The ride home that night was one of silence. Pa didn’t hide the fact that he was so very, very hurt by what I did. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was very ashamed. I still remember the look in Pa’s eyes as he touched my shoulder and looked at me. I wished I could forget.
As we rode into the yard, I offered to take Pa’s horse. “You’re exhausted. You should go to bed,” I said softly to Pa. Pa said nothing, but turned and started toward the house. “Pa?” He turned back around and gave me one of those looks. Somehow, I knew that look was telling me not to say anything.
After bedding down the stock, I slowly walked back into the house. My stomach was growling, but I knew that anything I swallowed tonight wouldn’t stay down. I walked into the bedroom and found Pa lying on top of his bed, still fully dressed. I pulled off his boots, then walked out of the bedroom.
I sat down in Pa’s big leather chair. “Vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord.” That’s what Pa had spoken earlier. I turned and saw the Bible, so lovingly worn from daily use, sitting on the side table. I rubbed my hand across the front of it. Then, wrinkling my brow, I picked it up and opened it.
The Bible was much heavier than mine. I slowly opened it and noticed markings throughout. Pa used cigar wrappings to bookmark several passages. I allowed the Bible to fall open. I looked at the top. “Romans.” Then I looked at the side. “When I want to get even” was written there. I followed the marking to see where it led:
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19.
I gasped as I read the words. Tears slid down my face and hit the already tear-stained page. I leaned my head back and fell asleep.
“Son?” I felt a light tap on my cheek. I startled awake and stared into the concerned eyes of my Pa. “What is this?”
I looked down at the Bible still clasped in my hands. I saw again the verse I had read the night before. “This is a lesson,” I stated. “Pa, I was so wrong!”
I remembered back to over a year ago. I remembered the devastation and torturous months that followed when Pa lost all his cattle. I didn’t think I’d survive that experience – but we did. I remembered the dread that filled me when Pa shot those five head of cattle just a few days before.
Tears filled my eyes. “You remember a year ago when all our cattle died? That was a hard time, Pa. I remember standing on the porch and looking out across our land. It was so quiet and I saw the ghastly sight of it. I pictured our town a ghost town. But you were still there. I had you to get me through.” I looked up at Pa. “Then Freddie left. That was so hard for me saying goodbye to my best friend. But still, I had you.”
I closed the Bible but kept my finger inside to mark my place. Then I drew my legs up to my chest and leaned my head against the back of the chair. I looked up at the ceiling. “For as long as I live, I will never…ever…forget the day you told me you were going away. I remember how lost I felt as I stood for a long time and watched you and Razor ride away. I remember climbing up on a cliff and watching you even longer. When Micah found me, you were just a dot and that…that broke my heart.”
Pa reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. He said nothing. As I lowered my eyes to him, I didn’t see a reassuring smile – just a look of concern. I sighed. “Pa, I didn’t think I would survive that! I knew that your dream was always to have a cattle ranch, and it was taken from you. I watched you…us…lose everything.” I allowed my eyes to wonder away from Pa as I remembered the pain of those days now. “I cried a lot during that time. Nobody could reach me. Not Micah…not Milly…I thought…” I swallowed. “I thought you were gone for good.”
I started to stand, but Pa held me in the chair with a firm hand. He allowed me to talk as he stayed silent. “A couple weeks ago, I met a man. His name was Faye. He’s a blind man – told me some man made him blind because of a woman he loved. Then a few months later, the woman died. He never forgave that man. When he described him, I thought he was talking about you at first. I was scared for you, Pa. I knew that Faye wanted to revenge this man. His name…was Mack.”
I then turned my face to look into Pa’s eyes. Pa lowered his eyes. I heard a sigh escape him. “Why didn’t you tell me about this man? You know I want to know about any strangers – especially if you choose to chum up to them.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry, Pa. He asked me not to mention he was here.”
“Well…That’s usually a bad sign. Isn’t it, son?” Pa looked up at me. “I mean…there’s probably a good reason he didn’t want it revealed. You should have come to me.”
I tried to stand up again. This time Pa didn’t stop me. I walked to the window and looked outside. “He plays the banjo and sings. That makes him happy. Faye also has a rubber ball that he holds in his hand and squeezes. That’s how he gets his strength.”
There was silence as Pa thought on what I told him. I leaned my head against the wall beside the window. “Oh Pa…When you killed the first steer, I didn’t think anything about it. After all, steers get sick. I didn’t know about the two the week before. Then another…and another…” I walked to the door and opened it. Stepping out onto the porch, I wrapped my arm around the post and looked all over the land. Pa followed me out. “I started remembering back to the last hoof and mouth disease we had and how…terrible it was.”
Pa sat down on the step. I sat down next to him. He didn’t touch me, but just sat there and allowed me to work through my thoughts. “Then that awful man came…Mack.” I looked up at Pa again.
