A Reflection on 2012 and Earlier: The Cow Incident

by Christopher Paul on January 1, 2013

With most people recapping what 2012 was like, I feel like I should be looking back, too. But when I think about the past year, I can’t really think of much to say. I could probably sum it up in just one paragraph. But as I look back, what I’m thinking about isn’t what took place this year, it’s all the things that happened in prior years. Most of them are things I want to let go of so 2013 can be as fresh a start as possible.

One thing that has weighted on my mind for a few years now is how I treated one of my younger brothers as a child. I wasn’t mean to him – we were actually rather close for a while. But even though we played nicely most of the time, I was very unforgiving when we argued. Most of the arguments we had were so few and far between I don’t remember why they started. I don’t even think much came of them and we usually forgave each other a few days (or even hours) later.

When he was very young, my brother was into cows and had a plastic toy cow that mooed when you moved his tail up and down. I think you could “milk” it if you fed it water; it was like those baby dolls that wet themselves if you fed it a bottle. It was my brother’s favorite toy at the time. He carried it all over the house and he couldn’t get enough of real cows, either. I remember my mother going out of her way to drive near farmland where cows grazed just so my brother could get a look at them.

I don’t even remember how old we were but we were very young; I don’t think I started kindergarten yet. But whatever age it was, we started arguing over something. We both yelled at one another. It probably escalated to pushing and shoving (we never actually hit one another but we did get rough on occasion). In a fit of anger, I picked up this toy cow of his and threw it on the ground and it shattered. As soon as I saw it in pieces, I knew I had done something terribly wrong.

My brother’s reaction was immediate. He screamed with such shock and horror and I’ll never forget his or my reaction. It was as if he lost his most treasured possession – which, I guess, he did. He was so sad, he just dropped to the floor and cried and cried. And, like I said, I instantly knew I had crossed the line. I tried to apologize profusely as soon as I saw the pieces fly all over his room. I desperately tried to snap them together but it was useless. The shattered parts could not be repaired; the voice box cracked and separated from the insides of the toy – the udder split in two, legs cut off at the knees. It was a bovine massacre.

Nothing I could say or do could repair the cow or make up for the damage I caused to it or my brother. After I broke his toy, I noticed he stopped liking cows; I feel that was my fault. I never forgave myself for doing that to him or his toy and our relationship is now so distant that I probably couldn’t admit to him I still carry the guilt of what I did to this day. Unless he reads this, he’ll probably only hear this story on my death bed. Even if I do tell him, it’s not going to change how I feel about it even if I was only a child and one of my earliest memories (and certainly the earliest memory of us fighting).

I got punished by my mother as soon as she found out. I deserved it and was genuinely remorseful though in the heat of the moment, no one probably noticed how I cried for my brother as much as cried for myself getting spanked or yelled at. Eventually, though, he started talking to me again and we spent years playing with each other’s toys without much mention of the cow incident. This didn’t cause us to become distant. We’re too different people, really. But it’s something I haven’t yet let go and might never.

I’m not sure why 2013 is making me revisit events like this. Perhaps the reflection on 2012 has made me realize a need to reflect on my broader existence. In addition to discussing what I plan to do this year, I’ll use January as a month of introspective dialog where I talk about other life regrets interspersed with some accomplishments I view as life lessons learned through nearly 37 years of existence.

I’ll talk about one of those next.

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