Anyone who’s had a pet will appreciate the feeling. You come home from the shelter or the breeder or wherever, with a living creature you haven’t met before. It’s nervous, you’re nervous. You’ve got the right food and water, you think, and the extra supplies (leashes, litter box, bridle, nail trimmers, terrarium, mirrors, play toys, etc) that you can predict you’ll need… but still, there in the back seat is a beating heart you didn’t know yesterday. And you’re going to need to learn how to deal with its shit. Not only that, but you’re responsible for its life, too. Oh, not every bit of the moment-by-moment stuff: that’s clearly up to it to work out. But the big arc? That’s on you, at least for a while.
Also, getting the right name can be a total bastard.
Okay, it’s not entirely like bringing home a pet. It’s something like … buying a brand new car. It’s a big investment, and you’ve either been saving up for it or readying yourself for the new and regular outlay of funds, or probably both. It’s got that new-car VOC smell that you associate with freshness and the limitless potential of the open road, but then you’re also more than a little wigged out about the number of fender-benders, rusty nails, and shopping carts out there in the world. The car’s all shiny and perfect, and all you can think about is how to minimize the damage large and small that the world’s inevitably going to bring to it.
Also, holy crap, the paperwork. Paperwork like you’ve never seen before.
Okay, maybe it’s not really all that much like buying a car. It’s been reminding me more of when my baby brother came home from the hospital. My parents had been preparing me as best they could, but of course neither they nor I knew the specifics of who this little person would be. And what I knew for damn sure was that as an infant David wailed in the middle of the night in our shared room and that I wished he would shut up once in a while and consider doing the fun things my parents had assured me a baby brother would eventually do. I would wake up in the middle of the night already chanting my mantra across the room: “David, lie down and go to sleep. David, lie down and go to sleep.” You know how weird it is to wake up in the middle of the same sentence over and over, night after night? Like that.
If you’ve ever sat down to do a really big, really challenging jigsaw puzzle with a much loved family member, there’s something a bit reminiscent of this experience there. In the very beginning, you’re looking at a jumble of bits and pieces, and you quickly find yourself consumed with tedious and picayune tasks which, if you’re concentrating hard enough to do the job well, will force you to concentrate intently and periodically stretch your back, grimacing. But then, in the absence of the box top’s guiding image, you look down and realize that you’ve pieced together a bit of ankle, and suddenly it’s the best feeling in the world. An ankle! Of course it’s part of an ankle! And best of all, now you know you should start looking for the pieces containing a foot and toes. So it’s back to the pile of days and hours, sifting and sorting until your eyes go red.
But it’s also reminding me of getting a Slinky as a christmas present, way back in the late 70’s. I would sit and watch it move, simultaneously jerky and sinuous, and I’d hold it in my hands and marvel at the feeling, so unlike anything I’d held before.
The first time I shaved, watching bits and indicators of my nascent manhood swirl in the sink. Being up to my elbows in spinning clay, throwing a pot I wasn’t sure how to complete. Signing up to be a Resident Advisor in college, learning about course selection and suicide methods and safe sex. Planting and weeding a garden, maybe? The feeling of having proposed marriage and been accepted, with all the crew boats panting past us in the background. The day you acknowledge you’re going to leave the hospital and put your feet on the ground again. The day you acknowledge your parents’ mortality, and your own. Having cooked a meal for 18 people and rolling up your sleeves to wash the dishes, knowing they’ll be eating off those dishes tomorrow morning. Putting on the costume and makeup and walking on stage under the hot lights with a booming voice you’re only pretty sure you’re ready to use. Making a mix tape for someone you think you’re falling in love with.
It’s something like that.