>>> The Rollercoaster of Drama
By staff writer Simonne Cullen
January 2, 2005

The most difficult consequence of going away to college is the daily guilt you're faced with, knowing you've left something rather important behind. Actually, the guilt you're feeling is knowing that this “something” is sitting around your house right now, wondering where you are and if you're coming home to play because it misses you terribly. Sometimes when you think about it you just want to cry, because while there are a lot of things we all miss about home, ultimately the entity we miss the most is our pet. And because companionship in college is hard, some people turn to their plants, some people buy beer, some people use vibrators, and still others turn to pets…the last of which concerns me the most today for a change.

Just thinking that someone is home wondering where you are, where you've been, and when you're coming back to feed it under the table and play fetch with is enough to make even the coldest of hearts warm up with tears. It's the one thing you can't take with you, that you have to leave behind—not only because you're housing won't allow it, but when you're puking and hooking up, you don't want your beloved childhood pet to see you like that. You'll be home for break and make it up to him then.

During my underclassmen years whenever my mom called she used to put the phone up to the dog's ear and let me talk to him. And of course I was more than obliged to do so, but after the excited “Hi! Hi! How's my little puppy? How's my little puppy? I miss you. I miss you so much!” you have to kind of scream at your mom to get her back on the phone, and she's always so shocked you didn't talk to him longer. “You're done already? I thought you would have had a lot more to talk about.” What? It's a one-sided conversation mom, and I'm repeating everything twice kind of like when I'm talking to dad and he's trying to watch the game, only it's more rewarding.

I'm just wondering, is there anyone out there who asked the most common question to their parents when they were younger and, “Can I have a dog?” was actually answered with a “Yes! Let's go pick one out!” Because over the past week I've been talking to my friends, and they all got “No's,” immediately followed by the “a dog is a lot of responsibility lecture.” Yeah, well a kid is a lot of responsibility too—don't tell me you didn't see this question coming when I was in the womb. You're the one who should have come into this parenthood thing better prepared in the pet education department.

There's always someone who tries to sneak their cat into the dorm. Even though I am a dog person and don't really care for cats, I understand the bond between owner and pet. But goddamn if you don't take care of that litter box daily it smells like gravel and poop. And the smell infiltrates the entire hall. And then there's always the threat of ringworm if you're not anal about cleaning, and then you're known as the smelly cat girl. But if you're good about keeping things clean the kitty is a great way to make friends because everyone will want to see it—even dog lovers will want to see the kitty and attempt to play fetch with it. But kitties don't bring the toy back they just smack it with their hand. Stupid kitties.

The college years are also a time when your childhood pet gets kind of old. But even though he walks a little slower, breathes a little heavier, and may need some help getting up the stairs, as soon as he sees you he's so excited he can't holds his bladder and pees all over himself. And that's okay because doggies are always puppies and cats are always kittens and they all live forever. Because there is nothing funny about a pet dying. Unless that pet is a fish.

The obsession with owning a beta fish is out of control. Everybody wants one because let's face it, the plant hanging out of a vase with a pretty fish expertly weaving in and out of the roots look pretty cool. But when I see someone spend twenty minutes at Wal-Mart picking out just the right one with just the right colors I just want to scream at them. “Pick the blue one and move on! It's going to die in a couple days anyway because this is an impulse purchase and you really don't know how to take care of it anyway, but for three days whoever sees it in your room will think “wow cool” and go out and buy one too. It amazes me beta fish aren't listed on the endangered species list the way we all go through them so quickly.

I purchased my first beta fish the first week my junior year. And all of my roommates played a part in its ultimate demise. Naively believing it was going to make it to Christmas I named it Toby. Toby made it to day three. I knew nothing about Beta fish and consulted the roomies who never owned one either. One said to let hot water sit for a couple days to let the chlorine out. The other said that if the water was cold enough the chlorine wouldn't effect it. The other one said “Simonne, fill the water to the top and stick the plant in. It's a fish. It doesn't need air.” All three of them are academically brilliant, but when it comes to fish, all they know is how to end life swiftly. Twenty minutes into arctic, supposedly chlorine-free water with no air later, Toby was dead. I was so mad at myself for listening to them that I went back to Wal-Mart and bought Toby II—who after a week was quickly followed by Toby III and Toby VI. I got sick of cleaning out the vase and got some roses to put in it instead. I'd like to think the flowers were from Toby V who was just showing some appreciation for sparing his life.

And maybe it's just the beta fish that die off quickly because there are some people who don't go through fish as quickly as everyone else. One of these owners with staying power is my roommate Andrea. She has this amazing ability to keep a goldfish alive for five years, but her beta fish have the tendency to die in seventy-two hours just like everyone else's. The thing about a fish lover is that no matter how long they owned the fish they get really broken up about it when it dies. Like none of us can flush it unless she gives it the green light and then it's always followed by a brief prayer ceremony. She's coming home from winter break today and the filter on the beta fish tank broke while we were gone and now the fish is dead on the bottom of the tank collecting (I kid you not) what looks like mold around its decaying body. It's going to be a couple of Hail Mary's for Malibu. We decided to just name the fish after booze so we could remember them better.

Why at parties do people insist on putting booze in the fish tank? Every party someone puts a little bit of beer in our tank. Do they think that fish is going to get drunk and start swimming into the tank wall? It does that anyway. It doesn't need the booze to help it out.

Guys tend to stay away from the fish, but if they do own any sea creature it's a piranha or two. Piranhas are the new dog in college. If you have piranhas, girls will constantly be dropping by your room to see if it's feeding time or just to see the guys stick in a Barbie leg and watch the fish try to chew it up. I'm telling you I've seen it work and it has a hundred percent return every time.

Still others who don't want to spend that much money on tank equipment will go an alternate route: bunnies. Bunnies are always popular but they smell and sometimes cause allergic reactions. They hump each other a lot so that's entertaining for about five minutes before the chicks leave to go see the 3:15 feeding in the piranha room. Ultimately, no matter which animal you choose to be your companion, just make sure to give it a lot of love—and if it's a fish, one flush to get it down and another for the road.

By the way, one of my best friends wanted me to mention that there are vibrators with animal themes like Hello Kitty and Snoopy that could provide some companionship. You should give them a lot of love too.