That, my friends, is a hedgehog, an animal I’ve come to cherish, adore, and relate to on the highest of spiritual levels since obtaining my own as a pet, my prickly pear Stella Luna. Before taking in one as my own, I felt like a hedgehog could easily fit into my collection of totem animals, small spiritual guides I either related to or aspired to become like. The hedgehog was a likely choice because so many times I become just like one:
Timid, uncertain, and quick to surround myself with defensive needles to prick/stab anyone who came too close when I’ve made it perfectly clear I want to be alone.
My husband had the unfortunate time of rediscovering this about me. In my last post (To Write Or Not To Write: Which Is Right?) I mentioned having a small vacation this past weekend (an amazing getaway to Jekyll Island, GA, that was much needed and thoroughly enjoyed). While a holiday is great, the traveling and returning home can be taxing enough it cancels out the rest and relaxation that refreshed you. This was the case here, after an everlasting seven hours worth of driving, which John gratefully did despite that there were four of us in tow. However, when we made it home and surpassed the horrific spring storms that wreaked havoc all along the Eastern coast, I was ready to collapse into bed, pull the covers over my head, and engage in a meditative silence that could aid the carsickness that overturned my stomach and struck a repetitive ringing in my ears. To be blunt, I was done. Finished. I would be happy to be locked in the bedroom and declared dead to the world.
When we returned the rental car to its lot, John hopped back into the driver’s seat of his own car while I sagged wearily against the passenger door, and said with a newfound eagerness, “Pub time?”
I could have hit him. No, I did not want to go to the pub. No, I did not even want to see any people. I wanted to burrow into our quiet and comforting apartment and not return to the light of day for a week. But John was not hampered by the drive, despite that he was the one who actually drove it, and he seemed chipper to go get a good bite to eat before retiring for the night.
Despite my better judgement, I grumbled it’d be fine when it most certainly was not fine. Why I thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know. As soon as I got there, despite that a huge table was full of our friends who all gathered with drinks and tipsy smiles, I plopped myself at a table with my back turned. I was tired of being around people, strangers and known friends alike. I wanted to be alone and how hard was it for John to understand that? Growl, growl, hiss, hiss!
We ate, John giving me a side-eye glance every few seconds, probably to make sure I wasn’t arming myself with the knife I was handed to stab anyone. Despite that I assured him he could go talk to people if he wanted, he sat there as if it could assuage my obvious pouting. I knew I was being bitchy, angry, and ridiculous, but I didn’t care. That morning I had awoken in a secretive paradise by the ocean, ate breakfast with the shore in view and the soft slopes of dolphins dorsal fins peeking up through the breaking waves, and after hundreds of miles of billboards preaching to accept Jesus and Creationism or instructing how far until you reach the next highway adult XXX store, all I wanted was my bed and the blessed dark of my room.
Finally, we left. In the car, I could feel the air tense with John’s disappointment and irritation. The question hung between us, unspoken but all too clear: Why did I let us go if I was only intent on having a bad time and forcing us to leave?
At home, we make it in before rain sprinkles overhead. The storms we had outrun have finally caught up to us, which made me feel somewhat justified in us being home. Inside, we didn’t talk; John went about unpacking his duffel as I scooped a grumpy Stella out of her cage and carefully held her on my stomach as I laid back on the couch. I just wanted a cuddle with her, nothing more. First, she was all spikes and fury at having a few days of quiet to herself without being forced to leave her personal burrow in her bedding, but after realizing I wasn’t going to do more than hold her up on my stomach, she uncurled and peeked her dark face out from beneath her quilled exterior. After a while, I began to pet my fingers against the ivory and brown needles of her back, and after a moment, they gently settled and I was able to stroke her back, gently scritching between them.
She has never let me do this before, but she stayed still and eventually arched her small back to the touch.
John brought his empty back to the living room and noticed, taken aback at how easily I was holding her and touching her without provoking an angry hiss. “She’s awfully calmer now, isn’t she?”
I shrugged. “She just needed some pets.”
I knew exactly how she felt. Having her has taught me how to be extremely patient; hedgehogs don’t puff up to annoy you, it’s because they are scared, nervous, and feel their life may be at risk. Despite that I strive to handle her and hold her each day since getting her from the breeder back in January, she still puffs and huffs with me. Sometimes, it feels like a setback to any progress we’ve made, but I remind myself: she’s just scared. Some days, she’s extremely difficult and will do anything to evade my scooping hands to get her out of the cage. Some nights, I’ve had to settle to leave her alone, which I know is just fine by her. I’m the exact same way, I’ve discovered, too.
As much as I enjoy going out with people, I need to be solitary, alone most of my time. Many people have thought me to be extroverted, but that’s far from the case. I’m very good at playing the role, but when you have worked in the service industry (retail, in my case) for years, you learn to adapt and create a smiling mask that can fool the public. Nowadays, I don’t care very much to put the mask back on. I’m just fine with people thinking I’m mean, cranky, a hedgehog not willing to let her quills down. I’ve told my therapist in a session before: I don’t care if people like me or not anymore. If I don’t feel alright, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
She regarded this with a thoughtful nod. “And you know what? That’s okay.”
It’s not okay for me to act that way with John, though. If I care about anyone’s opinion, it’s his, so I apologized on our way to bed and cuddled in tight. Even hedgehogs have a mate at one point in their lives, as solitary as they are. This point in the week, I am still exhausted but better mood-wise. I take Stella out and talk to her, explain I know how she feels, how I want to curl up and remain in my personal quiet bubble, too, armed with needles that point in every direction so no one can touch me.
And Gods help them if they do.
Unless they bring me food…then we’ll talk.
I know this post was more personal than about writing, but that will change for the next few times. I enjoy using my blog to decompress as well as to document my writing journey. Currently, I have been working on different pieces, and will give an update on those very soon. As for now, enjoy the hedgehogs and all animals of prickly quality!