Pa sighed. “Son, that “awful” man isn’t “awful” at all. He’s just doing his job – a job I’m sure he hates at times…like when he has to destroy a family’s entire income. He gets no glory out of doing that.”
“Well…I saw how upset it made you. You were so angry. I saw that he was gonna try to take your cattle from you, Pa. I saw you slowly dying, again.” I lowered my head into my hands.
“Hm.” I heard Pa give a small, sad laugh. “Son, I knew what the problem was the day Micah and I found that sickly cow out on the range, but sometimes your mind is powerful. That day, I even sent you away because I didn’t want you to know. I wouldn’t admit it – even to myself. I knew, Mark. Deep down inside of me…I knew.” Pa’s voice broke. I shot my head up toward him. “When Mack came…I wasn’t exactly angry with him, son. I was angry with the fact that I could no longer deny the truth. Mack voiced what my heart already knew.”
Tears filled my eyes and began flowing down my cheeks. “Will it…” I swallowed as I tried to compose myself. “Will it be like a year ago?”
It was then that Pa put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me towards him. I laid my head on his shoulder as he consoled me and spoke softly. “No, son. This time, the government was ready. They’ve caught it before it got too bad.” Pa lowered his head down to rest on top of mine.
I sighed. “When I found out Mack was the one – the man Faye was after…I went back to his camp and asked him about his revenge.” I suddenly lifted my head from Pa’s shoulder and pushed myself away from Pa. He allowed his arm to slip away from mine. “You see…I wanted to know what his intentions were.” I lowered my eyes. “The next day when you killed those five cattle it was like…like something inside me snapped. I was suddenly mad at Mack for making you kill our livestock like that. But then…I guess I was mad at something we couldn’t control.”
“So you went back to…your friend.” Pa didn’t look at me. He just stared at the land in front of him as he spoke the words.
I nodded. “He had asked me to keep my ear open for any strangers passing through town.”
I remembered coming home from school to see Pa pushing a plow horse as he broke land where cattle once grazed. I remember seeing the sweat pour from his brow and the total exhaustion in his body. “I saw you that day in the field, Pa. I didn’t like what I saw.”
Pa stayed quiet for several moments. Then in a very low voice, he said, “Nothing’s wrong with hard work, son.”
“Pa, it was like…you were a sod buster instead of a cattle rancher! I hated that because I know how much you hate sod busting.”
“Nothing’s wrong with sod busting, son. They give you wheat, cornmeal, vegetables…without farmers, we’d have nothing.”
“I know.” I gave a frustrated sigh. “And I know now how wrong I was. I just…” I shook my head. “I guess you can say I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. I just hated seeing you working like that. I suddenly wanted…revenge.”
I looked down at Pa’s Bible still in my hand. I opened it and read the verse to Pa that had put such sorrow in my heart the day before. “I never…ever imagined he’d hurt you, Pa. I didn’t even think…” I closed my eyes as I pictured Faye squeezing the life from my father. I remembered in that instant knowing I had done wrong. “I’ve hurt you.”
Pa nodded. He stayed silent though. “Are you going to punish me?”
Pa looked at me. He scratched his nose with his fingers then turned away from me. I sighed. “Seems like these past couple of months I’ve really been a royal pain. I’ve done nothing but mess up over…and over…and over…”
Pa nodded again, but said nothing.
“And you keep punishing me over…and over…and over…”
Again, Pa nodded. But this time he turned toward me. He stood up and motioned for me to do the same. Then he put his hands on my shoulders. “Mark, a time comes when a father has to let go so tightly. I think today’s the day. I agree that you’ve been a royal pain in the…” A small grin played at the corners of Pa’s mouth. “Well…that you’ve been a royal pain. But I also know that these teenage years are the most difficult years of your life. Your body’s changing…your thoughts are changing…You find yourself between a boy and a man. These years aren’t easy and I know that.”
Pa looked down at the ground, then back into my eyes. “I’m not going to say that I’m no longer going to punish you for your wrongs. I will. But this time…this time I’m going to let you live with the consequences of your actions. It’ll be a long, long time before you forget what you did yesterday. The day will haunt you over and over again. What you did yesterday was very wrong – no matter the reasons or intentions.”
Pa started to walk toward the barn. He stopped and turned. “Oh, by the way son, the Bible also mentions the Father forgives when asked.” Pa gave me a slight nod. “So do I.”
I watched as he disappeared into the barn. I looked down at Pa’s well-worn Bible in my hands. I shuffled through several pages. Almost every page was marked with tears and written on. I looked back up toward the barn. “I should have come here first,” I mumbled. Then I slowly turned and went back into the house.
