What follows is a well constructed memoir piece that looks at the interactions of two people…
After several years of marriage, Tim still did not have any children, even though he wished for them.
One day at the Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant, Tim and I had a quick lunch. He had a chimichanga and mine was a chicken dorito with cherry flavored Mexican tea. We tried to solve the world’s problems over lunch: dope issues of the world famous cyclist, Lance Armstrong, stock market crashes, General Motors’ troubles and Chrysler’s bankruptcy.
“I got a little baby girl,” Tim mentioned, changing the subject from gloomy world issues to family affairs.
It was hard for me to understand what he meant. He never mentioned that his wife was pregnant. When he showed affection for children and wanted to have his own kids I asked him if there was a possibility of a pregnancy soon. “My wife can no longer have a baby.” Now, clearly I was told he has a baby girl. What should I say?
“Umm, umm, congratulations,” murmuring and hesitating, I sipped my cold tea to wash down my throat and thinking what “little girl” means. I was digesting the words, “my little girl”.
His wife cannot get pregnant and so they adopted the girl? I changed the subject from “my little girl” to the stock market and told him I bought Ford stock at $1.80 per share about a year ago at the bottom price. Now it is $6. I always brag about the $1.80 per share of Ford stock, even though I bought very few shares, and also do not say that I bought it at a much higher price on other occasions. I am like the gambler who told us all the time about his winnings and never told us about his losses.
“Great! You made lots of money. A rich person like you gets richer and richer, just like the song says, ‘The rich get richer and the poor get children.’”
Tim’s serious facial expression indicated he wondered why I did not ask more questions about the girl. On my side, in order to continue our conversation, I had to buy time to think about what to ask. Avoiding his curious look, I continued, “Not really. The break even point is about $13, long way to go.” I stopped for a few minutes to talk. After washing down my food I continued, “Did you adopt her, where is she from and how old is she?”
He was quite still and yet I continued, “Adoption is not easy and takes time and money. I have heard there is lots of aggravation and you need a great deal of patience. Years ago many Korean babies came to the US through adoption.”
Tim’s face was frozen like an iceberg and I wondered if I said something terribly wrong. In order to thaw an awkward moment I wanted to change the subject to the lubricant industry trends that are our mutual interest: restricted raw materials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmentally friendly products.
Abruptly he spat out the word “Hedgehog”. In a moment he continued. “The little girl is a hedgehog.”
“Hedgehog.” I repeated exactly what he told me and repeated again, “Hedgehog?”
“We bought a hedgehog at a pet store. It’s a girl and it’s our baby.” Tim concluded his formal announcement.
I had never heard of “hedgehogs” and never saw one. Tim caught my lack of knowledge about hedgehogs and quickly took out the picture of his baby, “hedgehog”.
Ha, ha. Oh my gosh, I told myself, but I was afraid he might hear my voice.
I was totally lost. A hedgehog is a pet. Unbelievable. It cannot be a pet. We left the restaurant and he was so happy about having a pet hedgehog. In contrast, my mind was full of questions about her. What is a hedgehog?
The next day I asked Patti, my secretary, to pull information from Google about “hedgehogs”. Patti printed pictures, some stand up with rabbit’s eyes, black mouth and pink clothes and ribbons in their hair and others just sit absentmindedly.
It is amazing that she wears pink clothes.
My head was spinning with unbelievable issues. I was incapable of thinking and I had very little energy left to talk to myself. It is just my ignorance. As a pet, people own alligators, snakes, cubs and others. This is not new. It is only new to me.
“Tim, the hedgehog, what is she eating, like table food or pet food?” I asked Tim the following week over coffee. I had been holding my curiosity for a whole week.
“Oh no. She likes hamburgers and fries from White Castle.”
“Umm,” I sighed. I simply did not know what to say for a moment. I was totally lost for words, however, I was glad that at least the hamburgers and fries were not from McDonalds, which is my favorite place to get senior’s coffee, $0.65 per small cup.
“She sleeps between my wife and me, just like our little baby,” Tim continued in an exceptionally good mood.
