As a kid, my animistic behavior and attitude towards everything was rather active. I invented a personality for everything and could empathize with anything: frustration for trees trying to grow through cement sidewalks, burning muscle aches for cars going faster than they wanted to, stomach aches listening to baby birds squawk and squawk because they didn’t know exactly where their mom was, and disdain for the doorway that bumped my funny bone.
As a kid, after seeing the movie, The Red Balloon, I made it my duty to rescue all less than fully inflated helium balloons from restaurants. When the server would ask me if I wanted a balloon I would say, of course, and then deny the big healthy one being offered and ask if I could have all of the sagging, drooping, or nearly dead ones, please. I would take them home and put them in our hall bathroom. The hall bathroom was the warmest room in the house and usually the sagging balloons would perk back up again for a day or two. This was enough for me to feel as though they were getting a fair second chance at life.
I had way too many stuffed animals as a kid. They all had names, of course, a family history and an awesome adventure story as to how they became a part of my life (I got busted for “lying” in Kindergarten over one of these stories… another post for a different day). At one point I had so many stuffed animals that I started sleeping on the floor so that they could all fit on the bed at night. Eventually my dad caught me, asked me what the hell I was doing sleeping on the floor and I explained. Our compromise was that either some of the animals had to go (not an option!) or that I had to find a way to make room for myself in my own bed. I worked out a pretty simple rotation for my animals and not one of them got any more time than any other. Teddy Ruxpin carried no priority over the Gremlin or that little Red Bear I got from my grandma on Valentine ’s Day. They were all loved and equally important to me, and this was obvious to them, I was sure.
And then there was the time I screamed bloody murder so loudly that the neighbors came running over and busted the door in to see if they should call the police when I caught my dad carving my 2 week old Halloween pumpkin.
I remember the night my dad finally drew the line with my affection towards everything. That night he came to tuck me in only to find a four foot tall two-by-four under the covers with his daughter. The wood’s name was Charlie and he was cool because he was just as tall as me. Charlie had 3 big knots: one was an eye (the other was closed so you couldn’t see it), one was a belly button, and one was a bruise on his knee. Dad found me in bed with Charlie only a few weeks after he had caught me sleeping on the floor next to a pile of teddy bears sleeping soundly all over my bed. He stayed pretty calm and simply asked, “Jesse, sweetie, why is there a large piece of lumber in your bed?”
I said, “Dad, it’s Charlie! He’s as tall as me! He’s fine, he fits. Pleeeease let me keep him. We all fit, see.”
The next morning I woke up and Charlie was gone, never to be seen again. I wasn’t terribly invested in Charlie and never really dwelled on his disappearance. Plus, with my new rock, Sylvester, weighing in at 16 pounds, covered in little petrified shells, I was all, Charlie who?
I mention all of this because I was thinking about it on Sunday while I was watching my fish swim around and around… and around, waiting for my raccoon to show up, and worrying about my avocado plant’s loss of leaves lately. I realized how much of that part of me I still carry around. With my head hanging over the pond, all of a sudden it dawned on me that Fraidy probably doesn’t even care about me. And this is most likely BECAUSE HE IS A FISH. And for a moment Fraidy became just a gold fish and that’s it. Chances are he doesn’t even have enough conscious ability to have feelings about anything, let alone me in particular. It didn’t really hurt to realize this, it was just a bummer. Like when you think you’ve made a new friend in a college class and then the class ends and you never hang out again. Well, no, it’s not really like that at all, but that sucks too. I guess the bummer is that I’m too old now to be able to re-convince myself that everything matters and that everything knows that everything matters, like I believed as a kid. Fraidy matters to me but besides the fish flakes I have to offer, it’s likely that I’m just another big object that blocks his sunlight every now and then.
Or maybe not. Maybe when he sees me his little fish heart flutters and his fish face smiles and his little fish brain thinks, “Jesse! Damn, it’s good to see you again.”