jolie laide

jolie laide

I started this when I lived in Brooklyn and struggled for grace in a city that grants moments of beauty and ugliness breathtakingly close to one another. Now I live in a place where things are a different kind of ugly and the beauty is pedestrian. I struggle with that.


My sister and I were tenderhearted children and loved animals enormously. We were allowed rafts of pets, remarkable because our parents, with hearts and temperaments already too inflexible for the chaos of family, were not inclined to invite dirt, noise, slobber, the whole echhhk, unpredictable wildness of animal into the house. But we were allowed nearly anything we wanted, within reason: frogs; gerbils; dogs; newts; hamsters; cats; a raccoon and eventually a horse.

You would think that would be enough, but we were always bringing home additional finds, an egg from an abandoned nest, a dazed lone baby bunny, a newly-hatched tiny grass snake. One day, hanging out at a nearby stable, I found a barn cat terrorizing a baby mouse. The mouse was unhurt, but cornered, and easy to scoop up and take home.

I showed it to my mother, who declared it was not a mouse, but a rat, and not allowed into the house. I could keep it, but outside only. So I made it a nice home in a terrarium and put it near the raccoon’s pen. The raccoon was an awesome pet, with her own language of soft clicks and chirrs, a wonderful smell, a delightful way of playing and interacting with us, the cat and the dog.

What do you remember about raccoons from watching Wild Kingdom? Aside from having the oddly charming habit of washing all their food before they eat it, they have nearly opposable thumbs, making them amazing escape artists from any kind of containment. As members of the bear family, they eat what bears eat—sweet things, like fruit, berries and honey. Also high protein things, like grubs and worms. And meat. Since raccoons are not really built for hunting success, this means mostly small game: frogs, crawdads, mice.

You can see where this is going. And it did. Too tempted, too curious about her new neighbor, she found yet another way to slip out of her pen, and I caught her in the act, with her soft, black cushioned paws in the terrarium. The mouse was mortally wounded and I snatched it away and ran to my mother, hoping that somehow it could be made better.

She declared that there was no way to make it better, and that I needed to take it out of the house and do what had to be done. I looked at my little pet, wriggling in my hand, a pink loop of intestine poking from a puncture in its tiny belly. I went outside, to the field across the street. I found a flat rock and placed the mouse on it. I found another flat rock, lifted it above my head, and did what I had to do.


Blogger Dr. S said...

At the risk of sounding like I'm making a joke, which I'm not, this is a crushing post.

8:16 PM  
Blogger ttractor said...

sick! you made me laugh!

But childhood is full of little heartbreaks, of uncomprehension, of things so far beyond our abilities...but also dogwood blossoms and wind up toys and tutus...

8:50 PM  
Blogger slickaphonic said...

this post actually brought tears to my cynical eyes...

probably because my dog is now 13, and I know I'm going to have to "do what I have to do" soon--though thankfully not with a rock in the country.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I was NOT kidding! I wasn't trying to be sick or trying to make you laugh -- the first thing I thought when I got to the end was, "How crushing!" And then I groaned inwardly.

I also thought, childhood is so full of toughnesses and courages--abilities to do what needs be done, to see the pink intestine and pick up the rock.

2:18 AM  
Blogger ttractor said...

I know, but it was so unexpected, it got a bark of a laugh out of me, which I enjoy.

Slick, it is much easier to do what you have to when you are grown, when you have had time to say goodbye, when you see the light fading in your friend's eyes. It was incredibly sad when I had to do it for one of my dogs a few years ago, but not gut-wrenching...but don't think on it too much, don't let the fear of loss obscure the joy of having.

10:50 AM  

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