When I first decided to write up my snail escapades for the post calvin, I had planned a three-part series. The story was too long to tell in one, and there are enough pastors in my general proximity for me to know that the only thing more sacred than “In Christ Alone” is the three-point sermon.
I was going to call part three “Snails in the Shadow of the Carillon,” and I was going to write about the Burton Memorial Tower on the University of Michigan’s Ingalls Mall, about how its star resident, the Baird Carillon, rings out over the campus every weekday noon for thirty minutes, about how you can take the elevator to the tower’s eighth floor and climb up two sets of stairs to the belfry observation deck, and watch—because when you listen to bells, the watching is part of the listening—as tens of tons of bronze shake a blanket of sound into the air around you, and have you ever heard anything as heavy as the sound of bells up close?
I was going to write about how when I first moved to Ann Arbor, my dad looked up at the tower as we walked by and told me that when he was living here in the late 80s, a university regent had stepped to her death out of one of the tower’s eighth-story windows and how when he had met her in the month before she died, he had thought that she seemed too smart and too sad and how whenever he walks by the tower he thinks of her, and now I do too.
I was going to talk about depression and how when I first told my sister that I was going to get snails, she told me that she’d once read about a guy who’d found relief from his mental illness by raising hermit crabs and maybe my snails could help me out too.
Twitter tells me that the carillon is still ringing in the afternoons, if on a reduced schedule. I have not been downtown in a month and a half, so I can neither confirm nor deny that claim. Either way, the shadow of the carillon may as well be on the moon now.
I never wanted to write about illness. I almost categorically avoid reading anything in the illness lit subgenre (cancer memoirs, especially). There’s a terrible ubiquity to all of it; circumstances change the experience but the villain is always the same. It’s an uncaring pathogen and your own body and sometimes an inadequate healthcare system or unsympathetic (or over-sympathetic) others. Like platformers and walks on the beach, it’s just not my thing.
But the thing with coronavirus is that you don’t have to write about sickness to write about it. You could pick any one of the hundreds of dreary statistics stacked double-wide on the gurneys rolling out of our global nightmare and wring something horribly poignant—or viciously ironic—out of it. Like the fact that 40% of Michigan’s COVID fatalities are black, while only 14% of the state is. Or how the move to virtual office spaces can exacerbate gender inequalities in the workplace. Or how the Leader of the Free World is currently trying to claim that when he floated the idea of injecting bleach as a method of treating the coronavirus, he was doing so “sarcastically.”
Or how dreadful the weight of the everyday has suddenly become.
I still didn’t want to write about it, probably because of a lingering adolescent desire to differentiate myself from my peers (who wants to write about an event shaking the foundations of modern society if everyone else is doing it?), but I found my hand forced by the fact that COVID-19 is the reason I finally obtained a live snail. Staring down the barrel of two months (or more) of total isolation tends to make even the most hardcore, lawful-good introverts consider breaking that no-pets clause in their lease. So while the rest of the world flocked towards animal shelters for a COVID buddy, I turned to eBay.
As I very empirically discovered last year, it is surprisingly difficult to purchase a single snail. Ebay listings for land snails almost always advertise breeding pairs (with the occasional +BONUS!!!). I did find one, eventually, listed as “(1) 🐌Big 🐌🐌Live 🐌 Pet Land Snail.Educational,” which appeared to be a common Californian garden snail and was exceptionally overpriced (if you’re paying anything at all for a garden snail, it’s overpriced), but I was quickly won over by the seller’s excellent use of strategic marketing taglines, especially the straightforward “Add a carrot and you will enjoy your pet snail eating it.”
And they were right.
There isn’t much I’ve enjoyed more recently than watching Clive—Clive Snails Lewis, to give him his full title—wrap his slimy self around a carrot. Or stewing in the anticipation of waiting for him to spread out from underneath his shell once it’s late enough for nocturnal things to begin their nightly creep. Or listening to him—because did you know that, in silence, you can hear snails chew?—scrape away at an eggshell with his mandala of microscopic teeth.
Or, at 3 a.m., after spending an ill-recommended couple of hours reading news reports on a day when you skipped your morning shower—even though you know you can’t do that because you know what it does to the rest of your day—and you’ve missed taking your meds because you’re bad at remembering to do that when your schedule gets thrown off, holding a piece of carrot just out of Clive’s reach and watching him extend his corpse-colored neck towards what he only sees as sustenance and realizing, irrationally, that your heart—which you’ve spent years trying to convince people is solid and indifferent and callous in a funny way—is breaking over and over for something as ugly and insignificant as a garden snail.
That was a month ago. I’ve since finished my master’s degree. I’ve had more conversations with my housemate than I have in our entire two years of living together. I’ve celebrated my sister’s birthday on Zoom and done communion with graham crackers and cheap pinot noir. Clive has started hibernating. He hasn’t moved in three weeks.
Since his terrarium isn’t too cold or too dry, I figure that he’s working on some cycle that won’t let him wake up until his endogenous clock is good and ready. Considering my track record with hibernating snails (Annaka: 0, the Great Beyond: 16), this is worrisome, but I don’t think I’m going to try to wake him up. It didn’t work with the last bunch and it feels too selfish, somehow.
So I’m letting Clive sleep. He’ll come out eventually, when the world tells him it’s time.