On February 19th, 2011 I decided to take a walk.
I was just beginning my second semester of medical school, and things weren’t going well. I was taking a full course load, and any AUA student who graduated from the old curriculum will tell you that second semester may as well be the toughest. 4 brutal classes, all at once, each demanding hours of study that you don’t have. Couple this with my anxiety issues I was having at the time, and it was a recipe for disaster. The apartment I lived at was near the beach, so I would often take walks in the late afternoon and early evening to clear my head and avoid panic. This time, I had gotten it into my head that my room needed sprucing up, and I figured a plant was the best way to fill that goal. So I fished out a tin can left over from a meal of Spaghetti-O’s, washed it thoroughly, and left my apartment on a mission to find some dirt and a native plant to bring back to my humble abode.
I didn’t get far. I had just crossed over the threshold leading from the parking lot to the street when I spotted an object moving in the grass outside the gates. Curious, I went over to see what it was. Clearing away bits of unkempt island grass, I revealed a large Hermit Crab. I was shocked, having forgotten that these little creatures were indeed native to Antigua. I picked him up in my hands, and instead of recoiling into his shell, he greeted me curiously, running his feelers the length of my fingers. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I scooped up some sand in the tin can, added him on top, and turned around and went back home to set up a house for him.
He lived in a large tupperware container filled with sand. It sat at the foot of my bed on a small table, and each day I would give him fresh water and table scraps from whatever meal I had finished. We grew to be fast friends. He learned that I brought the food, and became even friendlier with me. When I spoke to him, he would emerge from his shell, always ready to greet me with a friendly feeler. Concern for his well-being inspired me to conduct more research into crab care. I studied journals on Carcinology, and spoke to Veterinarians and Marine Biologists alike. Turns out keeping crabs properly is a large amount of work, one that pet stores rarely have a clue about. They require special diets, special humidity levels, and special heat levels. A major production. I skimped by with what I could salvage while living on the island, and Brutus always flourished despite my best efforts.
The little crab became something more than a pet to me. Not only had he started me on a new hobby, but he was a companion while I toiled on Antigua. Too many a night I would come home, on the verge of exhaustion and sometimes tears, and he’d greet me as always, ready to provide a much-needed distraction. I played with him daily. He sat on my shoulder while I read in bed. He’d scamper around my desk when I studied.
The time came for me to leave the island for break. I was facing a tough choice. My little friend couldn’t survive over break without me, and no one was staying behind who would care for him. I made the choice then. It was a huge hassle to do it properly, but I managed to get Brutus home with me to the United States.
He got a wonderful new home in Ohio. A huge tank, tons of new shells, much-needed humidity and heat, and a veritable buffet of new foods to try, along with some old favorites. He also got tank mates. As I got deeper into raising crustaceans, my little colony grew. But Brutus was always my favorite. He was special. We had a history. Of course I love and enjoy my other crabs, but Brutus was always my special friend from the island.
For three years, my little buddy has been there for me through good times and bad. I played with him when frustrated with school. He sat on the bed with me when I cried over losing what I thought was the love of my life. Earlier this week, he excitedly ran his feelers over my fingers like he always did when I learned that I passed the United States Medical Boards. Even during my celebration, I took my little guy out of his tank and we spent time playing. He was special, after all.
Over the past few days, Brutus fell ill. He became lethargic, turned a horrid pale color, and left his shell permanently. I tried many things at the advice of other crustacean enthusiasts, marine life experts, and some of my own design. He seemed comfortable, but wasn’t getting better. Earlier today, I noticed him almost lifeless in his tank, sunken into a pit another one of the crabs dug. As instructed, I isolated him with his shells, attempting in vain to get him to go back into one. He wouldn’t budge.
A few minutes ago, I found him still in his isolation tank. Gingerly I picked him up and stroked his tiny back. I started to cry (and I still am). When I spoke his name, he stuck out his little claw to touch my finger, holding it there as he passed in my hands.
My little buddy died.
I know you’ll probably think “It’s just a crab”. And you’re right. Most people don’t bond with those types of animals like they do with a dog or a cat. But Brutus was special to me. He entered my life at a dark and tumultuous time, and provided me with an outlet to quell my anxiety. Having another life to care for while I was stuck on the island eased my worry, and his friendly demeanor comforted me. Yes, he was just a crab. But he was my little buddy. My friend.
I don’t know where animals go when they pass. I like to believe that all of them, from the smallest insect to the largest elephant, pass on to some sort of afterlife. And I hope my little Brutus is there. And that maybe, I’ll get to be reunited with my friend from the lonely isle someday.
Rest in peace, Brutus. I loved you.