It's hard for me to think back on my life without remembering the animals who kept me company throughout it all. So when Vocal challenged us to create a personalized soundtrack to our lives, my mind kept wandering to the small handful of pets I had the luxury of having. Rather than fight this idea, I decided to embrace it.
I believe a good portion of my life can be told through vignettes from every pet I've ever had. So this playlist is a series of six songs, which all represent a phase of life, a lesson, and of course, a pet.
Rainbow: Little things can mean a lot
In elementary school, a neighbor gave me my first pet as a birthday gift. He was a spunky, purple beta fish with a lust for death, so I named him Rainbow.
Rainbow loved his fish pellets more than life itself. He was best known for getting so excited about his dinner, that upon seeing the fish pellets appear over his tank, he would leap out of his fish bowl and fall onto the carpet. My precious memories of Rainbow include learning choice words from my father, as he scooped the flopping purple fish off the carpet and back into the fish bowl.
My dad and I were so attached to this fish, that when a bad winter storm left us without power for days, we brought this fish with us to a hotel, because we didn't want the poor thing to get cold.
He ended up living for 3 years, and the day he died I cried the entire next day of school. I was sensitive enough to mourn my little friend, and old enough to understand death to mean that my leaping little companion would no longer be waiting for me when I got home from school.
So to honor and celebrate my first pet (and to begin the playlist of my life in pets), I wanted to pick a song that captured the innocence of loving a little fish dearly, and s song that captured the sweet nostalgia of Elementary School. So for Rainbow, I picked the song, Rainbow Connection, from the Muppet Movie.
Licorice: Parents might do questionable things out of love
So, despite my parents' uncertainy, I convinced them to get another beta fish. My dad and I loved Rainbow, and in my young mind, another fish was the key to not feeling sad.
So we got Licorice, a vibrant red beta with a vacant expression and decidedly less spunk. But things with Licorice didn't quite go smoothly. After a few months, he got sick. His vibrant red faded, and he started acting different. In only a year, he passed away.
I didn't think much more about Licorice until ten years later, sitting at dinner with my parents. We were idlly chatting about our two beta fish, when my sweet mother made the offhand comment, "And Licorice, how many times did we have to replace him?"
Forks dropped, "What?"
Yes, it wasn't until I was in high school that the dirty truth was revealed. The real Licorice only lived for two months. But after how I had reacted to Rainbow's death, my parents were desparate to protect my sensitive little heart. So it turns out that there were a total of three Licorices who lived in our tank. And the slight changes in color and behavior were not because "he was sick" or because "we changed his food," but because it was a different fish entirely.
My mother even told me the story about how one of the Licorices had died before I came home from school. So she reached into the tank, flipped the belly-up fish back the right way, and propped him against some fake seaweed to buy my dad time to replace him...
Turns out, Licorice only "died" when Walmart ran out of red beta fish.
It's a funny, albeit a little dark, story in hindsight. My parents just wanted to protect me, and both went to somewhat extreme lengths to keep me from losing another fishy friend. So in honor of them, and the clan of Licorices who kept me company, I chose "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.
(And no, we never got another beta fish after Licorice the third.)
Muffin: ...sometimes parents will give you emotional damage
So let's return to Middle School.
As an early birthday gift, my cousin gifted me with a guinea pig. To ensure I was a responsible pet owner, my cousin handed me a small handful of pamphlets and magazines about guinea pig care. I was not allowed to have this guinea pig until I read all the materials and passed her quiz. I obliged these requests, and brought home a calico guinea pig who I lovingly named Muffin.
However, my parents were less than thrilled about this arrangement.
And its turns out, Muffin didn't like them either. She bit and scratched them. Using my newly acquired guinea pig knowledge, I tried to convince my parents that Muffin was acting out because she was lonely. Guinea pigs are social creatures, and it is best to have more than one.
My parents did not take this bait, and instead, decided to rehome Muffin.
The kicker of this story is that they chose my birthday as the proper day to rehome her.
So yeah, imagine waking up on your birthday to find your new furry companion is missing.
Thanks Mom & Dad.
So for this entry of the playlist I wanted to pick a song that both honored of the fierce and violent Muffin and captured the general angst of an angry tween whose parents got rid of her guinea pig on her birthday. I want to tell you that this would be a difficult balance to strike... but in actuality this was one of the first songs I knew I wanted to include in this playlist.
