Susan, the world traveller, was the pet of six-year-old Kristin. Susan, the ant, was an economical and convenient companion. Susan came and went as she pleased, and also as Kristin pleased. Susan cost nothing, requited no care, feeding, grooming, currying, taking for a walk or cleaning up after. Susan did not annoy Kristin's mother. Susan made no noise. Susan did not inconveniently die while in the care of others, necessitating a discretely flushed toilet, a hastily-contrived fairy tale, a quick trip to the pet store and some fancy footwork. No matter where or when they moved, Susan came along, sharing Kristin's dinner and not even eating very much. Just a crumb of sweet was quite enough. Susan repaid Kristin's loving attention with tales of exotic wonder, which Kristin related in fulsome detail to her credulous younger sister.
Now, you might say that an ant is not much of a pet, but consider: what is a pet? A pet is a creature upon which we lavish care and attention, and what we receive in return is defined entirely by our own desires and expectations. Everything the pet is has been created by its owner. We love the pet, the pet does not love us. The pet is not capable of human affection, desires or hopes simply because it is not human at all. It's nothing more than a mirror held up before us by ourselves.
Pets need not even be truly animate. In first grade, I had a pet walnut. I toted it around in my pocket, along with the astonishing amount of little-boy junk that for some reason I deemed indispensable to everyday activity. I slept with it under my pillow, and confided to it my hopes and dreams, especially when I was feeling sorry for myself. I slept on the top bunk, and one evening my pet walnut fell to the floor and broke in half. I was heartbroken, and though my bereaved wails were largely incomprehensible to my parents, they took my loss seriously. I think I would have been a lot better off with a pet ant.
(December 22, 2005)
Susan, the World Traveller
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