I don’t know how one becomes accustomed to death throughout their life. I don’t know if it’s by having many pets and watching them die through your entire childhood. Maybe your friends and family die and that’s how it happens. Maybe it’s just a personality thing. Whatever the case may be, I don’t handle death well.
My family had a habit of getting rid of animals before they died. It wasn’t until I had my own pet that mortality hit me as a real occurrence. I was nine. My brother had gotten hamsters and I had my beloved fish tank. You may think that I ended up with the short straw in this transaction, but his hamsters kept escaping and turning rabid, while my fish remained happy and free, or so I had thought. Unbeknownst to me, my fish were racists and did not take kindly to the new type of fish I had bought with my allowance. My pack of neon tetras banded together to get rid of my poor bleeding heart tetra. I came home from school one day to find her in rough shape, with her fins nibbled on and her tiny face frantic. What could I do? I put more food in the tank and went to bed.
It was shortly after that when I found her floating belly up at the top of the tank near the filter. This was the first pet I had die, and as I scooped her out, sobbing, my mother tried to crack this joke, “Put it in the frying pan and we can eat it for dinner.”
I was disgusted and horrified. In that moment, with that single sentence from my cruel M1, I vowed never to eat fish again, a vow I have solemnly kept for almost fourteen years now. Eating fish when I had pet fish was similar to cannibalism. How just very wrong it was.
I carried my poor little tetra in a net to the front garden of the townhouse, and used a rock to dig a shallow grave. It was winter and the ground was solid, so I didn’t get too far down. I would wave to it when I passed in and out of the house and when we moved, I was heartbroken to leave her behind. But she was merely the first to die.
When more and more of my fish died, I distanced myself until I finally got rid of the tank completely. This happened again, when I got hermit crabs, ready to begin my life anew with these pets I had longed for so long. The first was named Sylar and he was King of the Hermit Crabs. I bought him in Wildwood, New Jersey, and happily took him home with me. We had a lot of fun, and eventually, I bought four more crabs. Slowly, I was amassing an army to unleash in my crab-phobic friend’s bedroom.
Unfortunately, this dream would never come to pass. While filling up the water dish in the cage, I tried to pick Sylar up. A husk of himself, he fell out of his shell and I screamed. This was at two in the morning, and as I lived alone, I knew that I could not handle this. Once again sobbing, I called up a friend 45 minutes away and drove to get him and bring him back to my place so we could bury my dear Sylar in the front yard of the apartment building. Then I drove my friend home.
Unable to handle the impending doom of my other hermit crabs in the army, I gave them away to a loving home.
Three years after, I decided to try once again to love a pet. I bought another fish, a betta this time, and we were in bliss for three months up until his death. A friend had to come over and flush him, but I managed not to cry this time.
So I think I’ll stick to the one pet I have right now, my soulmate dog who lives with my Grandmother in Pittsburgh. I constantly obsess over his death, and after him, I don’t know that I’ll be able to handle another pet. There isn’t really a life without him. Why do people buy pets again? You love this animal with all your heart and then it dies and it really hurts. What is the appeal there?
Even after saying that, I’m thinking about getting a hedgehog.