Again I was quiet and busy looking for words to continue our conversation. Finally before our chat ended, I told him my story. “I did not have any pets in my life. Oh, I take that back. When I was in Korea our family had a watchdog for the family, not a special breed. He ate leftover food from the table and slept in the yard. We never allowed him to sleep inside the house, even during the coldest winter.” I continued, “Since I came to the USA I have four children and it was enough for me to take care of them. Actually five, including the big boy (my husband).”
“We might need a watchdog to prevent intruders when we move to the house on 20 acres of land that is isolated from the city,” I finished.
“Um. No, no. A dog cannot protect you from a thief. An alarm system is much better protection than a dog against a robbery” was Tim’s suggestion.
A couple of weeks later we sat over coffee again and the usual business items were discussed. Because of my lack of knowledge about hedgehogs, I was holding off the conversation about his little baby girl. But Tim could not keep quiet and was eager to update me about her activities.
“I thought the hedgehog felt lonely and in order to give her company we bought five small goldfish for her, but unfortunately, a couple of days later they all died. My wife’s sadness almost made her pass away,” he continued. “Kook-Wha, as you know, usually a frog lives longer than a fish, so I bought four African frogs from a pet store at $1.99 each after the fish died.”
I thought, Tim is taking care of the hedgehog’s loneliness by buying fish or frogs? I could not understand this, even if I died one hundred times and lived again one hundred times.
Tim’s enthusiasm would not let up, “A couple of days later, somehow two frogs did not have energy and stayed at the bottom of the aquarium while two were swimming around the five gallon tank.” I was just listening, listening and listening. My confusion about hedgehogs, fish and frogs was so great that I wondered whether I was living on earth or in outer space. “You know, Kook-Wha,” “Um um” was my expression. “I was terribly afraid that they would all die in the tank and so I picked them up and put them into a jar and threw the jar into the garbage dumpster in our apartment complex.”
I thought that really made sense and I told myself, Excellent job, Tim. “Tim, the hedgehog cried?” Finally there was room in my brain and I asked him with a big smile on my face.
“Kook-Wha, that is not the end. I thought of everything to take care of it. It was last night when I threw the jar with the frogs into the dumpster. I was happy that I would not have any more headaches about frogs.”
“Then?” I interrupted.
“I got a phone call at my office this morning from the veterinarian and my wife.”
“The hedgehog is sick?” I questioned him with surprise and anxiety.
“No, not the hedgehog. She is doing well.”
“Then what?” I could see his frustration and he had a couple more sips of his coffee that was getting cold and he was trying to organize his thoughts.
“I thought my wife did not know I threw the frogs away in the dumpster. The next morning she found the jar in the dumpster and warmed it with a blanket around the jar, because the frogs were from Africa, and then she went to the vet.”
I was frustrated more than Tim by controlling a burst of laughter or a mixture of strange feelings about unbelievable animal lovers’ behavior.
“The vet will charge me $2,500 for each $1.99 frog.”
“Tim, maybe just $25.00. It cannot be $2,500.00,” I comforted him.
Tim’s anger was at the breaking point, and I thought he might break the table, but he kept himself well under control. Tim did not mention the vet’s diagnosis or what the doctor told his wife. The vet running around the clinic table working on the frogs was beyond my imagination.
Tim has a very nice Harley Davidson motorcycle and whenever he has time, he rides his bike to Alaska or Tennessee from Indiana. That is one of his hobbies. When he and his wife go on summer vacation riding on the bike with the hedgehog, naturally they will put her in a small basket and have a wonderful ride.
“Kook-Wha, we will take the hedgehog when we go on vacation.”
“Sure.” No doubt, I agreed.
“My wife put her in a chest by wrapping her in a blanket.” My mouth dropped open waiting for his next sentence.
One week after the fish and African frogs were gone without becoming friends with the hedgehog, Tim bought two lobsters, blue and red, in order to eliminate the hedgehog’s loneliness. Tim thought one lobster was not enough, that two would be better. I admired Tim’s tenacity in finding company for his little baby girl.
Last night an e-mail came from Tim. Before I read it, my first instinct was, Oh, no. The lobsters died too? But, actually he made a website of his baby, “hedgehog”. His baby was wearing a pink dress. With perfect round blue eyes, she was looking at me without any fear or curiosity and with extreme happiness. I am looking at her with the exact same feelings, without fear or curiosity.