The first pets that I ever had were hamsters. After pestering our parents enough, we went to the store and bought two furry little rodents and decided to name them Chip and Dale, based off the popular cartoon depicting the adventures of two crime-solving chipmunks, or rescue rangers, if you will. They lived around two years, the average lifespan of tiny rodents. I remember the exact moment when I was told of the first one’s death. My mom picked me and my next door neighbor, Josh, up from school. I was probably in first or second grade. I hopped in the passenger’s seat of our van (is that too young to sit up front?), and my mom immediately starts like this:
Mom: Chip died.
Me: *bursts into tears*
I remember that she didn’t look at me and immediately started driving after she broke the news. In retrospect, I don’t know why she didn’t wait until we got home to tell me or why she told me like that. Maybe she didn’t know how to approach the whole telling-your-kid-his-beloved-pet-just-died thing. After all, she never had to do it before. We had the funeral that day, but we made a couple mistakes. First, we didn’t put the hamster in a box. Second, we didn’t bury him deep enough. The following day we found the burial site dug up, and the corpse of Chip was nowhere to be found. Some cat or possum got an easy meal that night.
I don’t remember too much about the death of the second hamster. Probably the same amount of tears, but I do remember that we made sure to dig deeper. However, it was disappointing that the two siblings wouldn’t be able to rest in peace together. They did get in a lot of fights in their old age, so maybe it was better that way. Despite the tears, I did learn a lot from the death of my two furry friends. I do think having animals with short lifespans at a young age is a good, healthy way to introduce the concept of death and loss to a child, but even this could not prepare me for what was to come.
Fast forward a year or two. We had attained two baby chickens from my older brother’s 6th grade science teacher, who had a box filled with chicks for some reason. He gave them to us to care for temporarily since my mom had raised many a chick when she was growing up. We did a good job until tragedy struck.
We had a neighbor named Michael who lived across the street. He was shorter and slower than Josh and I were. One day, all of us were playing with the chicks in our backyard. We were holding them and discovered that they would always run away immediately upon release. They were pretty fast, but not faster than the average elementary schooler. Being mean children, we bet Michael that he couldn’t catch one. He insisted that he could.
Oh, he proved it, all right. We released the chicks, and they took off as expected. Michael bolted after them, and then…
it was over.
The next thing that could be heard for miles was my wailing and screaming for my mom. She arrived, and I begged her to rush the chick to the vet. She told me that it was no use. Michael had accidentally stepped on the chick while he was in hot pursuit of it. Its neck had been broken. I remember looking at the chick during its last few moments on earth. I will never forget that feeling of hopelessness and dread as I saw its life slowly slip away. After a few long minutes, he had passed.
I was beside myself. The neighborhood kids gathered for the funeral. Had I owned any black clothes, I certainly would have worn them. We put the deceased in a box that we had adorned with pictures and notes. Michael wrote “sorry” on the cardboard coffin, but Josh and I knew that we were to blame. We shouldn’t have mocked Michael and used the poor poultry as bait. Later that day as I was processing the loss of the chick by looking pensively out my window, I saw a mocking bird and sparrow fighting in my backyard. To prevent more death, I ran toward them to break up the fight, but my shirt got caught on our patio chair, causing me to lose precious moments. I got there and scared off the mocking bird, but it was too late. The sparrow’s body was on the ground, lifeless. More tears. Too many bird deaths in one day. I buried this little guy in the same deep hole as our chicken. At least they would have the company that Chip and Dale didn’t.
Sometime during high school, I brought up the chicken incident with my mom. After the first chick died, we returned the second chick, so I asked what happened to him and the rest of them. It turns out that the teacher gave them to a farm, and a raccoon got in their crate and slaughtered all of them. Nature. She didn’t tell me way back then because she didn’t want to upset me more, but telling me actually made me feel better. Meeting the bottom of Michael’s foot may have been the best thing that could have happened to that chick. I think that I would prefer getting my neck broken to getting ripped apart by a pair of ravenous jaws, but that’s just me.