When I was little, we never had a dog or a cat, or even a bird. I’ve always been fascinated with animals and dreamt of owning a dog, or at least a parrot. On this day 19 years ago I finally got a pet as a birthday present. A turtle. It was small, determined and had about as much charm as a piece of rock. It speeded along the rooms, bit the toes of unsuspecting victims, hissed violently when accidentally kicked and slept behind the fridge for weeks. I wanted a cuddly pet, but she was more of a dinosaur.
I called her Isabel after a Disney princess, took her to walks and tried to make this relationship work. Isabel never learned her name, on several occasions attempted to escape and made me question my love for animals. And boy, did that thing stink. Her box had the most horrible stench, the kind that is almost visible, so thick you tear up. I put off cleaning that box for weeks, which only made it worse when my parents finally had me do it.
The struggle went on for over a year. One day, as I returned home from kindergarten, my dad called me into the kitchen. He sat me down behind the table and asked in the most meaningful tone: “Yana, do you believe in life after death?” I should mention that my dad is terrifying at serious talk. Naturally, I was freaked out and had no idea what was going on. I uttered unintelligible sounds for what seemed like an eternity before mumbling “I guess I do”. “Than you should know that Isabel has deceased.”
I felt relief wash over me like a soft wave on a beach. It wasn’t a test of my intelligence! It’s just Isabel. She died peacefully in her sleep after two weeks behind the refrigerator. And that’s when I felt that same wave drag away and drown me. I was releived to find out my turtle has died. It wasn’t a tragedy. I could think of a thousand things that upset me more. I was the only one that little creature had in this world, yet I was terrified/disgusted at the sight of it (is this how postpartum depression feels?). I wept silently in my bed that night. Not because I missed the beast, but because I imagined how lonely she must’ve been.
I still don’t know how I feel about Isabel. Should I be ashamed I couldn’t fully embrace this living thing, so vastly different from me? Am I ashamed? I now have two cats, whom I love dearly (also, a person, but that’s a story for another time). They have their quirks (Leo thinks his butthole is the first thing I need to see each morning, and I’m pretty sure Finn has severe case of kleptomania), but I like to believe they can – and do – love me back. But that’s not the point of loving someone, is it? What matters is the space in your heart they occupy. Heart space is precious property.
Photos and editing by Natalia Karpova
Who was your first pet?
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