2/10/09

Death of a hermit crab


This summer on a trip to the Jersey shore my mother (known as Meema) took Edie to the five-and-dime on Main street and returned with two hermit crabs in a plastic carrying case. This is how we came to be in possession of Lila and Jed--one pink, one blue--named after my friend Elizabeth's twin babies. The hermit crabs were extensively played with until Jed pinched Edie on the lip one night as she was kissing him, after which she was much more cautious, despite still proclaiming her love for her "pets." (I use pet loosely as, all things considered, crabs don't require much care or interaction.) They went to school for Show and Tell and generally skittered around or spent hours asleep, burrowed in the corner of their aquarium.

Last week I went to rinse Jed off in the sink to give him a cleaning and he slipped out of his shell, obviously dead. I've never been afraid of bugs or snakes or the like, but there is something about an unprotected hermit crab that gives me the willies like I've never experienced. Even before Jed died, anytime it seemed as if he was emerging too far, I'd start to shake. I even had unsettling dreams about groups of crabs coming out of their shells. I'm sure it's a symbolic reaction that causes such a visceral sense of disgust in me--their unprotected, vulnerable bodies are too much to bear. I quickly put Jed in a bowl, transferred him to a plastic baggie, stuck him in the freezer and waited three days for the right time to inform Edie.

I found my moment when June was asleep but no activities were planned; I was prepared for tears and didn't want to break the news too close to bedtime. I told Edie I had some something sad to tell her and came right out with it--she started bawling and sat in my lap for about ten minutes, crying over her poor little crab. I must say I ached for her--the sincerity with which she loved Jed and was worried about Lila being lonely was quite beautiful. Once she calmed down she was very curious: How did I know he was dead? How did he die anyhow? She asked to see him and I told her he would look different to prepare her. She was quite scientific and matter-of-fact about the physical aspect of it all. When June woke up Edie assumed the expert role: June, Jed is dead, he's never coming back, do you want to see him? He's gone forever. We're going to put him in the ground when it gets warmer so he can feed the trees.

That night Edie decided she wanted to make me an early birthday card. She told me to write out the following so she could copy the words: "Dear Mama, happy birthday, I love you so much, you're the best Mama but I'll miss you when you're dead." I opened it this morning, the words overlapping on the page.

Heartbreaking and hilarious, as so much of parenting is.

6 comments:

Heidi said...

What an endearing, lovely story. I have never heard of a hermit crab being sold at a five and dime, in a painted shell. New one for me.
Happy Belated Birthday to you.

lost and lorn said...

Hi-

I guess your work is in a show that's coming to an art gallery/venue that my friends run in Johnstown. A link to your website was posted on our message board, and I just looked at everything, and well--you're great.
There's a stillness. There's perfection in the stillness you see. It's great. I look forward to seeing your work in the show and checking out your blog.
-Emmy Volkar

Elizabeth Fleming said...

Thanks Heidi :) There are cages full of hermit crabs at the store, some of them have American flags, or Sponge Bob, or rainbows, it's kind of sad and strange...

And Emmy I'm very flattered, wish I could see the show in person! Glad you found me.

adayintheweek said...

Brought a tear to my eye, beautiful story.

anniefleming said...

Werner Herzog has a fear of crabs. Geniuses think alike.

anniefleming said...

Werner Herzog has a fear of crabs, which can be seen in many of his movies. Geniuses think alike.