Definitely Not Me
Sometimes, when I’m meeting new people, I like to tell them things about myself that would elicit more intrigue than anything I could say about my hometown or concentration. Some favorites include “I’ve never had a PB&J” and “I’m in a feud with Ethan Hawke.” (I promise I’ll discuss both of these at length in future articles.) The latter especially served its purpose as my first semester icebreaker, but it rarely worked, as not many people seem to know who Ethan Hawke is or why he sucks. But to me, the best statement in my arsenal is “My dog is a social climber.”
Normally, my conversation partner will want clarification, so I continue, explaining that I used to love my dog and that when my family first got him, he’d only hang out with me, but then he moved on to my sister, and then my father, and then ended up with my mother, and no longer spends time with me. One could extrapolate that this denotes my family’s hierarchy (a rather depressing statement about my own position), but usually the conversation moves on with my partner amused but uninterested in my relationship with my dog. But, aside from the statement’s entertainment value, I now wonder why I say it.
I don’t hate my dog; I actually used to be obsessed with animals. In elementary school, I drafted an army of stuffed animals to sleep with me so that I would be surrounded by a veritable zoo of beasts who’d never leave (that is, until I left for college, at which point I’d only managed to hold on to my beloved Blankie Bear, a creature whose name is almost too self-explanatory). I studied the dodo, the impala, the panda, each at varying stages of endangerment or extinction, and developed a crusade to protect all animals from harm. As such, I did what any normal seven-year-old would do and convinced my family to travel to the Galapagos Islands. These Ecuadorian gems are most famous for being the location of Darwin’s evolutionary studies, which included hurling lizards into the ocean (ah, science) and analyzing blue-footed boobies, marine birds with no sex appeal, contrary to what one might think. The islands had also been featured in many ecological conservation studies, so my parents saw the trip as equally exotic and worthwhile, and thus we set sail in the summer of 2006 on a voyage that mostly involved seasickness and island hopping. (I mean this literally, as one of the islands was covered in so many iguanas that we had to jump from rock to rock to avoid stepping on them.)
Though the vacation didn’t do much for my fantasies of saving all the animals, I had two key takeaways: one, Dramamine patches are placebos, and two, watching the second Austin Powers movie every night for a week doesn’t make it any better.
But in all seriousness, my love for animals was unwavering. I dreamt of running the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF for short, an acronym similar enough to WWE that my dad was able to mine the comparison for mild humor in one of our annual holiday letters) and, for years, begged my parents to get a dog. My mom was the sole protester, arguing that she would end up being the only one taking care of it, but eventually caved. She went to a breeder, looked at the available puppies and for whatever reason chose the one who tried to eat her shoelaces. And so, a young cockapoo named Rocky became part of the Stelian family.
At first, I was elated; my love of animals had finally manifested itself into something real. I had zero say in the breed (a Cocker Spaniel-Poodle mix chosen for combined cuteness and intelligence, a decision that didn’t really pay off in the latter category) or the name (Snowball and Snowy were my first picks), but I loved him all the same. Until I didn’t. The novelty wore off over time, and Rocky became a nuisance who would pee on the floor (he’s still not fully house trained) and take attention away from my childhood antics. And so, I began to neglect him. I did nothing abusive; I just had no interest in being with him or looking after him. The prophecy was fulfilled: My mom ended up bearing the brunt of the work, but in return, Rocky gave her his affection and loyalty, and the same could be said, to a lesser degree, for my sister and father, who each also loved him but had less time to devote to his care.
One weekend, while collecting canned goods for our church/cult’s annual food drive, I was in charge of walking Rocky. Frustrated that he wouldn’t budge and seeking to impress my fellow churchgoers/cult members with my strength, I held his leash with both hands and lifted Rocky up into the air, creating an image of legitimate animal mistreatment that my father says has been seared into his memory ever since. Upon realizing what I was doing, I quickly put him down, but I think that event was the proverbial nail in the coffin that doomed our relationship forever. It’s been about a decade since, and he and I have yet to address it, instead awkwardly tiptoeing around each other in the house while avoiding eye contact. Occasionally, I’ll step on his foot by accident, and I sense that in those moments, we both experience a sort of deja vu.
I don’t think much about animals anymore, and when I do it’s certainly not about how to save them. Though I used to think my adoration was indestructible, having a pet that required constant care made me realize I wasn’t all that fond of animals altogether. Rocky put me to the test, and I failed. But it’s okay, I think, because with age comes the discovery of new interests, and if the world’s horse-obsessed middle-school girls prove anything, it’s that obsessions rarely last forever. Fortunately, these days, I’ve found new crusades, the most recent of which being my efforts to save the dying art form of the self-indulgent personal essay. So far, I think I’m doing a pretty good job.