I Remember Jimby

Saturday, September 07, 2002

I'm almost afraid to write this because the subject has had such an impact on me. Do I have the necessary skills to even begin to describe what happened? Probably not, but there is no one else that can do this job, so I must be the one to do it.

A terrible tragedy has befallen our family. A member of our family has died a terrible death. I got the phone call while at work, immersed in problem solving. One person after another left my office with satisfactory solutions, and the pace had been intense all day. Now I was confronted with one problem I could not solve. My day ground to a halt. I felt incapacitated. Inept. All the guilt of not being there to save a life, even when there was no reason I should have been there. Even when there would have been nothing I could have done, had I been there. I was a victim of the situation like everyone else. I was the least victimized.

Jimby had been a good friend to us. He had his own personality, of course. He made noise at night when Johnny had an important test the next day. He didn't sit still when all you wanted to do was hold him. Sometimes he wouldn't wake up when it was time to play, and he never cleaned up after himself. Yet he was happy. He was always willing to explore a new surrounding, and never complained when he was disturbed from whatever it was he might have been doing. He was our responsibility, and he trusted us.

I remember the time Jimby had become very sick. He could barely walk. His legs would quiver and his head would bob up and down because he was too weak to hold it steady. There was no explanation from him, and his condition deteriorated quickly. One more day and he surely would have died. There was only one thing I could think of that might be the problem. Patiently I dropped water into his mouth. At first, so weak, he just sat there with his eyes closed. Then he swallowed and accepted another drop. That was it. An hour later, another two drops, and by the end of the evening a few more. When he accepted a morsel of food I knew that he was going to be okay, if we were vigilant. Sure enough, after overcoming almost complete dehydration, he was his old, energetic self again, tearing up his environment and loving every minute of it. Just call me "Doctor."

That incident, more than anything else, cemented the bond I had with Jimby. Probably nobody ever knew, but I loved him as much as anyone else. He was now my responsibility, mine to rescue from emergencies that no one else could handle. I sometimes checked on him when he was sleeping, just for the personal satisfaction of knowing that he didn't have to care. Everything was going to be just fine.

Jimby the gerbil slipped out of Johnny's hand and performed his usual manoeuvre, diving into the nearest recess he could find. On this fateful day it was the behind the cushion on the living room couch. Johnny was in personal conflict. Jimby had escaped and must be returned, but Mary was sitting right there. How could Johnny admit that he had let Jimby crawl under her, to where he wasn't supposed to be? Finally he made the right decision and told her. Was it too late?

Mary, Johnny, and Peter pulled all the cushions off in search of the little rascal who was surely going to chew the furniture to bits over the next month while everyone waited helplessly for his return. Johnny spotted his little tail just about to slip into the dark, inaccessible folds before them. He grabbed quickly, but his hand returned with but a few strands of hair from Jimby's tail. Since Mary could still see him, she got a good hold of him by his sides and pulled. He sure was holding on tight! The harder she pulled the harder he held on.

Truth be told, he was stuck. How I wish Mary had realized that. Jimby finally came out, but he was not the same. They returned him to his cage, and after breathing a few more breaths, he died.

The children were crestfallen. They screamed their hurt out loud. While Johnny continued to wail for a time that never seemed to end, Peter became sullen and sequestered himself in his room. Door closed, and whimpering, tears still on his cheeks, he drew a picture of Jimby and taped it crudely to his wall. It's the most beautiful picture in the world. I can hardly stand to look at it. I am crushed. I'm no longer grieving for Jimby, who lived a short, but fulfilling life. I have experienced, first hand, the depth of my children's love, though it was not directed at me, nor was I even present. It's my love for them that is a conduit of emotion. It flows directly from them to me, no matter where or when any of us are. Their loss is more mine, multiplied by a thousand.

Johnny has chosen blame, meted out by himself, on himself. We tell him over and over that accidents happen, that sometimes God's creatures die and it's nobody's fault. As a family we have accepted that there is no blame required. I think he can live with the truth, and he is happy once again. He and Peter are bouncing about this morning, huge smiles on their faces, ready to be tickled without a moment's notice, and laugh that belly laugh that only a child can produce. Jimby has been gently laid to rest in the back yard, the new Jimby, and his brother Jibby are inflicting their own unfamiliar personalities on us, and our family has grown.