair that speckled his butt.
Todd punched Bryan, shouting, “I see your boner!”
Yeah, stupid,” Bryan replied. “Of course I got a boner.”
Matt stood up, showing us how his boner tented his sweatpants. “Look,” he pointed, “I got one, too.”
Gross!” Todd said. “You’re on my parents’ bed!”
We’re not gross,” Matt said. “You’re supposed to get a boner when ya see a naked woman.”
Everyone looked at me. I lay on my stomach, keeping my little boner hidden. Todd asked if I had one too, and I confessed that I did, but I didn’t tell him it wasn’t from her.
Billy goats are not shown at county fairs. Only females and castrated goats, called wethers, are. My fair goat was Scab. Scab was a feminine goat with long legs who panicked easily. When we first picked him up, Scab had his head stuck in the fence. His horns had been recently burnt off, leaving behind two, unhealed, gooey scabs. With his head caught in the fence, Scab freaked. He tried pulling his head free, which resulted in him ripping off both gooey scabs. On the ride home, in the backseat of mom’s Jetta, Scab bled all over me. Droplets of blood repelled down his face, off his hair, then splattered onto my thigh.
Wherever Scab went, drama followed. For instance, while grazing, Scab might wander too far away from his friend, Nanny. Realizing the distance, Scab would panic. He’d baaah and frantically run to Nanny, but Nanny, looking up and seeing Scab sprinting her way, would startle. She’d take off running in the opposite direction. Together—Scab chasing his best friend Nanny—they’d circle the goat barn, or the dog pen, or mom’s garden. Nanny was faster than Scab—she was the fastest goat we had—so inevitably, she’d outrun him. Eventually, they’d tire. They’d both pant as they took sips of water, and both were nervous, not quite sure if they had, in fact, escaped that danger.
Mom didn’t like Scab. No one—besides Nanny—did. “They neutered him too early,” mom said. “That’s why he acts like a girl.”
But Nanny relished her role as Scab’s fag-hag. They became inseparable, so inseparable that when it was time for the fair, we decided to bring Nanny, too. So in the Jetta, mom drove us down to the fairgrounds, with me, Scab, Nanny, and Josie all in the backseat. The man at the livestock gate of the fairgrounds asked mom when she was planning to bring down her animals. Embarrassed, mom pointed to the backseat. “Oh,” the man said, seeing Josie and I holding our goats. “We usually don’t see ‘em in cars.”
On the day of the show, the judge barely examined Scab. It was obvious that neither Scab nor I would win. Pygmy goats should not look or act like Scab. He towered above his competitors. His competitors walked with a swagger, while Scab took each step, not quite sure if there was ground beneath him.
At hog shows, only the top two hogs in each class are awarded ribbons. Everyone else is given a participation ribbon. However, with pygmy goats, every single goat places, from first to last. In showmanship, Scab and I got seventeenth (which was last place); in market, we got twenty-second (which was also dead last). Even before the judge handed me my ribbon, I was already crying. The judge lined the goats up from first place to last, so even before the winner was announced, everyone knew. The families of first and second place cheered; people hollered and whistled. After first and second place were awarded, people in the audience started to stand and leave. People were exiting the barn as I still waited for my ribbon. And Scab kept baahhing, kept screaming. He baahed so much, he lost his voice. His baah became a whimper, a bleat. I was handed my ribbon, and I left the barn. Scab pulled, and I wanted to get out of there, too, so I ran with him. As I was running, I realized how much I hated Scab, so with my infantile rage bubbling over, I kicked him. I wore a steel-toe boots, and I kicked him right in the back hip, right in the muscle. It had to have hurt because he lost his footing and stumbled. But then, realizing he was free, no longer tethered to me, Scab took off running. Mom saw me kick Scab. “Whitney Allen!” she screamed. But I didn’t care. I cried and ran in the opposite direction. I kept running. I ran through the fairgrounds, across the dirt horse track, through the gates, to mom’s Jetta. I sat in the passenger’s seat and cried. It was Scab’s fault, I thought. It was because of him that I got last place; it was all his fault. But in truth, I got last place because of me. I didn’t walk him properly. I didn’t trim his hooves or paint them black like I was supposed to. And the real reason I hated Scab so much was because of how much attention he brought to me. Standing before all those people, they must have noticed the similarities between Scab and I. Everyone knew Scab wasn’t a proper male goat—too skinny, too nervous, too feminine. With Scab at my side, my affectations must have been highlighted. The way I walked, the way I talked, the way I held my hand at my hip. Everyone must have noticed.
