Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Patchwork (part 1): Animal lover

Have you ever stopped to reflect on where some of your interests or characteristics have come from? I've been doing some of that lately. Over the past year or more, since life has taken a much different, slower twist than before, I've often found myself surprised by the depth of childlike joy elicited when I'm around animals. Like some "kid switch" gets flipped on in my brain and the experience is almost nostalgic. I've wondered, Where did this come from, and have I always been this way? I am giddy, no joke, around goats. Yeah, goats. I'm talking, bouncing up and down, dorkishly giddy. Sheep make me laugh like I'm staring at a joke that God just told. When I need a pick-me-up, I go to the Seattle Aquarium and smile contentedly as I watch the fur seals awkwardly scratch themselves with their huge flippers, the river otters gracefully playing beneath the water, the sea otters floating on their backs on top of the water. I study the intricacies of the fish in the aquarium tanks and marvel at their design. At the zoo, I giggle at the emus, chuckle at the apes, and coo over the sun bears. On the streets and in the parks, I grin at (almost) every dog I pass. I stop and pet the kitties that run up to rub around my ankles and purr as I walk through the neighborhood. I feel sadness when I see an injured bird, and I even feel an appreciation for the lives of bugs. It's strange, I tell you, but also strangely wonderful. My heart feels lighter around animals.

I can't say exactly where my tender heart for animals came from, but you might call it a bit ironic, considering my rambunctious beginnings. Among my earliest memories - I must have been a toddler - involves an empty refrigerator box, my older sister, Jenni, and our cat, Patches. We were living in Phoenix, a place where kids didn't play outside much, except in a pool or sprinkler. So indoors, Jenni and I had created a magnificent playhouse out of a refrigerator box. Well, most likely Mom had created it, cutting us a door and window. We must have been playing house or something, with our "baby," Patches the Poor Unsuspecting Kitty, but all I really remember is reaching through the cardboard window and yanking Patches through by the tail. And then I proceeded to swing him around by the tail. I think Jenni was mortified (the responsible older sibling), as was the cat, but I was clueless. I hadn't yet developed the deductive reasoning to explain to me how consequences fit with actions. It hurt my feelings that, upon entering the bedroom we shared, I would always find Patches sleeping on Jenni's bunkbed, never mine. I think, deep down in my three or four-year old brain I felt guilty for how I sometimes treated our kitty. But my tender moral conscience has always been accompanied by a flair for the mischeivious.

Take our cat, Snickers, for example. I was an older and wiser eight years old, living in Richland. Snickers was a feisty little furball, with the markings of a racoon. She wasn't what you would call, affectionate. In fact, she had this incredible growl that I found hilarious, much to her misfortune. When bored, I looked for ways to, ah, encourage her growl. Like the time I tied a balloon on the end of her tail and watched her growl and streak her way through the house, up and down the stairs, with the balloon bobbing frantically behind her until it popped and sent her leaping with saucer eyes in the air. Or the time(s) I dressed her in my doll clothes (bonnet included), then recorded her growl on my tape recorder, periodically busting with laughter in the background. I wasn't mean-spirited about it; I genuinely found her delightfully amusing, but she did not seem to return the sentiment.

I wanted so badly for her to like me better than my sister. Now that we had separate bedrooms, the competition was on to see whose room the cat would occupy the most. We both had queen-sized waterbeds, bought at some liquidation sale at a furniture store. Snickers seemed to be in need of "guidance" in finding her way to my room, so I devised a plan to help her. About an hour before bed, I'd shut her in my room to allow her ample time to settle in. When bedtime rolled around, I'd sneak in, close the door quickly behind me, and usually find her stretched out in the middle of my bed. Mission accomplished! Well, sort of. Snickers was a finnicky sleeper. She did not like to be disturbed by the bed moving - a nearly impossible feat on a waterbed. I would slowly, carefully lower myself onto the bed, then flatten my body up against the sideboard to allow her plenty of space and minimal water disturbance. If the bed moved, she would growl, I would laugh, and the whole ritual might be defeated for the night. Unless I could cajole her back to sleep with some nice, thorough petting, which unfortunately for me, did not necessarily aid in my ability to sleep. For it almost always culminated in Her Highness kicking her purr box into high gear, loosening her claws, and switching into Kneading Position, generally on my chest. I could withstand maybe thirty minutes of this mode before I threw her out of my bedroom (gently, of course). Looking back, perhaps she was more clever than I gave her credit for...

Oddly enough, though, I had a very sensitive heart toward all animals, including worms. In the second grade, I remember my teacher passing out an earthworm to each student during our lesson on earthworms, which we were to take home with us to care for. They were handed to us in a sandwich baggie with some dirt inside. My earthworm appeared to be pregnant, and I named it Ed. Ed, the pregnant earthworm. Not my most creative moment, but an endearing one. Ed, sadly, did not last through the week. He/She died in the sandwich baggie halfway through. I have this vivid memory of clutching the baggie with Ed inside and sniffling into my mom's shoulder, and she was shaking. At the time, I thought she was sharing in my sorrow, but as I look back, I see she was trying very hard to contain her laughter. I guess I could be a melodramatic child at times. We held a funeral for Ed out in the garden and laid the worm to rest in the soil. I cried crocodile tears over a worm, yet got a big kick out of being the designated Flusher of Deceased Goldfish for our subsequent pet fish. I was a mass of contradictions.

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