When I was about twelve years old I had several pets. My mother luckily allowed me to have almost any animals that I wanted and there was usually a menagerie of sorts around the house.
I had pet hamsters before, but for some reason I decided that a gerbil may be more fun and I asked my mom if I could have one. She agreed. My mom let me pick out a gerbil and I picked out a gorgeous shiny black male gerbil who had a white stripe down the front of his face and chest. We brought him home and he lived in a plastic habitat about the size of a ten gallon aquarium. His habitat was custom made for hamsters and gerbils and it had a few tunnels that led him to other small attachment rooms from which he could view his domain. I thought the habitat was really cool and looked really fun. I envisioned all the fun I could have if I were a gerbil in the habitat, climbing through tunnels and going to different areas of my house. However, the gerbil didn’t seem to appreciate his fancy digs and he spent his time scratching frantically from within a small “turret” attachment attempting to dig his way out of the cage. In my mind this was very funny because it seemed to me that even though he had the fanciest home I could possibly imagine, all he wanted to do was get out of it. I wanted to name him “Stupid.” My mom firmly forbid me to name him “Stupid,” and instead I named the black furry creature with a white stripe down his face and chest “Zorro.”
I also had a cat named Muff who was absolutely fascinated with Zorro. Muff would sit next to Zorro’s cage staring with wide eyes, positioning his face about one inch from where Zorro stood scratching and attempting to escape. Muff’s tail would twitch with excitement as he stared at Zorro. Again, I thought this was funny. I also thought it gave me some credibility for my idea to name the gerbil “Stupid,” because he didn’t seem to understand the fact that where he was frantically trying to escape to was directly into the clutches of a cat, but again my mom nixed the “Stupid” idea, and I supposed it really was too mean of a name for an animal that I liked anyway.
Zorro was a cute little guy and I really did like him. He wasn’t very playful and didn’t really seem to want to spend a lot of time with me. Every time I tried to play with him he tried to run away. I had a “hamster ball,” which is a clear, or at least see-through, plastic sphere enclosure for a hamster or gerbil to be locked inside of. A hamster or gerbil can then walk around the house by walking inside of the ball and rolling it around. Of course the benefit to a hamster ball is that your pet can run around and explore, but would not be able to escape forever under your bed or behind a dresser. The hamster ball prevented the possibility of your pet escaping freely into the house, making nests in the walls, pooping all over, chewing wires, etc. It was mother approved. The hamster ball turned out to be the best play item for Zorro. It was difficult to play with him without it because he always wanted to run away. He was pretty fast little guy and challenging to hold onto. Besides, I always had to be careful to lock Muff out of the room if Zorro was going to be out of his cage and not in the hamster ball. Zorro used the hamster ball and ran around a lot in it. Sometimes he would poop and pee in the ball as he ran around and little turds would stick to the inside of the ball and rotate around him as he explored the world of the floor. Since Muff also enjoyed watching Zorro in the hamster ball, I thought it was a good way to play with both pets at the same time. After excursions in the ball I would put Zorro back in his house, and even with all the rooms and tunnels of his house and possibilities to explore, he inevitably would climb directly back into his turret and resume rapid and frantic scratching attempts to escape.
One morning I woke up to find the turret of Zorro’s cage knocked out of place and fallen off of his cage. Zorro wasn’t in his cage. My bedroom door had been open during the night and I really had no idea when or to where Zorro may have escaped. He could be anywhere. I figured he was probably under a couch or dresser or under some other piece of furniture, so I grabbed a flashlight and started looking around. It was amazing to me how big the house suddenly seemed when I thought of all the places that a gerbil could hide. I started with my room, and after looking everywhere I made my way down the hall and to the living room. I searched under the couch and under the bookshelf and I was walking to inspect in and around the piano when I stepped on a small ball.
I rolled the ball a little bit under my bare foot and looked at it. This happened to be around the same time in my life when I needed glasses, but as a stubborn child I never admitted to my parents that I couldn’t see well. I hadn’t actually gotten glasses yet. I looked down at the ball and it looked like a small marble. I thought it was strange because I didn’t have marbles and I didn’t think my brother had any either. It sure looked like a black marble with streaks of white and red throughout it. Feeling it under my foot, it didn’t seem as cold or as round as I imagined it should be. I rolled it under my foot for a moment more. Then I bent down to look at it closer and with absolute surprise and horror discovered that it was no marble, but it was Zorro’s severed head! The red color was the stump of his bloody neck and of course the black and white color was his fur. His little head had his whiskers fully intact and I noticed his rodent teeth looking the same as usual and his eyes were half closed. I suddenly realized that Muff ate him. Muff. ATE. Him. And I supposed Muff probably left his head because it was too bony and didn’t taste as good.
I dropped the flashlight and started screaming. I ran into my mother’s room and woke her up by screaming and crying and jumping all over her bed. She probably couldn’t understand me for several minutes, I’m fairly sure I was babbling things that were unintelligible. Eventually I was crying and sobbing and repeating “He ATE him, he ATE him” over and over. In my twelve year old mind, the thought that Muff would actually eat Zorro was unfathomable to me. I was absolutely surprised and shocked. How could Muff do this to Zorro? How could Muff do this to me? Surely he understood how much I liked Zorro. Zorro was a member of the family. I knew Muff understood that. Muff knew that I loved Zorro and he knew that Zorro was my pet, just like Muff was my pet. The absolute worst thing I ever had imagined might happen if Muff got ahold of Zorro was that he may catch him and play with him. I never ever, ever thought that Muff might EAT him. Oh, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, it just couldn’t be true.
My poor mother felt very sorry for me. She tried her best to calm me down. I think I remember that at one point she even said to me “Well, what did you think Muff would do?” and I remember feeling betrayed. My mom knew Muff would eat Zorro if he had the chance? How could that be true?
It was a hard lesson for a twelve year old girl. Poor Zorro was the casualty of life’s lessons learned. It was a cruel and difficult step during the journey from childhood to adulthood. I began to learn some harsh realities of life. I began to learn some lessons about death. I started to realize that I needed to stop seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. In fact, I needed to trade them in for some real glasses.