I was only 8, and I killed you.
I am sorry.
I remember the journey to the small mall in Scarborough. I was with both my mom and dad and my older brother. I don’t think that mall is there anymore. You were my first real pet. My own. We looked at hamsters and guinea pigs, but for some reason, it was you, the gerbil I was drawn to. I think it was your tail that did it for me. There was something more elegant, more graceful about the tail of the gerbil than the stubbiness of a hamster tail. It seemed dignified and graceful. We picked you out and brought you home. Your home was in my room, in an old aquarium where fish once swam. A gerbil, you, were so much cooler than the fish. Sure, watching the colourful little things swim around was fun…for a little while. But what can an 8 year old do with a fish rather than feed them and watch them swim in endless circles. The novelty soon wore off. You were a grown up pet.
I may not have always treated you as well as I could have. I did love you though. At times I didn’t change your water quite often enough. Maybe I didn’t clean your cage as much as I should have. But I did love you. I’d lie in bed at night and be reassured by the small scratching sounds I could hear coming from beside the closest where you lived. The woodchips in which you slept gave my room a sweet smell. A smell of the out of doors. I’d even hold you. Your small nails tickling my hands and my arms. You were the first thing to teach me responsibility, to teach me how to care for another. You also taught me that sometimes terrible mistakes happen, mistakes that can have amazingly huge consequences.
Eventually my mom and dad let me let you out of your cage. Since you were so adept at squeezing into small spaces, flattening your body in such a way it was questionable where your insides went we had to make sure you couldn’t get out of my room. So instead of simply closing my door, we put a piece of plywood in front of the open door. We thought you would be safe. You’d run around, having a great time. I’d watch you closely, making sure you didn’t disappear into some recessed area in my room, or squish yourself between the books in my bookshelf. But, one day you got out. Somehow you found a crack around my door, and snuck in the hallway. I remember my dad on the phone to my uncle. They were both teachers. It was Labour Day. First day of third grade was the next day. I panicked slightly when you snuck out, but I also found it humourous watching you scurry around the hallway. You were free, and you knew it. I stepped over the plywood, and scurried after you, desperately trying to scoop you up. It was almost a game. But then, you went so fast. I lifted my foot to take another step, and as it lowered to the ground, you ran under it. I still remember the awful mix of the softness of your fur, the flexibility of your body and feeling the hardness of your bones. You turned over on your back, convulsing. I remember screaming for my dad to get off the phone. He didn’t know what had happened. He quickly got a towel and picked you up gently Jasper. He took you, a wee creature to the emergency vet, on Labour Day. Most parents would not have gone that far. Most would have found another way to put you out of your misery. My dad treated with the compassion you deserved. He ensured you were put down in a humane and respectful way.
Starting grade three the next day, I was a little less child than I had been at the beginning of the previous day. Bad things happen. We sometimes make mistakes that can have big consequences. You taught me to grieve, to understand the fragility and sacredness of life. And for that I thank you. And I truly am sorry.