*Warning: May not be suitable for all readers due to violent content!
Throughout my entire adult life I’ve remained baffled and a bit envious of other families and their affinity for pets. So many of my friends and family members enjoy mutually satisfying relationships with various members of the domesticated animal kingdom. I suppose I owe my children a heartfelt apology that I have never fully or successfully enriched their young lives by integrating animals into our household. I blame this unfortunate legacy entirely on The Gerbil Incident of 1974…
At some point in the early 70s, Gerbils became enormously popular as pets in the United States. Kids and their parents couldn’t flock to pet stores fast enough to complete their image of ideal domestic tranquility with a cage full of these unique kangaroo-style rats. We were no different. The only problem is that I have never been able to extricate myself from the Tragic Pet Curse I was apparently born under.
A day or two after I discovered not one, but both of my gerbils, Napoleon and Josephine, rock hard with rigor-mortis, my mother took me to get a replacement which I promptly named Mr. Lincoln. Don’t ask me why I was so enamored with naming my gerbils after famous people in history, I just was – that’s all. I proceeded to beg my mom for permission to take Mr. Lincoln to school the next day for Show and Tell. She didn’t fancy the idea on several levels – Permission Denied.
The convenient thing about having a mom that worked outside the home was that a kid enjoyed a fair amount of latitude with respect to total 100% adherence and obedience. Getting my way in this situation was as easy as waiting until Doris pulled out of the driveway for work, hooking the handle of Mr. Lincoln’s cage to the handlebars of my bicycle and taking off for school. I was pedaling away in earnest, heading due west on Rainforest Drive, when the bottom tray of the cage slid out. As Mr. Lincoln hit the asphalt, his horizons were instantaneously broadened amidst a shower of cedar shavings. So shocked was he by his unexpected and unanticipated freedom, that he began to scurry about in alarm. I ditched my bike on the curb and went after him.
For those of you who have never attempted to manually capture a distraught rodent on a peaceful neighborhood street, I can tell you the task is fraught with difficulty. Every time I thought I had him within reach, he would hop out of my grasp. I knew I had to be smarter and quicker than he was. The next time I got within range of him, I anticipated his response and lunged forward just as he cleverly attempted to side-step me. In a bizarre twist of fate, the trauma of which has never been replicated before or since in my existence, my shoe slipped out from under me, coming down on him and crushing his tiny whiskered skull. I only thought he was upset before. Now he was in full-fledged panic mode; hopping about, spurting blood like an actor in a B horror film. I don’t recall if he screamed, but I certainly did, as blood spattered like modern art all over my white uniform shirt. I can still remember his beady little eyes locking into mine as if to say, “How did it come to this? I trusted you.”
Needless to say, this catastrophe has haunted me throughout my life. On the one hand, it translated into a positive behavioral investment ushering me obediently through the turbulent teen years. When Doris told me I couldn’t drink alcohol or smoke pot, I said, “Yes Mam” and never once considered crossing her. But, unfortunately I’ve never been even remotely successful at owning pets. Alas, it’s truly the only thing that’s stood in the way of me being the perfect mother.
I also get pretty sketched-out by Modern Art.