I’ve always had a fascination with slow creatures: sloths, caterpillars, manatees, animals that are so obstinately slow, they defy natural selection by their continued existence. I feel a kinship with them. When I see a slow lorris reach out for a peanut with laborious intensity, its eyes bugging out of its little skull, its spindly fingers outstretched, I think to myself: I understand you. When I see a manatee with long scars from a boat propeller along its back, floating with uncompromised obliviousness, I think: we are the same. When I see a hippo lay down for a nap even as a pack of lions gnaws on its hindquarters, I think: that’s my butt in their mouths.
I think it started in fifth grade biology, when I was assigned the project of caring for a snail. The snail came in a little plastic terrarium, and each student received a spray bottle to keep its environment moist and swampy. In a few weeks, we’d be graded on whether we’d murdered our snails through negligence or nurtured them with the care and attention requisite to a doting snail poppa. When I got home, I filled the terrarium with grass and twigs to approximate its natural habitat and watched its slow progress across the tank — since I had no videogames or internet access back then, snail viewing sessions lasted unhealthy amounts of time. I meditated on its soft goopy body, its beautiful whorled shell, the tiny munches it took out of baby carrots.
This was a partner project, but I considered my partner irrelevant. His name was Matt. Matt’s interests included N’Sync and the Titanic soundtrack, though he was not a gay child. This is the only information I can recall about Matt. I cannot overstate his irrelevance.
One morning a few days into my stewardship, I found the snail had laid a clutch of tiny white eggs in a corner of the terrarium (snails are hermaphrodites and can therefore knock themselves up with their own snail penises if the mood strikes). A week later, the eggs hatched, and dozens of pea sized baby snails snotted their way into existence. They were miniscule glass sculptures, delicate and transparent. Following their birth, my interest in snail activities catapulted from unhealthy to terrifying. During class, I’d stick a baby snail on the edge of my pencil and watch it crawl around while I completed worksheets. I’d invite girls I liked to look at my snails. I often took the snail terrarium outside, thinking, ‘I don’t want them to be like homeschooled children.’
Eventually, my irrelevant partner — who hadn’t cared one iota prior to Snail Birth ’98 — pressed for joint custody. Like the little red hen who bakes the bread except with snail babies is how I conceptualized this injustice. I refused to share. The irrelevant partner queried my parents, but they agreed with me regarding his irrelevance, so he moved onto our teacher, who unfortunately seemed to be under the impression he was, in fact, relevant. Despite my balking, she demanded we share joint custody of the snails. A few more days passed without my compliance, so she called my parents, who, unwilling to assist me further in a battle for snail custody, forced me to turn them over. I left the terrarium on his doorstep.
Since we were exchanging the terrarium every few days, we had to bring it to school more often, and, as you’ve probably guessed, this arrangement led to mass murder. School, after all, is filled with children, and children possess underdeveloped capacities for compassion and decency due to their undersized brains. Little sociopaths. Their bodies are the tricycles demons ride through the mortal world. They are the paintbrushes Satan uses to make Jackson Pollack splatterings of despair on the hearts of mankind. They may be called Adam or Theresa or Joey or Elise, but they all have one true name: Hellspawn Murdermachine.
After school, I went to the science classroom to pick up my snails and found two girls gathered around the terrarium, presumably impressed by the health and morale of my thriving snail family/army. I couldn’t make out what they were doing, but I could hear what the first one said: “Ewww, they’re so gross! Puke, puke, puke, puke, puke…” “What’s going on?” I asked, and then I saw. Every time she said “puke,” she crushed a snail baby into pus with her fingertip, and she said it over and over so fast, about a dozen times before I discerned its sinister meaning. “STOP!” I shrieked, but she just kept on squashing, “puke, puke, puke…” until I wrested the terrarium away from her.
Oh God, what was the death toll? How many of my children had been casually slaughtered by these goddamn animals? When I looked inside, I disintegrated into a wailing mess of tears (granted, at ten, I cried when I lost at Hungry Hungry Hippos and Elefun the Butterfly Catching Game, so this was not out unusual). The holocaust was total: every snail baby was now a smear of gray ooze, and their mother/father/Jamie Lee Curtis had been deshelled, probably when the girl yanked it off the glass too hard. While I descended into a quivering ball of despondency, the two girls — neither of whom I recognized — fled the scene of the crime to, I would guess, get pregnant, dive into a swimming pool of liquid feces, and orally satisfy a hundred police dogs.
But this is the fate of slow things. The grownup children who can’t summon the energy to produce anything other than Facebook comments and tweets, who spend an hour in the shower, who are psychologically crippled by Netflix and HBO Go — I’m going to be crushed into goop by God’s giant finger — “Puke.”