i can look back now & put my finger onto an exact moment with brooke when i first realized that she's very different from me. from most people, maybe. it was a day when she was 2 or 3 & she had a hamster named bitsy. brooke had always been very careful to keep her bedroom door shut when we weren't around, to prevent our cat from stealthily creeping into her room & killing the hamster through the bars of its cage when we weren't looking. i was pretty impressed that she was thoughtful & responsible enough to bother doing that, even when she was so young.
one day, we went to the mall for a couple hours & when we came home, i found bitsy, dead in her cage. the door had been closed, so she didn't have a cat-induced heart attack or anything; i guess she'd just reached the ripe old hamstery age of 18 months & keeled over. i was standing there, looking into the cage at the dead rodent, trying to think quickly before brooke came into the room about how best to dispose of it. i didn't relish the thought of picking it up & putting it into a box. i debated going into the kitchen for a spoon, but then i'd have to throw the spoon away because i'd never want to eat off it again, so i chucked that idea. maybe a mini pulley system of some sort... i was standing there, lost in thought when brooke came romping into the room & hopped up on a chair beside me to look at what i was looking at. i told her as gently as i could that bitsy had died while we were shopping & maybe we should bury her. her eyes welled up with tears for a minute & then she looked at me hopefully & said, "can i have her?" i started to tell her that now that she was dead, we wouldn't exactly be keeping her any more, but she interrupted me & said, "no, no! can i hold her & touch her?!" i hesitated because i didn't want dead varmint germs on my hands & i certainly didn't want them on my baby's hands either, but then again... if she picked bitsy's carcass up, then i wouldn't have to figure out how to get it out. so i let brooke reach in & gently lift bitsy's lifeless body out & cradle it in the palm of her tiny little hand. she rubbed the hamster's open eyeballs, spread out its toenails, rubbed the little fingers, petted the belly. i was totally creeped out, but she was just mesmerized by this tiny dead creature's body. she would have rubbed her lips on bitsy's fur, but i had to draw the line there. fingers only, no lips!
we finally put bitsy into a little bitty shoe box on top of a tiny doll blanket. brooke covered her with a tissue & then put a picture of herself into the box so bitsy would always be able to remember her. then i repeatedly washed both our hands in scalding water for good measure. the next day daddy dug a hole in the backyard & we buried her without ceremony.
i think this was a turning point in my perception of my girl. it was a very clear statement of how she has her own individual thoughts & ideas. since then, we've interacted with numerous dead things. we saw a dead armadillo on a road in our neighborhood, which was completely random since they don't really live around here & she begged for a closer look, so when we went past it the next time, i found a parking spot & we walked over to check out the rotting, stinking flesh of an armadillo. i never knew they were so hairy! we went home & googled it to figure out what kind it was & where its natural habitat should be. brooke was in kindergarten at the time, so we turned it into a science lesson.
we had a lovely encounter with a bird that my parents' dog brought over to me after it crashed into a window & died. brooke got a chance to spread out its wings & feel the talons & skinny little legs of that sparrow. she opened & closed the beak & reached in through the feathers to feel the skin underneath. that was when i realized that it wasn't a macabre fascination with dead things that she was experiencing, it was a love of wildlife! she wanted desperately to get close enough to touch & examine & learn about any living critter, but when a wild animal is alive, it won't ever just sit there & let you poke & prod its body. you'll never get to rub the eyeball of a live hamster, so if you wonder what they feel like, you have to get your hands on a dead one.
i stopped being distressed about it after the experience with the bird. she picks up dead fish at beaches, dead bugs from the driveway & yesterday she scooped up a dead mole she found in the yard. she examines & rubs them & learns whatever their bodies will tell her. we even attempted to dissect her pet frog when it died a few months ago. we didn't have the proper tools & a box cutter wasn't exactly the right instrument for delicate cutting, but it was interesting to see how strong the bones of a tiny aquatic frog are, even in death.
so carry on, little carcass caresser, carry on.