My college animal behavior class with Professor Hans. We learned about so many natural wonders – how the honeybees do their elaborate waggle dances, shimmying and swiveling in a figure 8 to give their comrades the precise location of the food source. Or how the pod of killer whales pump and pump their tail flukes in unison to create the tidal wave that beaches the ball of herring, so the whales easily slide onto the beach and snack it up before returning safely to the ocean. Or the albatrosses that fly from pole to pole, never stopping, sleeping in the air, catching the equatorial heat that carries them so high in the atmosphere we cannot see them with an unaided eye.
I loved those stories, ate them up, my mouth wide and eyes wider. I thought that this, THIS, was going to be my career.
And then this is where it started to get complicated.
What I remember most about this next part is the lab, with the giant flying cockroaches from somewhere deep in Amazonia or maybe Africa, possibly Asia. Somewhere far away where animals were of epic proportions, their antennae the length of my palm, the long rigid hairs on their legs twitching under the lab light. But even a creature that provocative didn’t deserve what came next. The instructions were: grab the cockroach, pin back its wings, and place it backside down into the super glue that you dotted. Look to the left of its carapace and stick the red electric node into the third ring up. And the blue one on the same location on the right side. Then turn the electrical nob up until you see the sodium and potassium going up and down on the screen. And keep going until you map the whole nervous system.
It was freshman year biology class, MLK weekend. I drew the short straw. It was a three-date experiment to mate drosophila. Also know as the common fruit fly, those annoying and annoyingly tiny mortals that land on your peach and banana and windowsill, sometimes circling you in a pattern only they can interpret. I spent 36 hours in the dark lab, counting the hatchlings who would quickly flare their translucent wings and take flight. My eyes blurred. Then, our instructions were to kill them. But sometimes, we delayed it by releasing them into the sub-zero South Bend winter night.
Or my Junior year anatomy and physiology class, where the crème de la crème grand finale was dissecting a cat. That came after the fetal pig, the fish, the frog, and the earthworm.
I had mostly put those experiences behind me, shoved the guilt of cruelty and experimentation for a grade into a chamber of my mind that allowed me to move forward thinking I’m a good person.
But these cockroaches, the fruit flies, the cat, pig, fish, frog, earthworms and so many more are in my dreams these days. I’m reading a novel where the characters, for fertility, eat live macaque monkey brains. I can’t unknow that this happens. These are some of the smartest monkeys, known to have reasoning skills. They understand consequences.
Just like cows like to play. And fish feel pain. And chickens like to snuggle up and fall asleep on people.
Maybe it’s time to stop doing what I’m doing.