I was pretty much born wanting a dog and a farm to raise him on. Most of my childhood memories involve me positioning myself in front of my parents with a big glossy dog book and a face full of tears. I’d stare into the eyes of a West Highland white terrier and feel how much I’d love him, and him me, if only he could be mine. Then I’d tilt my face up so my tears would glisten in the light of the TV.
“You can have a farm full of dogs when you’re grown up,” my dad would say.
“The Andersons’ dog destroyed the whole house,” my mother would say. “The whole house!”
And I would bawl. This went on for years. With the exception of a one month stint in which my parents agreed to a beagle named Willie (who then destroyed our whole house), the only pet I was allowed was a red-eared turtle named Snoopy who kept escaping and wedging himself beneath the heating coil of our fridge. Snoopy was okay, but I quickly learned that one dehydrated turtle does not a farm make.
Then when I was 11, my mother announced we were adopting her friend’s brown poodle. Someone in the family was allergic to Mocha and the kids were devastated to be getting rid of him. I thought about the sad kids for about a second and a half, then started celebrating. I was finally getting a dog!
We’d walk through the woods together. He’d never need a leash because farm dogs are never on leashes. Besides, he’d never want to leave my side.
A week later, Mocha arrived. He was curly and matted and perfect. The sad kids came with him to say goodbye. I felt bad for them, but not for long. I had my very own dog! The sad kids were even sadder when they had to leave him with me and my imaginary farm.
Mocha was the perfect dog. He slept on my bed, he kissed my face and, most important, he didn’t destroy my mother’s house. He even learned not to run away when off leash.
In the meantime, the sad kids got a hamster they grew to love nearly as much as Mocha. One weekend they needed someone to care for the hamster while they went skiing. I volunteered. I figured it was the least I could do.
The sad kids looked even sadder when they dropped off their hamster. I tried to cheer them by telling them I’d take good care of him. And I did. This was a big weekend for me–I had two live animals in my care and neither of them had a shell.
One morning, I thought I’d show the caramel-colored rodent a really good time by setting up a corral made of towels in my bathroom. I brought Mocha in so I could look out at all my livestock from my perch on the toilet.
I don’t know why I looked away, but when I looked back again, the hamster was gone. I checked the bathtub, behind the toilet, under the useless towel fences. No hamster. Then I noticed an open cupboard door and peered inside. There was nothing but a few bottles of bubble bath and some towels. But where the pipes met the wall there was a gap plenty large enough for a hamster to shimmy into. I’d lost the sad kids’ new pet.
In spite of all the treats I layed out, the hamster never returned. The sad kids came back to an empty cage and I felt like a monster twice over. If the kids ever got another pet I never heard about it. I’m sure they found another petsitter.
As to what happened to the hamster, we heard scratching in the walls for a few days. Then, the following year when movers lifted a rolled-up rug in the basement, something came tumbling out. A pile of tiny bones and caramel-colored fluff.
Some lousy farmer, huh?