Mr. Bradford and His Ox Collection

Flash Fiction

Photo by Samuel Sweet via Pexels

Mr. Bradford, the town farmer, has an ox collection. I mean . . . we call him the town farmer because it sounds a lot better than “The Town Lunatic.” He lives out near the Crescent Mountains on 200 acres of inherited land that he has kept maintained and ran like a tight ship for twenty years. He has a collection of oxen that increases every few months. There are no cows or bulls to be seen — none, only oxen.

Father Tony says he cannot part with any of them, not even as a source of sustenance or profit. He is attached — connected deeply to each of them and with time, this fascinating truth only gets weirder.

My name’s Toby Clemmons. I live five miles away from Mr. Bradford. My family’s his closest neighbors. Me and my best friend, Buddy Newsom, have walked his land in secret every other Saturday for the last three years. He’s got corn stalks, fields of wheat grain, collard greens, cucumbers, cabbage, and squash. Oh and his oxen. No chickens. No hogs or pigs. No horses.

My nana says he had his manhood stripped away from him when he was in his teens — something about being a sex-addicted fiend who couldn’t keep his third leg in his pants.

Me and Buddy were sitting on my porch one Thursday after school and she had been rocking back and forth in her rocker, smoking on that stinking pipe of hers when suddenly she struck up a conversation with us. “Old Man Bradford had his pecker tweaked and boys snipped when he was a young’un. He had a hard time learnin’ to be decent. He’d often run around town naked threatenin’ to stick that penciled thing in any of the town girls.”

I looked at Buddy. He looked at me. We looked at my nana. “Say what now, Nana?!” She patted the arm of the rocker, tapped the booty of the pipe, and stuck the tail back into her mouth. Mini smoke plumes circled around us as we sat with our mouths completely open. “The Griffith brothers got’im. They’d heard what he’d been doin’ — caught wind of it through Father Tony’s sister Cindy and her friend Maggie. They attacked Old Man Bradford one night when he’d been headin’ home. That ain’t a way to lose what God gave ya — no sleepin’ med’cin or anything like that. Castrated and left to bleed in the middle of Bennyhill Road, holdin’ what he ain’t even had no more.”

As you can probably imagine, me and Buddy probed her to go on for this was a story we hadn’t heard and I was almost positive my folks weren’t going to tell me anything like this. So, me and Buddy sat there hellbent on listening to Nana. “Sheriff Yates and his deputies went searchin’ for the Griffith boys that night, couldn’t find’em. Some say they took the next train to Norfolk. Others say some no-gooder named Tommy Stacks loaded’em all up in his Cadillac and drove four towns over. I don’t know which story to believe, but if you ask me, Bradford’s been a whole lot calmer since he lost his manhood.”

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe he collects oxen because they too have been stripped of what many believe makes a male, a male. I would agree with you. But my best pal Buddy put a bug in my ear that made me see things differently. “Them oxen ain’t judgin’ him, Toby. He can load’em all up, care for them the way he knows how — run on empty or be as off as the day is long, and guess what?! They ain’t gonna say a thing. They’re just gonna go about their days grazin’ on grass, shittin’ all over the fields, and being right there for Mr. Bradford when he needs them.”

The day Buddy told me this, I began seeing Mr. Bradford in a different light. To many in the town, he had been a man who had several screws loose — one who, if we had the courage to actually say the word “rapist,” would, in fact, be that word — an outcast, cast out, who would never be allowed back in. I opened my eyes and I see a man who never learned what respect is — how to give it or how to receive it. He never learned there is a time and a place for everything. He had no other way of expressing himself.


Me and Buddy were taking the back roads to get to Mr. Bradford’s fields when we spotted Father Tony. I decided to pick Father Tony’s brain. He was, after all, Mr. Bradford’s only friend.

“Father Tony! Hey! Father Tony! Can we ask you something?”

“Sure. What about?”

“My nana says Mr. Bradford lost his manhood when he was a boy to the Griffith brothers after he’d been trying to mess around with some girls in town. Is this true? Is this how he lost his mind?”

“Your nana said what, Toby?! Have mercy. Listen to me and listen to me good, boys. Daniel Bradford fought in ‘Nam and came home to his father’s death. Two years after that, his mother died too. No siblings. No cousins. No family. That farm you see him working on all the time was his father’s great-grandfather’s farm. His mind ain’t been the same since he came back from the war. As for his manhood — he attempted to court Lily Fleming one night at Vee’s Diner and she declined his invite loudly on a Friday night when the place was packed. He came home that very night, chopped off his frank and beans, and nearly bled to death.”

“Jesus Christ, Father Tony!”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, boy. You heard me right. I’d been sitting up in my room feeling kind of down and something kept punching me in the gut. Something that said, “Get on over to Daniel’s place now.” So I hopped in my cruiser, sped through the back roads, and got to the farm just in time.”

Buddy looked over at me and shook his head. We didn’t know which story to believe now. Both stories could be movie thrillers, but this was Father Tony and my nana probably hadn’t taken her pills the day she fed me and Buddy that mess about Mr. Bradford.

“So, that’s what really happened?”

“That’s what happened, boys.”

“So, why doesn’t he talk? Can he talk? He always stares blankly with that boring smile on his face and waves flimsily at us.”

Father Tony shook his head and let out a loud sigh of disbelief. I don’t know if he couldn’t believe we asked this question or he couldn’t believe he was being asked to answer it, but all the same . . .

“I didn’t get there in time to stop that part. He’d managed to cut half of his tongue out too. Said it’d prevent him from ever asking another woman out. This, he had to write out during the police report and hospital intake.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. This man . . . This man really didn’t have anyone but those oxen of his. Well and Father Tony. I didn’t know it at the time, but Buddy slapped me on the back and said, “Toby! Man, you’re crying. You all right?!” I was all right, but I wasn’t.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and sweated through the sheets. I went downstairs for a drink of milk and Nana was sitting at the table in the dark, smoking on that stinking pipe. She looked up at me and smiled a sly smile. It was then I realized Nana’s maiden name was “Fleming”. I’d never called her “Lily,” only “Nana.”

“A damn shame, ain’t it?”

And that’s all she said.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

10 Reasons Why I’m Not Giving Up on Myself

#4. I am a dreamer but I believe in miracles


Musical Selection: Alicia Keys & Khalid|So Done


These past few months, I have been dealing with my share of emotions springing forth unannounced and on most days, I am left feeling as though my tank is empty. I have to keep it full — fueled to its maximum capacity, so to speak, but it is hard.

This isn’t to say that I am not trying, I am. There are days harder than most and I find myself pulling strength and perseverance from the depths of my soul just to stay afloat. I am swimming. The pace at which I’m stroking in these tumultuous seas is a rapid one, but I refuse to drown.

Recently, I’ve lacked confidence, been incredibly hard on myself about little things, snapped at those I love, lost a few loved ones to a deadly virus, beaten myself up about my looks, weight, & overall personality, and cut ties with a few loved ones.

Let’s just say I haven’t been “living my best life,” and I am almost positive many of you reading this very article are probably feeling the same.

On my bad days, I feel hollow, as if I’m waiting to be carved and put on display for judging eyes and willful lips. I have to remind myself that I am a force and although my current demeanor isn’t one of which I’m familiar, I’m still in this skin struggling to break free.

Here are a few reasons why I’m not giving up on myself.


  1. I have a badass group of supportive people in my life. They keep me grounded, make me laugh, remind me of my best qualities, and share in my pain. They lift me up when I’m feeling down and aren’t afraid to pull me out of the dumps when I’ve dived in head-first. These are solid relationships — all have stood the tests of time. I can count on these people and for this, I’m grateful.

  2. There’s beauty all around me. I don’t have to go far to see the wonders of this world. A purple hue behind the clouds greets me in the morning. The sky is a set of open arms begging me to capture it. Trees speak in tongues and their leaves are the mothers of nature’s church. Birds sing glorious songs and the sun rises in a timely manner. I can look out my window and be reminded of all that’s beautiful in this world in an instant — that’s enough.

  3. I make people smile. My days aren’t all bad at work. I have so many patients who I make smile and bring joy to. They shower me with gifts and no matter how many times I attempt to reject them, they find a way to push through and give a little bit of their hearts to me. It’s breathtaking. Stop and smell the roses given to you while you still can.

  4. I am a dreamer but I believe in miracles. If allowed, I’d live in my dreams. You’d find me there doing what I love most at all times, away from anything that causes pain. But I can’t stay there. I know the importance of being in the now and trusting my faith. I believe. Wholeheartedly, I believe.

  5. I am keeping my close friends closer. They know me. They love me. They aren’t trying to change me. I can depend on them for listening ears and moments of their time. I don’t have to purchase or lease it. They’re readily available. They don’t make excuses and I don’t overwhelm them. They want to love me and they do.

  6. I don’t want anyone in my life who doesn’t wish to be here. I have toyed with the idea of making new friends, but people are WORK and currently, I don’t have the patience to deal with the extracurricular activity of bobbing and weaving through the hoops of people who want to be in my life one day, gone the next, then reappear as if nothing occurred. I am worth more than blinks and twitches. I know this. I embrace this. I want nothing less.

  7. I am a ball of energy who gets weak sometimes. But that doesn’t mean I am not strong. I can stand my ground and if necessary, I do. If I fall, I lift myself up and try again. A few scraped knees won’t stop me. I’ve had things break before and I’ve healed. I always heal.

  8. I am writing my way through the pain. The worst thing someone has said to me about my way of loving was, “I don’t need the way you love. I don’t want it.” And as much as they hurt or cut me deeply with that comment, I had to hear that. It enabled me to assess who I am in intimate relationships. I had been applying the same method of loving to everyone and people are different. It also made me realize that some people are just assholes too. I know which is which and now, I plan accordingly.

  9. When all else fails, enjoy the sunshine. Really, this has helped me more than I can express. There’s living in the rays of the sun. I try to get “outside time” daily.

  10. Every day, I am growing. I am not perfect and neither are you. I love who I am. I love who I am becoming. The work in changing is hard, but it is beneficial. I have value and I add value to the lives of those I love. I remind myself to remember this.

I look forward to the day when I can sit back and point out this moment in time where my struggles propelled me to change — where they caused me to do deeply-rooted work within me, and when I finally allowed myself to feel and believe I am not alone in growing and batting down the negative pangs of life.

If you feel the walls closing in on you as you endure these hectic times we are all trying to move through, I’d recommend changing your view of you. What motivates you? What keeps you happy? What do you like most about yourself? What do others love most about you? Take some time to remember you are a human being and life can be a bitch-slap out of nowhere. Be good to yourself. Be gentle to yourself. Be kind to yourself. There’s only one you.

I’ve made it to the point in my life where I stand firm on the following: I am not giving up on myself. I am worth the work, damn it!

And from me to you, you are too.


Originally published in P. S. I Love You via Medium.

Hello, Happiness. Hello, Sadness. Which of You Will I Feel Today?

On: moving through these two emotions as best as I can.

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Photo by DEVN via Unsplash

I am seated at my kitchen table in my breakfast nook — laptop propped up, my therapist’s voice in the background . . . We are meeting, but virtually. This has become — dare I say it, Our New Normal. I have adjusted my life in such a way that allows me an evening once per month with my therapist so I may stay on track in managing my emotions, dealing with personal breakdowns, and understanding the many changes happening in my life that have affected me more than I thought they would. For now, this plan is proving to be helpful and as soon as I transition to my new position, we will find a better time of day to conduct our sessions.

For those of you unaware, I will switch jobs soon. On November 06, 2020, I will say goodbye to the facility where I work and transfer to another department within our organization for a remote position. This will be good for me — it will keep me out of some intense situations with people who have proven to be more selfish than selfless. Screening for COVID-19 symptoms during what is now “Flu Season” is taxing. It was already a strenuous task hard on my body, but the level of exhaustion has increased in recent weeks.

I am open and honest when I say I would rather be at home during a global pandemic and I am overjoyed about this change, however, happiness is not the only emotion I feel as I count down to my last day.

I am leaving people I love

Although I will still work for the same organization, I will be in a different department — handling mostly different tasks. This moves me from a group of people I love — cherish as a family. My team is outstanding and walking away from them will leave me gutted in a way I had not prepared for.

I can already feel sadness settling in intermittently. It overwhelms me. It stifles me and drains my energy. It keeps me from being my best self at work.

When you learn and grow with an amazing group of people who go above and beyond in doing their jobs and have a mindset of providing remarkable care to patients, this is hard to forget or dismiss.

My team will be one person short until there is a replacement. I think about how that will impact them — how they will have to work doubly hard to keep up with our facility’s pace, and what that might do to them both mentally and physically. Ours is a fast-paced facility servicing a demographic that isn’t always responsive or respectful, so trying times come more often than not.

I can already feel sadness settling in intermittently. It overwhelms me. It stifles me and drains my energy. It keeps me from being my best self at work.

Making this decision to step down and away from my current position was hard because I am not leaving a place I hate . . . I am leaving a place I love — one filled with people who care, are concerned, and want to help others.

It was time I “chose” me first

I decided to do this for me — to put me first, and I will not back down from it. When I look at how what I do warps my emotions, pulls me away from others, and makes me want to retreat more than invite or welcome anyone in (be it virtually or while social-distancing), a work-from-home position could be the peace and safety I need to regain some semblance of my former self.

We are all quarantining or distancing ourselves from those we love — we’re all feeling the brunt of this global pandemic. My question to myself was, “How can you change one thing to make what you do better?” Given what I do, there is no way to change it to make it better. It’s a hands-on job with involvement and physical interaction with people who are seeing us for the care they wish to get. So, I then said to myself, “You can still be in the medical field, but be hands-off.” And therefore, I applied to remote positions within our organization.

I know where my heart is, and it’s in helping others — it always has been there. I feel strongly about this purpose. Moving towards this position to schedule invasive procedures and imaging scans for our patients while still being able to communicate with them (over-the-phone or via our chat/email options) relieves me. I will still do what I love doing.

What day will this be? A happy or sad one?

As I work down the last two weeks of my resignation, I am moving through two emotions rather wildly. My sense of self feels off-kilter and unbalanced. One day, I’m happy to count down to my last day. The next, I am sad. I am moved to tears. The hurt cuts deeply. I know what I am doing. I know why I am leaving. I want to feel as though it validates my reasons for doing so without the added baggage of enhanced emotions.

I am open and honest when I say I would rather be at home during a global pandemic and I am overjoyed about this change, however, happiness is not the only emotion I feel as I count down to my last day.

My therapist to me during our last session: “You will move through those emotions as they come, Tre. What did we discuss during our last session about feeling all of them?”

“Feel them, then move on from them.”

Moving on is the hard part. I feel them just fine. They welcome themselves into my daily routine unannounced, and I have to reassure myself that what I am feeling is sound — it is normal. I have a right to be both happy and sad about choosing to leave my job and the people I love, but why can’t I understand this?

Quietly, I belittle myself for moving from one emotion to the next as the days pass. I have to learn to be kinder — to acknowledge that this is monumental for me and to give myself a little more love. It took me months to crack down on a job hunt and a few more weeks after that, to pursue the jobs for which I had applied. This was a process — a well thought out process. I did not make the decision in haste.

It all boils down to my reluctance to adapt to change — this, I know. I am aware of this. It crushes me to shift a routine, to uproot my habitual status, to move with the wind . . . I am happier planted — a tree should be my spirit object. I made a mental note of this to discuss with my therapist during our next session. Perhaps this is another reason both happiness and sadness have become my bedfellows.

The time is nearing and my team members and some patients who are knowledgeable are telling me how much they will miss me and sending me my roses while I am still alive. I appreciate them. I look forward to them. I am blessed to be a person so loved and accepted. I am happy they are allowing me to smell them before I leave — to embrace their compassion before I say “Goodbye.”

It crushes me to shift a routine, to uproot my habitual status, to move with the wind . . . I am happier planted — a tree should be my spirit object.

And as the days continue to dwindle down to the final one, I will continue to acknowledge what I am feeling and why.

Regardless of when happiness or sadness greets me, I will be ready to stare each down fearlessly.


Originally published on Medium.

If I Loved You, I Still Do


And I always will

Photo by Nick Fewings via Unsplash

We have grown apart for a reason or reasons. We know that reason or reasons. Perhaps we’d always known them. Yet we tucked them deep within ourselves and buried them as lies. Our little truths were showing their heads, flashing beady eyes — devils from the dawn. We wanted to escape the crumble, denied the fall. But it still happened. I have loved what some may consider many and others not enough. And I love them all still, and I always will.

Our meeting had been destined to occur but not fated to last. Their presence in my life had its effects.

I have either become stronger from knowing them or wiser. And in my days of believing I’d become weaker, I have learned we design what we truly want and what we truly need. If I stayed, that was on me and me alone.


In The Beginning

Growing up, I was the eldest of seven children, three of my siblings lived with me. I was their “Go-to” person, their safe place. I cooked, ironed clothes, helped with homework, played with, and disciplined boys who would become men. Without going into much detail, I’ll express that my mom was fighting demons we could not see, and we suffered because of it.

Our household lacked the parental units necessary to maintain it and we grew up well before our time. Being children of divorce and separation, we all developed certain psychological “issues” that would linger into adulthood. I struggled with abandonment and fear of loss. I still do.

I am open about this and am the only one who has sought therapy because of it. I know there are still pieces of me yearning to have my “original” family back and a mother who was more active or involved, but I also know the past is gone and there’s no getting it back.

Healthy human development requires needs for physical and emotional care to be met. Unmet needs can result in feelings of abandonment. — Good Therapy

I search for bits of what I wanted my family to be in the people I meet: a devoted & more present mother, a faithful & more responsible father, less violence— curbed dysfunction . . . But I have to remind myself, I cannot go actively looking for what I am missing — it cannot be my ultimate reason for building relationships.

It is an everyday experience in knowing who I loved and why and remembering what I have lost too.


Growth Spurts

I have riddled my adult life with relationships where either I was deathly afraid to leave or my partner or friend felt as though they couldn’t leave. We stuck to each other, okay with the familiar, exasperated with holding on, but denied ourselves the freedom of letting go. I held on much longer than I should have. I did not want to lose them — I’d lost so much.

Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. — Mental Health America

It was obvious that much of my behavior centered on codependency which stemmed from feelings of childhood abandonment and either I was going to stare this truth into its face and take it head-on or continue to deny it. I faced it. I am getting better daily because of this option.

During these growth spurts, I have had to let go of some people I loved and will always love but held on to them because of history or decades of time that lapsed between us. Or . . . I did not want to feel what I needed to feel without their presence — peace. I didn’t know it would exist without them.

I tightened my grasp even if the relationship was one-sided; I did what I thought would keep us together: I showered them with gifts, made more time for them, checked up on them even when the gesture had not been reciprocated. In short, I removed layers of me with any semblance of hope that it would change them or make them stay.

In letting them go and giving them room to run, I also learned not to chase after them — not to reclaim what had been dead years before its actual expiration date.

There is an overwhelming sense of relief leaning into genuine bonds and friendships that come with no strings attached. I am also more aware of pointing out codependency, negative attachment, and fear of abandonment in others and moving away from forming these types of relationships.

Not that I am perfect in the selection of those coming into my life — I never will be. This is a testament that I now know what to look for and how to bow out of or back away from what could be potentially harmful to me.


You Are In My Heart

If I loved you, you had meaning in my life. You were here for a time and if you have vanished, that time has passed and rightfully so. I mourn your loss just as I would the death of the physical body. Your soul remains. I can feel you.

It was wise for us to part, for us to move on and move forward, and I believe this wholeheartedly. I am still learning, still growing, and recognizing parts of me that need fine-tuning.

But I know I loved you, and I always will.


Originally published on Medium.

I Am Giving Myself This Day

I need it, my body told me so. My mind did too.

Photo by Madison Lavern via Unsplash

I woke up this morning shortly before I usually do to prepare for work. However, I could not move. It was as if my body laid claim to my bed and demanded to stay put. Any other day, I’d peel myself away from the comfort of a pillow-top mattress and will myself to get up and get going, but today . . . today, I listened to my body and succumbed to a day of rest. The tears lined themselves up accordingly right behind my eyes. I could feel it — it would be a day of dealing with extreme emotions — work would have to wait.

I’d felt off-kilter this past weekend leading into this week, and I ignored it. This was probably not the best thing to do given my current circumstance, but a day off is in play. I communicated with our center manager the need for a mental health day and received a prompt response regarding it and its approval. I want to save as much energy as I can for the days, weeks, and months ahead. I have a few writing projects coming up that will require research and getting into character to pull off these works.

Of late, I am drained both physically and mentally and after yesterday’s minor run-in with a patient who wanted to do what he wanted to do, but found out quickly — we follow the recommendations and guidelines issued to us and our entire medical organization, I am zapped. It takes so much out of me to get through an eight to sometimes ten-hour workday, adding privileged and irresponsible people to the mix regularly, is too much.

How kind are we to our minds, to our bodies when we need to be? Do we give ourselves the time off we need or are we pushing through, trying to get past the pull of a crying body and an aching mind?

When you feel like your stress levels have reached their peak, it might be time to take a quick break to reset.

— Elizabeth Scott, MS

I reserved a “mental health day“ to do exactly this — reset. Recharge. Regain some semblance of myself before taking on the world of screening and surveying patients for Coronavirus, COVID-19 symptoms again. I could feel myself fading, unraveling — if I’m being honest and I had to put a stop to it. I still need to get through the rest of this week.


To read the rest of this article, please see it in its entirety at Thrive Global.