After 30 years in their home, my parents have finally decided to move out and put it on the market. To me this felt like a complete betrayal of my entire childhood spent there. I went through a variety of emotions and feelings when I found out….
How could they just up and sell the house I grew up in?
What about the memories?
All of the feels associated with the place?
Where will we do holidays?
Am I supposed to start hosting them?
What about all of the work we put into it?
What if I want to come back in 30 years and visit the places from my childhood?
What about all of the dead animal bodies buried next to the house?
…wait, it’s not what you think…
It’s not that I collected dead animals or that was that scary, sociopathic kid that does terrible things to them. It’s just that I had a homicidal cat and a love for all fuzzy or feathered critters.
My cat regularly left me a handful of bloody gifts on the doorstep. She mostly left me shrews, with just the brains/heads and tails eaten. But she would leave them in a perfectly straight line, sometimes in order of size, on the doorstep. So if you weren’t looking in the morning, the first step out the door you took left you squishing the carcasses of fallen rodents into the welcome mat… It was less than pleasant, especially when you were barefoot.
It shouldn’t have been surprising… It was a regular occurrence. And yet, for some reason I was always startled by the sound of squishing guts and crunching bones under my feet. But I suppose it would be weird if that was a sound I was accustomed to…
Anyway, being the animal-loving kid that I was, I made it a point to gather up the cat’s daily offerings and give them an appropriate send off. By which, I mean that I taped together popsicle sticks, straws, q-tips, or pencils, and dug tiny, individual graves for each dead shrew. When it appeared that some of the shrews were families (mothers and babies), I made it a point to bury them together. I was sure that this was the right thing to do.
I brought out stuffed animals and toys and held little funerals for hastily named rodents. Of course, I never bothered to commit any of their names to memory, as I never really knew them in life and I always thought it would be kind of weird to visit their graves and address them by their first names like we were old friends. Instead, I approached it like a business arrangement. I was doing them a service, and as the local animal undertaker, I would address my clients as Mister or Missus Shrew. Plus, I never had to worry about getting the names wrong.
Eventually my little animal graveyard had to expand to fit the beta fish my cat killed, the multiple dead birds, a dead hamster, and the always present dead shrews. I added a decorative garden fence to give the cemetery a more official feel. I regularly placed flowers on graves and spoke with the deceased residents, because everybody needs a little comfort, right?
I finally grew out of this morbidly compassionate stage some time around 7th grade. I took down what decaying headstones I had left, removed the decorative fencing, and stopped delivering the flowers. Occasionally I would wander through the area and feel a sense of guilt. Like I was neglecting my caretaker duties and my dead friends knew it. I still added new residents, but instead of individual graves and cardboard coffins, they got dumped into mass, unmarked graves like mousey version of Auschwitz. A part of me felt like these poor animals deserved better, another part felt like I would be outcast from polite society if anybody ever found out about my personal, little animal graveyard.
Now it’s quite some time later and new people are looking at moving into my childhood home. I’ve come to terms with the fact that it will no longer be “home” to me, and that’s okay because it hasn’t been “home” in a few years. But I can’t help but wonder if the next family will accidentally uncover my bizarre little collection of animal death… Will they even notice? Will they write it off as a bizarre coincidence? Will they attribute it to local predators? Or will they find some decaying cardboard coffin, filled with a bed of dried flowers, and the mummified body of a headless shrew? Will it still read “Here lies the body of Mr. Mortimer Shrew”, scrawled in an obvious child-like handwriting?