Growing up, I had a lot of strange pets. We were the family that took in everything. Find a possum, or a duckling, or a mole? Bring it to that house. They already have a skunk, a pair of cats, snakes, guinea pigs, and a dog. Everyone knows that they’ll take in anything.
We took in everything and everyone. My mother’s Catholic mandate to treat every stranger as if s/he might be the Jesus extended to animals. To this day, I accept whatever animals come to me. I don’t believe in the Jesus, but I do, very much believe in that mandate.
We called her Mrs. BeeBee. I don’t know why. Compared to many of our pets, Mrs. BeeBee was boring. She was a simple, wonderful, brown gerbil, and she lived with us for almost four years.
I was five when I met her. I learned to carefully hold her, and to pet her little nose, and to stroke her back and her little tail, without pulling it. She liked me, and she liked my little brother too. Mrs. BeeBee liked people in general.
Mrs. BeeBee was also sort of slutty. She had a lot of babies, with several different baby-daddies. We never judged her for that, and the baby-daddies never cared much for their offspring. Gerbils are total deadbeat dads. We gave the babies to a local pet store that distributed them as pets.
By the time I was eight, Mrs. BeeBee was an old lady gerbil. She’d gone blind, and had long since stopped having babies. She still liked us though, and we held her every day.
I had a cat, Tabby. I named him myself, and I was, as you’ve surely already noted, a pet-naming genius. Shockingly, he was a tabby cat. He had FIV, and no immune system. I adored him, and my parents did everything in their power, maxing out their credit, for years, to keep him alive.
We only lived in that house for three months. There was a mother-in-law house behind it, rented to a young couple who sold drugs. Our place was falling down and the yard was infested with mini slugs. We literally had to squash them to step out of the door. They layered the yard. There was an upstairs in that house, but except for one room, it had no floor, just beams. We weren’t supposed to play on them, but we did, all the time. It was the only place we ever lived that had two stories, and we were enamored by the upstairs. Besides, we loved climbing shit.
I don’t remember why we were away that evening. I only remember the aftermath.
The gerbil cage had been knocked over, and Mrs. BeeBee was nowhere to be seen. I found them first. Tabby was crouched in front of my bed, in my bedroom, looking sleek and feral. He was a very handsome cat. Mrs. BeeBee was under the bed. She was facing him, in a standoff. I’ve had a number of gerbils since then. I like gerbils. But I’ve never heard one make that noise.
Neither had Tabby. I don’t know how long they’d been facing off. I do know animals, and I know that he was settled into that crouch. They’d been there awhile. Mrs. BeeBee was blind, old, and had nothing to lose. She’d turned her rodent self toward the predator she couldn’t see and unleashed all of her crazy.
Tabby was a mighty hunter. Over the years, he caught all sorts of things, from voles to rabbits. But he didn’t know how to stand up to an old, blind gerbil with no fucks to give.
I was bullied a lot as a kid, and bashed a lot as a young adult. I only took up boxing at 21. I’m not a bad fighter, now. But I learned to fight because I’d been fronting for years, and was terrified of the day when someone called my bluff. For many years, I stood up to people whom I knew I couldn’t successfully fight. I just turned myself toward the predator and unleashed all of my crazy.
Now, I understand why that worked. At the end of the day, bullies will chase you under the bed. They expect you to run, to cower. They don’t have a plan for the crazy, for the hopeless, for the stand and fight because you’ve got nothing to lose. Now, I can fight, but that’s not why I can stand up for my friends. In spite of my aging and my physical issues, I can still, often, back an abuser off because I’m that old, blind gerbil, with no fucks to give. Bullies can see that. And it terrifies even the very mightiest of cats.