Life as a Gamekeeper.

My sister and I on our last family vacation. Neither of us was asked back this year.

Apparently, I’ve now reached the age at which I am no longer allowed on family vacations. This came as quite a shock, considering that my parents took my sister and me on vacation a mere 12 months ago. I’m not sure what happened between then and now, but somehow, I must have accidentally tricked my parents into thinking that I am now a mature adult. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve enjoyed a few Masterpiece Classics or that I’ve developed an appreciation for fine bourbon. If anything, I seem to have skipped my mid 20’s and plunged full-speed-ahead into my mid 70’s. At this point, I feel almost obligated to make a sizable contribution to NPR.

Because my sudden age spurt has deemed me ineligible for family vacations, my parents requested my house/pet-sitting services for a full 2 weeks. Of course by “requested” I mean “demanded”, as I did not have a say in the matter whatsoever. Had I been given a choice, I would have said “hell no” in the most unmistakable of terms. House-sitting for my parents is somewhat comparable to what I imagine it must have been like babysitting for the Lohans: complete chaos and reasonable cause for a tetanus shot. My dad is an avid gardener and my mom is a compulsive pet purchaser, the result of which is a botanical garden/dysfunctional petting zoo that I call home. The only foreseeable silver lining in this deal would be the opportunity to add “gamekeeper” to my resume.

The night before their trip, my mom drafted a two-page document with detailed instructions regarding the feeding and maintenance of her creatures. The highlight of this document was specific instructions on how to keep Tommy regular. As if I didn’t already have enough to worry about, I was now responsible for a lizard with IBS.

Thomas the Irregular

On the way to the airport, my parents excitedly rattled on about their trip, completely ignoring the fact that they had failed to invite me. My mom sensed my depression and thus offered me the rights to her Prius while they were gone.

“But you’ll have to take some things out of the back, Jo.”

“Like what?”

“A crate of rocks. They’re fossils!”

I sighed and continue to drive onwards, calculating how many steroids I’d have to ingest in order to lift the Falls of the Ohio from my mom’s backseat.

Never one to empathize, my dad proceeded to fire off a list of last-minute advice he expected me to remember.

“Only give Tommy the biggest, fastest meal worms. He won’t eat them if they’re slow.”

“Like a gladiator match!” My mom chimed in.

“And if Buster — you know, dies — Jo, don’t do anything too crazy. He’s old. We don’t need a huge medical bill to keep him around any longer.”

The Huntsman…lurking in the sheets.

In his old age, Buster has begun to exhibit a few behaviors that have really compromised his and my dad’s relationship. Much to my father’s dismay, one of those behaviors is a late-night habit of searching for a romantic companion. From dusk till dawn, Buster howls from the top of the stairs, begging for someone to feed him and/or console him in the most erotic of ways. As soon as 7:30pm hits, his eyes (both good and bad eye) widen in a frightening gleam of lust. He turns into an insatiable huntsman at night, prowling from room to room in search of hump and snacks. I’ve had to sacrifice both a Pillow Pet and a memory foam neck pillow to his cause. At times he can get so forceful and loud that I’ve heard my mom cry out in fear from her bedroom. When we had family in town last month, my dad locked Buster in my room with me so that he wouldn’t attack our guests in their sleep.

Anyways, a few days into their trip, my dad called to check on the house and to inquire about the mortality of his prized possession, Darcy.

Darcy the Douchebag.

Avoiding the question all-together (Darcy had stopped singing 2 days prior), I informed him that I’d had an interview that week. We started to talk about it until I heard:

“I mean, Jeez, just a minute, we’re talking Carol. Ok, hold on. Jo, your mom wants to talk to you.”

My dad handed the phone to my mom, who I assumed was dying to ask how my interview went. Instead, she breathlessly whispered into the phone, “Jo. I pet a wolf today.”

A gift from Mom

Most of our phone calls went like that for the rest of their trip. “How’s Tommy? Is Darcy alive?” were the focal points for about 90 percent of our conversations. My dad would tell me where they hiked that day, and I’d make sure my mom didn’t eat any unidentifiable plants she found on the trail. I tried to imagine what kinds of gifts they’d return with, but knowing my mom — the woman who once gifted me with a microwavable, aroma-therapeutic stuffed animal raccoon — these types of questions are better left unanswered.

By the end of the trip, I’d established a sort of rapport with the creatures. Left in my charge, Darcy had lost his will to live and thus became noticeably quieter (a feat I’d been working towards for years). Tommy and I developed a cordial relationship with each other after I saved his life one afternoon —  he’d eaten a wasp (something I can’t imagine bode well for his IBS) but I managed to wrestle the majority of it from his mouth in a remarkable act of selflessness. From that point on, we managed to put our differences behind us and I agreed to substantially overfeed him for the rest of my stint as gamekeeper.

As expected, my mom returned from the trip with a few gifts for me, including a box of wolf fur. She said she collected it from a fence, but I had my doubts. Almost more alarming than the box of wolf fur was my dad’s face — he’d used his vacation time to grow a full-blown beard and mustache, something I’d never seen him do in all my 23 years of life. I screamed when he climbed into the backseat of my car at the airport — the initial shock of his tufted face had me fighting an innate instinct to spray him with Mace.

“I got bit by a bear!” It looked more like he’d been bitten by a rabid Billy Bob Thornton.

“You’d better shave that off,” I said once I’d recovered. “Buster might take a shine to it.”

He shaved it the next night.

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