My pet squirrel fell out of a tree when I was three, which seems suspect only because squirrels don’t usually have so much trouble doing what they do. But he was young, and so was I, and unsure about the idea of either death or syntax, I told people, “Scooter dived.”
In hindsight, it’s strange that a woodland creature followed my dad home from campus and set up shop in our backyard tree for weeks. When you’re three, though, you expect every living thing to be your friend. To see only the pure joy of a new pet squirrel and not wonder at its deranged state of being.
The dog I got for my birthday that year was likely to distract me from Scooter’s failed acrobatics. It worked and she was way better at climbing trees, in that she didn’t try. We already had a cat, a mean one that I was determined to win over with my charms and ear-pulling. We made excuses for her when she got old.
“She doesn’t mean it, she’s just in pain.” Pipkin, the abusive drug addict we knew and loved.
We got another cat because she kept showing up on the porch and wouldn’t leave. I may have also dressed her in doll clothes and named her “Rebecca,” but who doesn’t like to make new friends?
I had to babysit a bird when I was in high school. Not like anyone forced me to, but it was a paid gig to go to the couple’s apartment after school, open the cage and let the bird hang out for a while in the room while I watched Brady Bunch re-runs and pretended I lived on my own. I hated it. Birds make me uncomfortable, and you can’t pet them. They watch you with their mini-dinosaur eyes, blaming you for locking them up when they used to rule the earth, and then they shit in places you can’t find for at least thirty minutes.
A few years ago, I took care of my friend’s two cats in my own apartment. One of them likes people more than the other, so it and I spent the week coaxing the other one out from under various furniture. My roommates and I had a party for July 4th, so I shut them in my room to keep them safe and the less social one scratched the crap out of me for it. I also, separately, broke my toe that night, and someone put a cigarette out on my yoga mat, so the cats were pretty much a highlight.
Maybe I still expect every living thing to be my friend. Maybe it’s only the deranged ones that I take at face value. The ones that come back every day, even though I call them the wrong name. Or the ones that have trouble doing what they do. Go ahead, fall out of a tree. I’ll tell people you dived.
Unless you’re a bird. Then you’re on your own.