To celebrate Muffin, I chose "Animal I have Become," by Three Days Grace.
I'll add that this decision was heavily inspired by this (very accurate) Twitter meme.
Chip: You'll never forget your first love
In the background of all of those previous stories, my family had another pet: A rescued Shih Tzu mutt named Chip. We adopted him shortly after I got Rainbow. He was terribly sick when we got him, and my mother carried him and nursed him back to health in those first days. Because of this, she was his favorite (but I'd like to believe that I was at least #2 in the rankings).
Someone once told me that Shih Tzus were bread to be warm and fuzzy foot rests for the rich. While I don't know if that's true, Chip embodied the personality of a foot rest. He followed you from room to room and wanted nothing more than to lay near you and get occasional pets.
He was a sweet, mellow old man. Always affectionate and always grateful for company. Throughout the ups and downs of adolescence, he was always waiting for me at home. His presence was a comforting, stable constant in my youth. Despite a few medical issues, Chippy held on until I was mostly through High School. And for that I'm grateful.
I don't think you'll ever forget your childhood dog. Even over ten years after I told him goodbye, I find my eyes lingering anytime someone walks a Shih Tzu with a similar coat. Chip was my buddy, and he will always have a special place in my memories.
So to honor my favorite little guy, I chose the song, "Old Man" by Neil Young.
Piper: Change will always feel different
When it came time for me to go away to college, my parents found themselves sitting in the empty nest. Without me, my brother, or Chip, their house became a lot quieter. So in the first semester of my freshman year of college, my parents rescued a small black lab mix named Piper (affectionately nicknamed "Pie").
I think that they were hoping for another dog like Chip, but instead, they probably couldn't have picked a dog more different. Where Chip was scared of anything that squeaked, Piper could tear apart a squeaky toy in 5 minutes flat.
If Chip was a mellow old man, Piper was a wild child. She did things that we didn't realize dogs could do - things like climbing into the dishwasher to lick food off plate, stealing any baked goods gifted by neighbors, flinging teddy bear tatters into the air... But I too was a wild child with a new taste of College-provided freedom, so Piper and I were kindred spirits. My parents didn't know what to do with either of us.
But isn't that just the way these things go? The more you expect something to stay the same, the more they change. Piper was never going to be the same dog as Chip, and college was going to change me. The only constant in life is change, so its far better to go through it while appreciating the differences. Piper is a sassy firecracker of a dog, but she is also loyal and smart and affectionate. College did change me, but it turned me into a more confident and free-spirited individual.
Even though she is technically my parent's dog, I still consider Piper to be my dog as well. And for her, I dedicate the song "Maniac," by Michael Sembello.
In my first year of graduate school, I adopted my very first cat, Navi. She had been dumped outside by her previous owners and rescued by a professor at my university. When I brought her home, she hid from me the entire day.
I did some research about cats, and saw the advice that to help a cat get comfortable, you should leave all the doors open at night, when they would feel safer exploring the new environment. So even though I was feeling a tad discouraged, I opened all but the front door and went to bed.
What I didn't anticipate, however, was that Navi would take the opportunity to come into my room and sleep curled up next to my belly. It was the moment I knew I would love this cat. And we continued like this so a good few months. She would hide from me during the day, and then come sleep next to me at night.
Eventually, Navi warmed up to be an incredibly sweet and affectionate companion (who didn't hide). She is laying on my lap even as I write this. I've had her for about 5 years now, and she has been by my side for some of the grandest ups and incredible downs of my life. She watched me pop champagne after defending my Master's thesis, she kept me company during pandemic isolation, she greeted me after I got married, and sat with me when I grieved.
She makes me smile, every day of my life, and I'm truly grateful for her. So for my sweetest girl, I am choosing to close off this playlist with the song, "You're My Best Friend," by Queen.
I've always believed that animals provide a special kind of comfort in our lives. That every moment where I had a cat, dog, or fish by my side was made better because of it. It's lovely to look back at all the stories and moments in time, from kindergarten to Grad school.
Nothing is perfect. People make mistakes. Things change.
But your pet will always love you.