It was my sophomore year in college. I was sitting around with a group of friends, and we were telling stories about our childhood pets. I shared the story of my fluffy, white bunny, Sparky.
“My parents were driving down the rode in their convertible,” I began, “and he saw his family on the other side of the road and he jumped right out of the car.”
My friends stared back at me. I repeated what I’d just said out loud in my head and my jaw dropped open. My friends erupted in laughter. I laughed along, but was also confused and angry and hurt. Why had my parents lied to me?
And then I became a mom. And my boy’s hermit crab died. Well, not right away. First the crab left his familiar shell and began the journey around his five-gallon sand filled aquarium in search of a new home.
My son was ecstatic. “He’s moving! Rocky’s moving shells!” And he was. We watched that strange little bug eyed creature (who was much cuter in his shell) drag his crusty curled tail around the tank.
An hour passed. Then several more, and Rocky was still without a shell.
“Is he ok?” Tucker asked his eyes round with concern.
I picked up the phone and called The Fish Bowl. Minutes later, Tucker and I were filling an empty beer cap with peanut butter and putting it in the tank for Rocky. “He might be tired and in need of a protein source,” the pet shop owner had said.
But the day passed, and the peanut butter hadn’t helped.
I put Tucker to bed with tears drying on his cheeks.
Later, I checked on Tucker and Rocky. Tucker was asleep, his dark lashes resting on his flushed cheeks and Rocky was in the same place but his curled tail looked cut and was oozing a clear liquid. I stared into the tank, willing that little crustacean to please just pick a shell. I moved a couple of shells closer to him and noticed how easily his body could just slide in. Then I placed a shell beneath Rocky’s tail and sort of scooped him up. He slid right in, and I carefully set the crab and shell back in the tank and went to bed.
The next morning Tucker shook me awake. “He picked a shell! Rocky picked a shell!” He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of bed to follow him down the hall. “Look,” he said and there was Rocky, in the shell, right where I’d left him. Tuck reached into the tank to pick him up. “Don’t…” I began, but it was too late. Tuck picked up the shell and Rocky dropped out.
Tucker took a step away from the tank and covered his mouth. “Is he dead?” he asked.
After my Sparky discovery, I called my parents and demanded an explanation for their lie. “Was I supposed to tell my five year old her rabbit was eaten by the next door neighbor’s dog?” My mom had asked.
“I guess not,” I had replied. “But you didn’t have to make up that lie.”
“We were just trying to protect you,” my mother had said.
And as I continued to stare into Tucker’s sad eyes, I understood.
I wanted to tell him that Rocky was just asleep. I wanted to tell him that we’d get him a new hermit crab, two new hermit crabs. I wanted to pull him into me and hold him, forever and never let him feel any pain.
Instead I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, Tucker. He is dead.”
Tucker stared down at the empty shell in his hand.
“But he picked a new shell.”
I cleared my throat. “Actually, Tuck, I put him in the shell.”
He looked up, his eyes wide with shock. “You shouldn’t have done that mom,” he said.
“I know, Buddy. I know that now.”
And I pulled my little boy into my arms and held him close while he wept and mourned the loss of his beloved pet.