I locked myself in my room and was crying with a dead itik cradled in my hand. I was in the third grade then, about ten years old.
A classmate sponsored our giveaways that Christmas—a sandbox of ducklings that were destined for doom at the hands of their adoptive grade-school mommies. I, however, truly believed that I could raise a duckling on my own. I got two ducklings during that party and named them Huey and Dewey—after two of Donald Duck’s nephews. I had no idea if my new pets were male or female.
When I brought home the ducklings in paper bags, my dad gave me this whole speech about my new pets being better off in a swampy area, yadda yadda yadda, everywhere but in a townhouse—much less in a box in my room. Of course, being a stubborn, smart-alecky tween (“tween” wasn’t even a legit word back then), I assumed I knew better.
Like all animals that don’t bathe, Huey and Dewey eventually smelled after a few days. And like a caring but naïve mom, I bathed them with water and a little baby soap. Maybe not being in their natural environment made them weak, maybe the water made them cold, or maybe they just weren’t cut out for a life living beside toys, but Dewey suddenly limped and was gone even before his (or her?) feathers dried out.
I knew Huey tried to fight it out, but he (or she?) could only do so much as a duckling. I was holding him in my hand, trying to keep him warm, when he passed away. I cried so much then. It was my first time to feel that tight sensation in my chest, which I would only experience again many years later with a broken heart.
I hated knowing that I had no one else but myself to blame for the death of the first pets that I “acquired” on my own. Maybe that’s why I pretended to be all right, nonchalant even, when I finally left my room to tell my parents that my ducklings were gone. It was the first time I’ve ever done that—suck it all up and pretend I was A-okay. (Later on in life I would put up the same front when confronted with the most troubling dilemmas, heartbreak, and loss. It’s not as though I was in denial that my ducklings were dead or that problems existed. You know how you sometimes end up crying—or crying harder—when someone hugs you, tells you everything’s going to be okay and all? That’s what I’ve always been avoiding by refusing to show traces of worry on my face.)
If we’d had internet back then, I would’ve Googled Huey and Dewey’s symptoms and probably would’ve prolonged their lives even for just a while—or maybe simply prolonged their misery here on earth. But the day I lost Huey and Dewey, I promised to never get another pet unless I knew I was: 1) Mature enough to take care of one on my own, or; 2) Strong enough to cope with the eventual loss of one.
I would eventually take care of—and have lost—many other pets after the third grade: a dog, hamsters, countless fish, guinea pigs, a rabbit. The rabbit that I assumed was a boy (that I later on thought was a girl, until I saw him humping one of my guinea pigs), I also named Hughey—but this time around after Hugh Hefner.
Oh, and by “after third grade” I mean “almost two decades after.” Pain takes a while to get over.