Other People’s Pets

As a kid, I never cared for moist, slimy creatures. I wanted a dog. I LOVED dogs, and I so wished my folks had let me have one. Instead, I got goldfish.

Whatever possessed my mom to buy goldfish??? The woman didn’t know the first thing about them. She fed them three times a day, maybe four, same as she fed me. Naturally, the silly fish didn’t know any better. Like me, they devoured everything she gave them. Only difference was, they blew up and died; I didn’t. Every morning, we’d discover another victim floating belly-up in the tank. My mom would scoop it out with a small strainer…the one she used to remove pulp and seeds from the orange juice. Voilá, empty tank!

Next surprise: my dad brought home four little turtles. Not because he liked turtles. Some obscure cousin had bequeathed them to us. He, in turn, entrusted them to me. What an honor! They came with their own terrarium, fed on scraps of lettuce or any vegetation I scrounged up. Once a week, I’d remove the turtles from the terrarium (being careful not to drop them behind the bathroom sink, where they’d probably get eaten by water bugs). I’d pour out the stinky residue, rinse the terrarium, add fresh water, then put the turtles back.

The critters didn’t do much, other than the dull, pointless stuff turtles normally do. They crawled, stared into space, hid inside their shells and ate whenever the spirit moved them…which was about all I did in those days. However, nursing them for those 8? minutes each week taught me responsibility, helped mold me into the laid-back, overfed retiree I am today. If you’re wondering, NO, I DIDN’T NAME THEM! What the hell would I name a turtle anyway? Luigi? Sir William?

One day, only three turtles were moving. Soon, only two were alive…then one. Eventually, they’d all joined their friends, the goldfish, in Stupid Pet Heaven. Voilá, empty terrarium!

Other families had dogs. Why couldn’t we? My mom loved dogs, almost as much as she loved me. Problem was, they required too much attention, like me. Sure, a dog was loveable. So was I. But SOMEONE had to walk it every morning and every evening. SOMEONE had to feed and clean up after it. And guess who’d get stuck with the dirty work when I defaulted in my duties? SHE would. Why did she assume I’d fail her? Hadn’t I proven myself with the turtles? Maybe she thought I’d murder the animal, like she murdered the goldfish. I know my dad would have shown more faith in me. But he wasn’t around anymore.

Shall I tell you the real reason my mom wouldn’t own a dog? She admitted, when we were older, that she couldn’t bear the thought of it dying—of becoming hopelessly attached to a companion that would make her happy for a season, only to break her heart later. (Which is how she must have felt when my dad left her.) Little wonder, she limited her affections to less adorable objects, like goldfish, dolls, toy trains. And to other people’s pets, and other people’s infants, whom she could appreciate from a distance…without the poop and betrayal that come with caring.

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