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An Unfortunate History of Rodent Ownership, Interaction & Murder, Part One

Aged 9

My neighbor got one when I was 8 and I thought it was the coolest thing ever (so young, so young), had not yet read about the plague and decided I should have a pet too. Since my mother gave birth to my brother the year before, I couldn't have a 'real' pet. So I convinced my parents that I should have a gerbil, in a touching speech citing that it would teach me responsibility and respect for animal life. They agreed this was a good idea mainly because it was not a dog. So with much pomp and circumstance, we purchased two gerbils and all their accoutrement. The second day I had my gerbils (whom I had already begun to lose interest in) we all work up to find that one of the pair, Cleo, had a number of little hairless gerbil babies in her tank. Four in total with one albino. A lovely surprise for us all.

They grew. Sometimes escaped. Were captured and returned to their tank. Then the adult gerbils, after a short interval of boring calm routine, convinced the other gerbils to attack the albino. To the point we were scared to leave them together. So we had to put the albino in a second cage. Then the original gerbils, perhaps threatened by their youth and being usurped, attacked the remaining baby gerbils who were now older and larger. Two man enter, one man leave. After that purge I was happy to learn my gerbils weren’t racist, but realized they had committed infanticide. And technically, since they killed the three offspring, they were serial killers.

So I was left with the original pair whom I was scared to touch and the albino in his sad isolation. One day I came home from school after a particularly industrious week and discovered the albino seemed very sleepy. I poked him and discovered he wasn't just resting. Sadly, while I had been diligently feeding him and petting him all week, I hadn't given him enough water and his Frida Kahlo-esque performance art death scene underneath the dry water container spoke volumes. And technically, made me a murderer, too. And then there were two. About a week later, (now I loathed the gerbils and their miserable lives of death and pain) the two OG gerbils, the Pussycat, Kill Kill sisters, got into an amazing row in their cage in the middle of the night. Smacking glass and squealing. I hoped up quickly and the noise stopped. I was relieved they had resolved their differences, this was before Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome came out, and went back to sleep.

In the morning I was greeted by one gerbil sniffing around the tank with blood on its fur like the Rabbit of Caerbannog. The other gerbil split open, laying on its side, stuffed with food the other gerbil had placed in him in a little pile. Frightened of the Lord of the Flies turn that my gerbil had taken, and no longer wanting to be a player in her bloody coup, I told the guy who entranced me with his rodents that the gerbil was making my brother sick and asked him if he wanted it. He didn't know of the dynasty of gerbil terror that took place behind our doors. Or that I might have accidentally murdered one of the other gerbils. I did warn him that the gerbil was ‘not friendly’. I told him that it attacked and killed another gerbil. He was unfazed. The gerbil played at being tame, but I was not fooled. Using tongs, I put it in a shoe box and gave it to the other kid who was happy to receive it. And that was the last I saw of the gerbil. We rid ourselves of the tank, stopped laying flowers in the gerbil cemetary that our backyard had become and that was the end of that sad chapter. The entire gerbil adventure lasted just longer than the summer. We never spoke of it again.

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