We were silent throughout breakfast. I studied Pa several times, but didn’t dare say anything. When I was done, I silently got up and went to the sink. I wanted to apologize to Pa, but I knew how he hated empty apologies. I had to make sure I was sincere before I said it. I really was sorry, but I felt I still needed some thinking time.
I pumped water into the sink. I watched the water run from the spout as I thought on the night before again. “Let go! It’s my Pa! Let go!” My screams echoed in my head now. I had grabbed Faye trying to pull him off of my father. My Pa’s face was blue as he began weakening from being choked to death. I closed my eyes and gasped for air as I put my hands on my knees.
“Let go! It’s my Pa!” I heard myself scream. It was almost as if it was happening right here in this house. I trembled at the memory.
Then as suddenly as it came, it left and I was once again surrounded by silence. I turned toward Pa in time to see his head turn from me. He’d seen it happen, but chose to allow me to fight this battle on my own.
I hurried with the breakfast dishes, then I went to the door. I put my hand on the door and turned around. “Pa, I-“ My voice sounded loud after so much silence. Pa looked up at me. I saw so much emotion in his eyes. It was so many emotions all mixed together. I swallowed. “I’m going to go do some plowing for awhile.”
Our eyes locked. Pa shook his head. “You don’t have to, son.”
I turned from him. I couldn’t stand to see the pain in his eyes. “I want to, Pa. If you’re going to be farming, so am I.”
I worked on the plowing all morning. As long as I worked, I didn’t have to think on what I had done the night before. But it was getting hot. I was covered from head-to-toe with sweat. My skin was softer and more sensitive than Pa’s. He hurried up to me and told me to take a dip in the creek. I didn’t want to, but I saw the worry on his face.
I sat on the side of the creek bank and stared into the water. The water flowed gently after the spring rain we had gotten. My tears flowed with it down the river. I looked up into the sky. It was a perfect blue color. Licking my lips, I whispered, “Father…forgive me.”
I waited for peace to settle over me, but it didn’t come. “God…I…I really messed up yesterday. Pa said I can’t make excuses for my actions, so I won’t but…” I closed my eyes and lowered my head to my drawn up knees. “Oh God, my actions almost killed my father! If he had died, I would be to blame!” I wept bitter tears as I thought on this. “God, I can’t ever forgive myself! I just can’t. What I did yesterday was horrible – simply horrible! I allowed my anger and…and…unforgiveness to get the best of me.” I lifted my head up toward the sky. “Don’t you see, God? I almost killed my father – the one person in this world I love the most!”
“You must forgive yourself.” I heard the voice and turned. It was Mack. “There are others you must forgive before you can ask God to forgive you.”
“I thought you were gone.” I turned from him. I couldn’t keep the hint of anger from my voice.
“Yes. I’m leaving today. I just couldn’t leave until…” Mack put a hand on my shoulder. “Until I ask you to forgive me.”
“For-“ I turned around with a swallow. “Forgive YOU?” I looked him up and down. “Why would you need my forgiveness? I should be the one asking you!”
“Did your father tell you we shook hands and made peace yesterday? Just before he was attacked?” Mack asked.
I turned from him. “No. He didn’t.”
“He understood I was doing my job.” He again laid a hand on my shoulder. “I get this feeling you are your father’s son, so I suspect you understand that too.”
I lifted my head skyward. “I do.” I sat down once again on the bank. Mack sent down right next to me. He drew his legs up and encircled them with his arms.
“A man in my position…I’m required by law to do these things. I’ve had to rid dirt poor families of their animals and leave them homeless. I’ve had to watch grown, powerful ranchers who own a thousand head of cattle weep at the sound of gunshots. I’ve watched boys younger than you forced to suddenly become men.”
“We moved here when I was ten,” I stated in a low voice. “I still remember when my father bought his first two head for our new ranch. They brought him such pride…his dream finally coming true. For 2 ½ years, I watched Pa work with the cattle – raising them…selling them…birthing them…It was like his greatest joy. There are a lot of things that make Pa happy – but nothing like working with cattle. That’s his greatest passion.” I turned my head to look at Mack.
He averted his eyes from mine. “Then they started dying. At that time, we were burning the cattle, trying to keep the disease from spreading. I could hear my Pa crying when he didn’t think I was around. I saw the look in his eyes – a look of sadness and defeat.”
Mack nodded. “That was the worst case of hoof and mouth disease I’d ever seen. That’s why I’m here now, Mark. I’m trying to keep the disease from spreading.”
I continued on, trying to keep my tears in check. “The other day, I saw that same look return to my father’s eyes as he realized we were going to lose our cattle again.” I turned to look at him. This time our eyes locked. “My father is a very proud man. He’s strong.” I felt a tear fall from my eye and quickly wiped it away. “We’re a team. When we lost our cattle last year, he left me. He was gone for a couple months. It was the hardest two months of my life.”