Because we had so much in common, I should have liked Scab, but instead, I hated everything about him.
Before I came out of the closet, I tried having sex with women. Often, I was unable to become erect, so I performed oral instead. In college, a friend described it as writing the alphabet with your tongue. “Cursive,” his girlfriend corrected him. “It has to be cursive.”
So, a few times in my life, I’ve found myself in bed with a woman before me, her legs spread, shyly waiting. And a few times in my life, with my tongue, I’ve written sloppily, illegibly. Clair was the last girl I ate out. I didn’t want to have sex with Clair, but I was still deluding myself. With her naked before me, I kissed her vagina. I started with a, then b, c… Clair was my friend, too. Together, we liked to be vulgar. After a few minutes, she asked, “Will you stop licking my pussy?”
We both laughed, then she jumped up. “My turn.”
No,” I said.
I don’t want you to.”
I just don’t.”
Clair…” I wanted to tell her but I couldn’t.
I’ve led so many women on. One girl, Colby, slept at my apartment, in my bed beside me, every weekend for an entire summer. We’d kiss, we’d take off our clothes, I’d put a condom on, but we never had sex. I just couldn’t—I couldn’t get hard, couldn’t bring myself to do it. “I’m sorry,” I always said, and she always said, “It’s okay.” So we cuddled instead; and in the morning, I made her coffee, and we lay in bed talking about our childhoods. She told me about Kurt Vonnegut living down the street from her in Cape Cod; I told her about picking strawberries at PBF Farms and about my goats, my hogs, my rabbits. So many times—so so so many times—I almost said, “I’m gay, Colby. That’s why I can’t have sex with you.” So many! But I was too embarrassed. I wanted to be anything but a homosexual. For years and years, I prayed each night that I’d wake up the next morning, straight.
But, of course…
I think about Colby displaying herself to me, removing her shirt, letting me lick and nibble her nipples; her spreading her legs for me, and me, not even able to produce an erection. She must have felt humiliated. She must have felt ugly. She must have thought something was wrong with her. And how shameful of me! How could I have been such a coward?
When a pregnant goat is about to give birth, she dilates. Nanny was definitely pregnant. Each day, Josie and I inspected her backside, and each day, it seemed bigger. “Look at that,” I told Josie, pointing at Nanny’s vagina. “I think tonight’s the night.” But that went on for weeks. I didn’t actually know what a dilated goat’s vagina was supposed to look like. A few weeks later, Nanny actually gave birth, but no one was there to check on her. When Josie and I were at school, mom found her. Nanny was on her side outside the barn.
“She was barely alive,” mom said.
Instead of twins, Nanny only had one, and he was big.
“He wouldn’t come out,” mom said.
Mom guessed Nanny had been in labor the whole night because, when she found her, the baby was already dead, and Nanny was almost dead. Pygmy goats are essentially bred to be deformed. We shrink them smaller and smaller, and with this shrinkage, comes difficult births.
The day Nanny lost her baby, I rollerbladed in the nursing home’s parking lot beside our house. In middle school, I dreamt of becoming both a farmer and a roller derby star. As I circled the parking lot, I listened to Nanny baahh. Earlier in the day, mom had pulled the dead baby out of Nanny. The dead baby was still in its sack, so mom ripped the sack by its mouth. Even though mom hated the goats, she had a big heart. She put her lips to the dead goat’s mouth and tried to bring it back to life with mouth-to-mouth. But the baby was dead. Back behind the garden, mom dug a hole and buried him. I thought about all of this as I bladed in the parking lot. Usually, I imagined fans cheering for me as I bladed faster and faster. But on that night, my imagination was stymied by Nanny’s cries. She kept baahhing and baahing, and even with Scab lying beside her, she couldn’t be consoled.
What’s wrong?” Clair asked. Clair was someone who I talked to for hours at a time, someone I loved.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Clair,” I said, “I’m gay.”
Oh,” she said.
She sat upright on her pillow, naked. Then she asked, “Can I still blow you?” And we laughed. She then pulled down my underwear and tried to braid her hair with my pubic hair. “I want to be linked forever,” she said. She tried to make a knot between her hair and mine. With her head on my stomach, she asked seriously, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I just couldn’t,” I said. I couldn’t.
Rumpus original art by Sunny Eckerle.