Over the weekend, some girlfriends and I stopped in at out local pub for [virgin] drinks and traditional pub-food. The topic of our conversation turned to our youthful follies and childhood pets; two seemingly unrelated, yet proven inter-relatable subjects. We talked about hamsters who’d chewed through electric cables, goldfish who’d suicide-jumped their way to freedom (RIP Tommy), bunny-rabbits who’d accidentally baked to death under hot desert suns and ant colonies who’d met their demise at the hands of my sinister infatuation with the kettle.
Will boiling ants be something I’ll be held accountable for one day? Perhaps. Did I still chuckle about it over my bangers and mash? Certainly.
Over the course of conversation I did learn, with childlike naivete, that maybe my psycho-nocturnal cat Kola (spelled with a “K”- my early onset homage to the Kardashian family) was put down, rather than promoted to a beautiful farm with rolling gardens that I could “visit at any time”. Even as I insisted that the kind woman who ran the farm was lonely and needed my cat, a part of me died inside, thinking that my mother had used the most classic dead-pet line on me.
Real talk: a high percentage of me actually believes that maybe my family was the exception to the rule and that such a farm existed for Kola. But still, my friends laughter is still echoing in my mind, so I won’t keep insisting on it here.
Anyway, the point of my story is how I came to remember the most ridiculous story of my youth wherein I really behaved out of sorts, considering how I was a golden child and all.
Eight-year-old Hollie was jealous of her new friend Zoe’s pet situation at home. A string of unfortunate fish-related incidents in the McKee household (as well as said psycho-nocturnal incidents) had led my parents to tacitly ban all creatures from falling under the pet banner. All I wanted was something to take care of. I even tried my hand at gardening (pre biology / photosynthesis tutoring, I didn’t understand why my sunflowers weren’t growing at the bottom of my wardrobe).
In walks Zoe, with her fancy earrings and all of her PETS. Zoe was allowed to wear eye-shadow, which was just the cherry on the cake for me. Her frosty blue eyelids, fluttering all over the tens of PETS she had. It wasn’t fair.
Sidebar: why anyone needs TENS of gerbils and hamsters and bunnies, is beyond me.
So there I was, forced to admire pet after pet. I remember thinking what stupid names she’d given to them all. They were human names, and that just wasn’t right. So before I knew it, and with Zoe’s approval I might add, I’d lined my pocket with tissues (for “comfort”) and I’d slipped a baby guineapig in there, re-naming him “Raisin” as I’d done it.
Of course I was caught by Zoe’s step-mum. A wriggling pocketted guineapig will draw all kinds of unwanted attention.
I’m no parent, but I hope if ever I come across something so bizarre as Zoe’s step-mum did, I would handle a couple of eight-year-olds with a little less severity. She sat us down after her initial shrieks of disgust and irritation, and handed us both bibles. We then had to read the ten commandments aloud, stopping to re-read “Thou shallt not steal” and “Thou shallt not bear false witness.” It’s the first time I’d ever felt guilt take physical toll on my body. My legs turned to jelly and I got a lump in my throat. I started sweating. Zoe and I had the most miserable time that night, replacing our traditional sleepover movies and treats with a literal sob-fest.
In the end we came clean to my mother, confiding in her our shameful experience. I can still remember her stifling her smile and trying to comfort us. After hearing us out she said simply, “It’s done now, leave the rest to me and don’t worry about it any more.” I trusted her completely, knew she’d advocate for me with Zoe’s step-mother, and somehow knew that because my mum had said it, I’d done all the grieving I would do over the matter. And the case was closed.
Well I don’t have to tell you that there’s a gospel message in that, do I? Spoiler alert: it’s not about reciting commandments or feeling weighty remorse for an eternity.
Geez I love my mom.