Land of a thousand dead gerbils
“Did you bury Elvis?”
“You didn’t bury him?”
“It’s below freezing outside. If you want to go out and dig a hole in the ground, be my guest.”
Elvis’ final resting place was behind the juniper bush. There his body would become one with the earth, or get eaten by a possum. Offended as I was by this unceremonious end, my self-righteousness didn’t extend to actually burying him myself, or to leaving my room. I had recently discovered the internet, and my Neopets required more care than a dead gerbil. Mom had wrapped him up in a paper towel, and decided that that was enough of a funeral service for an animal with a brain the size of a peanut M&M. Glenn would probably have fished him out from the juniper if I told him about it, but he was still mourning his pet, so I did the right thing and lied.
“Did Mom bury him?”
“Did he look peaceful?”
Still young enough to feel emotional pain, Glenn hadn’t yet been numbed by the death of our family’s latest rodent. Our father is allergic to all animals that could be considered a real pet, and so every two years, the Raskovich family would experience a tiny tragedy. My first hamster was named after the mouse in The Magic Tree House books. Halfway through the series, Peanut turned out to be a sorceress, which cemented my love for the books and for my new animal friend. Not yet over my witch phase, I held a deep secret hope that my Peanut was also a magic woman trapped in animal form. Clasping her tightly, I would whisper that she didn’t have to reveal herself until she was comfortable, as she desperately clawed against my sweaty child hands. This was also a time in my life when I would try to convince Bloody Mary to come out of the elementary school bathroom mirror so we could “just talk.”
With Peanut’s death came the insight that everything is transient and nothing matters. Having never experienced the fact of mortality before, I was emotionally destroyed. What else would leave forever? Grandma? Snack time? My really cool red stretch pants? The answer was all of the above (the pants were thrown away by my mom, whose callousness evidently knows no bounds).
For Peanut, death was probably a sweet relief, a final liberation from her glass prison. After about five escape attempts in her short life, Peanut found ultimate refuge buried in our backyard, where about half a dozen gerbils would join her over the years. Napoleon, weak and patchy in fur, ultimately succumbed to the care of the family that was supposed to feed him while we were on vacation. The Maupins said that he ran away, but we all know it was Katie, the pet murderer who I still had to babysit after the fact. The Nameless One, remembered only for its tendency to run on its wheel late at night, died from a tumor, probably. Dustfinger died of grief after his brother left this world, sitting bereft in his pile of wood chips for two days, refusing to do anything but stare into the distance with wizened beady eyes.
At some point between perfunctory burials, I stopped caring as much. My feelings of intense pain were better directed at more pertinent subjects, like society and how much my parents sucked. Glenn was gradually getting to that point as well. Three years ago he would have constructed a tiny coffin out of poster board and stickers, but now he was satisfied with saying his goodbyes inside a house with central heating.
“How’s Glenn taking it?”
“He’s bummed out, but he’ll be fine.”
“Do you want to go to the pet store tomorrow?”
Charlotte Raskovich is a humor columnist for The Cavalier Daily.