Mack nodded. “I knew you were your father’s son.”
I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. “As you know, I became friends with Faye and he told me he was looking for you. I was so angry…I realize now that it wasn’t you I should’ve been angry at.” I bowed my head. “That’s why I did what I did. I’ve been messing up a lot lately. I feel like I’m growing down instead of up. My own father…he’s ashamed of me.”
“I don’t think he’s ashamed, Mark. I think he’s…hurt and disappointed. But I don’t think he’s ashamed.”
I stood up and stomped my foot in frustration. “It’s just that…my Pa’s worked so hard! Now I see him behind a plow and it kills me! It just…kills me!”
“So…” Mack sighed. “Will you forgive me?”
“I told you! I-“ I stopped when I turned and saw the smile on this kind man’s face. “Of course I will. We’ll make it somehow.” I looked down at the ground. “Will you…forgive me?”
Mack nodded. “As long as you forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, nobody’s else’s forgiveness will matter.” He walked up behind me as I stood looking out over the land. “I take it you and your father are believers?”
I turned. “My father lives very close to the Good Book. I wish I could say the same about myself, but as I grow older, I’m beginning to realize it’s importance more and more.”
“God forgives you. Just open the Bible – it’s everywhere. He forgave people who did unspeakable things in the Bible, so He’ll forgive you. But if you can’t forgive yourself, you can’t accept any forgiveness. You are a thirteen year old boy who’s going through so many different emotions right now. Sometimes a father forgets what it was like. He wants to see the best in his children and overlooks the fact that his child is imperfect – and always will be. You are, you know…imperfect.”
I nodded, but I still wasn’t quite ready to forgive myself. “You think not forgiving yourself will keep you from making any more mistakes? Do you?” Mack was quite insistent in his voice. I looked up at him then. “You will make more mistakes, and you’ll disappoint your father again. I still make mistakes. Your father still makes mistakes. Not forgiving yourself will only eat you up inside.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “What do you say?” He was almost pleading with me.
“I just can’t get the sight out of my head,” I answered.
“We forgive, but we don’t forget. Those images and sounds will haunt you for some time yet, but be glad for that. As long as you have those things to remember – chances are you won’t travel that road again. It’s when we choose to ignore them…or when we allow unforgiveness and anger control us…” He breathed deeply, then patted my shoulder. “So forgive yourself…but don’t forget.”
“Mark, I think you’re wrong. The cattle, the land… they’re not your father’s greatest passion. As I said, you are your father’s son. Cattle and the land are possessions, but they don’t define a man. But a man’s son, someone to carry on a man’s name, hopes, and dreams... That’s your father’s greatest passion.”
I looked up at him and smiled. He nodded in satisfaction. I had made my decision on what to do. “Well, you shook my father’s hand yesterday.” I held out my hand for him. He didn’t hesitate to take my hand. We shook hands. He gave me a hearty smile. “Goodbye…Mr. McCain.”
“Goodbye, sir.” I watched him turn and leave.
I closed my eyes again. “Father, forgive me,” I asked again. This time I did feel at peace. God knew that I’d forgiven myself.
I walked slowly back to the house. Inside, Pa was sitting at the table eating a sandwich. “Hi Pa,” I greeted him with a warm smile. I sat down and laid my hand on top of his. “Pa?” Pa lifted his eyes to mine. “Mack showed up down by the creek. We talked and he asked for my forgiveness. He told me I needed to forgive myself before I could ask God to forgive me. I only have one more person to ask forgiveness from, I ask that you forgive me.”
Pa studied me. I lowered my head, I knew to say that I was sorry, would be hollow and childish, but to ask my father for forgiveness.... “Pa, what I did yesterday was inexcusable. I can’t go back and change it, nor can I forget it. I’ll remember your face turning blue…my screams…my permitting for this to happen…for a long time. Your not punishing me is probably the greatest punishment.” I leaned forward to look Pa straight in the eye. “And I also know that it’ll take time to win your trust and faith back. I’ll see the disappointment in your eyes for quite a while. But I still ask that you forgive me.”
I stayed quiet while I waited. Pa studied my eyes intently. “I see the truth in your eyes son. I know you are truly sorry.” He smiled. His eyes softened a bit as he put his hands on my shoulders. I saw his eyes moisten then. “I forgive you.”
“Pa, last night… How did you have time to mark the verse in the bible? How did you know that I would pick up your bible to read?”
“I didn’t. I marked that verse years ago. After…Let’s just say after one of my darkest times. When I set out for vengeance. But it was afterwards, when my young son taught me how to forgive myself for my actions. I’ll always live with those consequences as you will with yours. Neither of us will ever be too old to learn. And sometimes that learning means to learn to live with our mistakes.”
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Jealous Man
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch