this is no longer my blog

Friday, May 06, 2005


in lieu of anything interesting that happened today...

I will share another story from the life of me.
It might not be interesting, and there are parts that are better told in person, as they involve hand motions and facial expressions which get lost in the written word. But I will try my hardest to convey, as fully as possible, this story.

Since the dawn of time, I had wanted a pet hamster or gerbil. My cousins had a hamster, and he was cute and would run around on the top of their bed. He was this goldish tan color, and I think cuteness oozed out of his pores.
The only animal that I wanted more than a hamster or a gerbil was a monkey. I begged my parents for a monkey, I wrote a report (on my own, it was not a school assignment) about monkeys in hopes that it would convince my parents that they did, indeed, make good pets. But I think deep inside I knew that monkeys were not pets. No one else I knew had a pet monkey. But they DID have pet hamsters and gerbils. So why shouldn't I have one, too?
I saved toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls in the corner of my room for the hamster or gerbil my parents would one day buy for me. At one point I had quite a collection. But still they would not buy me one. I bought a book about gerbils, and read most of it, trying to hone myself into the perfect pet owner. But still they would not buy me one.
You might wonder why they didn't just get me a gerbil. They're not that expensive. They don't take up a lot of room. So why not just buy the poor kid a gerbil?
Well, my parents had their reasons. You see, one of my best friends in elementary school gave me two fish for my birthday once. So we bought an aquarium (that looked like a gumball machine) and a couple more fish. It was blissful, but fish do not have long lives and before you knew it, one died. I was a little saddened. I had gone to school that day and returned to see one less fish in the aquarium. My mom informed me that one had died while I was away. After that I moved into the ritual of saying "See ya!" to my fish everyday, and then would add, "Okay, now none of you die while I'm at school." Inevitably, I would return home and one would have passed away. Jokingly, I came up with the theory that my mom felt as if she was being replaced in my heart by these fish, and so while I was gone she was murdering them. But I was, indeed, a bit tramautized by the loss of my fish. Soon, all but one had passed away. His name was Speedy and he was a little neon fish. So we bought three or four more little neon fish. I could only tell Speedy apart from the group, so they became known as Speedy and the neons. As if they were a singing group. Soon, however, the neons began to pass away and soon Speedy was the only one left of them. Eventually, he too passed away. I was even more traumautized at this point. (Random aside: not too long after this, we were given a farm cat by a family from church. When we were trying to come up with a name for him, my only advice was: "Don't name him Speedy. He'll just die." What did my brother end up naming the cat? You guessed it. Speedy. But it fit. And I loved that cat. That's a whole other story though...)
So one Christmas or birthday (you know, one of those days I get gifts) I was given an ant farm. This was exciting. I sent in my little slip and they sent me the tubes o' ants. I deposited them in the little rectangluar farm and as they woke up they began to do what ants do and went to work digging. Well, if you know anything about ants you know that only the queen reproduces. And ant farms don't send you queens, because then you don't order more ants from them. So if there are no ants being added to the group, then eventually they will all be dead. There was this little room in the middle of the ant farm that became the graveyard. Every ant eventually ended up there. I feel bad for the last living one, who had to carry her last dead sister into this room and then quietly wait for her own demise. This tore me apart. I remember weeping at the loss of my ants and then in a moment of anger blasting water from the sink into the ant farm to get rid of all of the dead ants and watch their dead bodies swirl in the sink and then down the drain.
So you see, my mother was worried that if I mourned the loss of my fish and was tramautized by the loss of my ants, how would I react at the death of something cute and furry and cuddly. She really thought that getting me a hamster or a gerbil would just be setting me up for a meltdown. So I can understand why she was reluctant to buy me one.
Well, eventually the desire for a gerbil or hamster dwindled but never completely faded. I didn't think much of it as I went through junior high and high school. In college, I lived in the dorms and we were only allowed to have fish. I definitely didn't get any fish. After I graduated from college and took my job as the youth director, it struck me: I can now get a hamster.
I drove to the pet store, I bought a little plastic house for them, and some wooden toys for them to chew on. I bought a tranparent purple ball for them to run around in, and a lifetime's supply of cedar chips. I looked in the aquariums of hamsters and carefully selected the two I wanted. Remembering back to the book on gerbils I had read over and over, I made sure to see which two were the most active and had the fluffiest, shiniest fur. So I called over the pet store employee and told him which ones I wanted. A bit hesitant, he lifted the top and reached in towards the fluffy golden one I had chosen. As the hand drew closer this hamster reared up on its hind legs, bared it's teeth, clenched its little hamster claws and was ready to tear that man's hand apart. He quickly yanked his hand out and said, "Are you sure you want a hamster? They don't make the best pets."
"Well, what would you recommend?" I asked.
"A rat." He replied. Now, I have known people who had pet rats and they did make good pets. But they did not hold a candle to hamsters in the cuteness category.
"Um... anything else?" I asked.
He suggested gerbils. I was glad to pick out a couple gerbils, and they were nicer to the man, not rearing on their hind legs or baring teeth. They mainly ran blindly around their cage trying to escape this large latex covered many armed monster. They weren't too successful.
So I took my mousy brown gerbil and my black gerbil home with me. My youth director friend was over at my house and we were trying to figure out names for them. She was holding the mousy brown one and thought he reminded her of the mouse Gus Gus from Cinderella. So we named him Gus. The black one, which I was holding, was proving much more difficult to name. Although within the first two minutes he had pooped on me. And then he looked at my thumb and bit it. It drew blood. So we decided to name him Chewie.
I was excited to have Gus and Chewie. They would provide me hours of endless enjoyment running around in their ball and their wheel. I was sure.
I was wrong. These were the most deficient animals I have ever met. They did not chew on their wooden toys, which is what they were supposed to do. At all hours of the day and night they would chew loudly on the plastic of their cage. They did not know what they were supposed to do with their wheel. They would mainly just sit in it and poop. I would take one of them out and put him in the ball. Neither of them knew what to do. If I rolled it, they would walk along with it. When I stopped they'd stop. Occasionally they'd reach out a little claw and touch the ball and it would move a little. Then they'd quickly pull it back. And then they'd poop.
And their pee smelled horrible. I'd clean their cage out and the next day the living room would reek of gerbil pee. And Chewie was able to get out of the cage seeminly whenever he wanted to, and he'd run around the top of the entertainment center. And poop. He can't figure out how to use the wheel, or the ball, but he can escape the cage.

I think that over the years of wanting and yearning for a gerbil or hamster I had built them up into something they weren't. I saw gerbils from the "Oh they're so cute!" side and not the "Oh they're a lot of work." side. They weren't fun to hold, because the minute you'd pick them up they would start to think you were meaning them harm and they'd almost have a seizure trying to get away. They weren't fun to play with because they couldn't figure out how to use any of the fun things I bought them. All they did was eat, chew on the cage, and poop.
So, not too long after I had adopted Gus and Chewie I began shopping around for a new home. I was willing to give them away. And their cage. And their ball. And the lifetime supply of cedar chips. Just as long as someone would take them away from me. So, really, I think that's the first time I had to say good bye to a pet that didn't end in tears and trauma for me.

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