My first was a guinea pig named Turbulette in tribute to her turbulent habits, that included shaking like a 7th day Adventist every time she was presented with a piece of lettuce.
Turbulette’s imprisonment was for me a constant source of anguish, and so I often forgot to secure the latch on the door to the cage she had to share with her nemesis, Trotinette (thus named after her peculiar gate, reminiscent of a horse with clawed knobs for legs).
Trotinette and Turbulette regularly squealed like much bigger pigs, and father would threaten to roast them in the oven as he fiercely kept the + button of the volume held down as if he meant to choke the remote control. This caused John Wayne to yell French words out of sync with his placid demeanor and legendary poise.
Eventually, Turbulette passed and father wrapped her in a shiny charcoal trash bag with a piece of my bright green security blanket for a shroud. He claimed he’d bury her in the flowerbed above the underground public parking on the square, but I never found the headstone among the skimpy pansies. I did, however, catch sight of a glossy charcoal mass in the kitchen trashcan, which caused me to kneel before said trashcan for a week to mutter my Ave Marias.
Before Turbulette, there’d been countless baby turtles who lived lives short, nasty and brutish (as Thomas Hobbes had predicted for all apolitical creatures) given that my sister and I mostly exploited their leggy SOS’s to settle murky competitive battles that no amount of blood sacrifice has so far managed to settle.
There were tadpoles that Luis, the Portuguese concierge’s son and I caught at the Bois de Boulogne. They all turned into tiny frogs overnight and we spent days screaming and holding our leaping hearts every time we caught a glimpse of green motion on the apartment’s shag carpet.
Then came the puppy who didn’t stay long enough for me to recall his name (did he ever get one?) Apparently, only I enjoyed diving into the pool of piss he’d leave on the kitchen floor—but my three years and few teeth did not grant me enough weight in the family’s undemocratic decision-making process to make him stay.
After Turbulette came Stinky the cat. Stinky fell in love with my elder brother, P.H., who did not return the favor and consistently locked him in his room with all the last floor windows overlooking Lyon’s sprawling red tile roofs agape. Stinky would wail like a colicky newborn and flash his satanic eyes at my own window long after everyone else was asleep, until my knees stopped shaking enough so I could get up and let him in.
I think Stinky grew weary of us. Or else he stepped on a bad tile.
The white mice choked rather quickly on the abundant supply of cotton I provided them with. Comfort can smother, as all children of co-dependent mothers well know.
Ernest the cageless rabbit died electrocuted, taking with him the entire apartment’s wiring.
George the other cageless rabbit humped my leg unceasingly and died from fright huddled under a clawed bathtub on a stormy night in Memphis. Months later, mounds of hard round droppings avalanched from the innards of the faux-leather couch that I was taking with me, along with my painted card box furniture, to a new dwelling.
Louie the black tomcat terrorized the neighborhood dogs and my suitors. I must say I was lenient because I knew he was overcompensating for an underdeveloped sense of self attributable to deficient early bonding with a reliable caretaker. I had had to snatch him away from his family of origin rather abruptly when I found neighborhood kids daring each other to squoosh him by jumping on top of him when he was the size of my fist. A surprising after-effect was Louis’ identification with squirrels, whom he constantly tried to emulate. This confusion of identity led to countless pugilist encounters with angry blue jays, in which my otherwise fierce Louie got regularly poked on the head whenever he dozed off in the backyard. He eventually moved down the street into a home that sat on squirrel-controlled territory.
Then came Lola. One evening, I was curmudgeonly PMSing sprawled on the shaggy orange sofa, feeling sorry for myself with the growing conviction that I was coming down with some kind of flu—when my husband barged in and announced I was to get into the car, for he had a surprise. Now, my husband is a pretty temperate kind of guy. But that dreary November evening, he had this mischievous, self-contented, “let’s not waste time” glint in his eye that commanded immediate compliance. Aroused, I followed sheepishly, blue striped PJ’s and dirty pink slippers notwithstanding.
There she was, cowering in her glistening coat right by the graying pillar in front of Piggly-Wiggly next to the crooked blue cart train. Love at first sight. I approached her timidly, unused to the special touchiness of such delicate creatures. The glow in her eye spoke of skeptical neediness and distrustful encounters. She cried and peed on the carpet of the Falcon, but we didn’t mind. The sense of connectedness to that little teary, toothy, furry ball of despair: just indescribable.
For her, I have donned my Athena mail armor and spear. I will gladly rip open and tear at the viscera of any life-sucker.