Leeches

Picture Credits: Theresa McGee

When I was 7, I witnessed my first death. We were at
the cottage when my cousin Sebastian found, trapped and tortured a leech on the
dock. My mother took this opportunity as teachable moment; not about how some
young boys can be cruel and violent or how others will try and beat the ugly
out of this world but of how these parasitic, predatory worms are super
resistant, strong, “can even resist torture,” she said. When the boys left, I
built a home for the suffering leech, of sticks and mud and a red leaf for the
roof. Shortly after, the leech died. Sebastian returned to steal the dead from
its home, to use as bait to catch fish, he said. I strongly resisted but
failed. Sebastian wouldn’t listen to reason. Sebastian was a killer I guess. I
remember crying so much that afternoon, throwing a tantrum so severe that
Sebastian enlisted my grandfather into finding a replacement leech. They went
off into the lake. Just after dinner, when the sun was setting, my cousin and
grandfather returned with two long, beautiful, speckled leeches.

            I had permission to bring them home
as long as they were returned the following weekend. During that time, I cared
for them, brought them to show and tell at school. A new addition to my friend
group, to our tea parties and adventures. I kept them in a bucket of sand and
weeds. Aunt Margaret closed the cottage as the summer came to an end and we never
got the chance to return the leeches to the lake. I wondered if they were mad
at me for taking them from their home. A profound guilt came over me. I was to
protect them from an uncertain future, I told myself, from the cruel boys and
the fish that wanted them dead. I kept them for two months.

Leeches can go a long time without eating but by the
end October, I started noticing how they weren’t as active, as responsive. I
thought about placing my little hand in the leech bucket and letting them suck
at it for a while but I couldn’t stomach it. I was getting concerned. Winter
was quickly approaching and my babies were starving to death. I tried feeding
them meat, raw meat, even the blood from raw meat. Nothing.

            My mother got worried that they
would die. That the trauma from their death would cause irreparable damage; foreshadowing
a future of bad relationships and loose morals. “Trauma can do that,” she told
my dad quietly. My mother called the Museum of Nature for some advice. She
spoke to a woman that specialized in creepy crawlers, in leeches. “Leeches only
feed on live mammals,” she said. In their exhibit, they fed them mice. I don’t
think I could stomach that either. The museum people told us that we would have
to put them in the fridge over the winter so that they could hibernate. Mom
didn’t want that. However, the museum had an upcoming workshop on creepy
crawlers. They told us to bring our little friends and that they would keep
them in their exhibit if they were a fit, or else, release them. I was happy.
My leeches had found a home, of glass and fame.

            Workshop day had arrived, and one of
my leeches escaped. I was destroyed again. I yelled at everyone to watch where
they were stepping or so help me god. Mom said they could sense water. When she
came home, she looked under the rug in the corner of the house facing the
biggest body of water, the river. My leech was there, alone and shriveled up,
but still alive. We quickly rushed them to the museum. There we met with the
leech specialist and compared leeches. Mine were much more beautiful, they were
mine. Theirs were small and grey. Mine were big, dark green, with a dotted
vermillion line along their backs. “They slid like pretty ribbons through
water,” I told them. The museum agreed to take them. They went even further and
gifted me free admissions passes, inviting my entire class to come see them in
their new home. A few months later we took a school field trip to the Museum of
Nature for the creepy crawler exhibit. My leeches were easy to spot amongst the
others. They were the prettiest.