What A Hermit Crab Taught Me About Living Alone

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Dog the hermit crab came to wreak havoc on my life in the summer of 2014. It was the summer my friend, Jen, and I both lived alone and took summer classes after our roommates had already left. We agreed living alone had a lot of benefits: the sweltering June heat made it more convenient to walk around the house naked, we took out the trash as often as we wanted, and no one ate the last of the ice cream or took up the couch space when we just wanted to watch Parks and Rec. Yet, one evening, after a few glasses of wine and a casual viewing of Shrek 2 at her apartment, Jen looked at me and said, “I miss my dog.”

Jen had a golden retriever back home, Big Mac, whose pictures were all over her nightstand and the background on her phone. I nodded. “I wish I was able to bring my family’s hermit crab tank up this summer.”

“It’s just so nice to have another being in the place to come home to,” she said. A few days later, she was posting pictures of her new pet hermit crab, Dog.

From the beginning, Dog behaved maniacally. Jen told me that she was crazy, and ran around her cage constantly. Then came the day Jen thought Dog died. She was motionless in her tank, but before Jen could arrange a burial, the crab woke up, alive and hyper again.

“Do you want my hermit crab?” she texted me. “I’m getting bad vibes from this guy.” I liked hermit crabs, and I knew how to take care of them, so why not? She brought the crab over and explained that Dog had resurrected. “She’s a Jesus crab.”

I set Dog up on the bookshelf in my living room. She was cute and had a reddish-orange body and pincers with a plain brown shell. Though most crabs I’ve owned have been pretty lethargic creatures, I quickly figured out what Jen had been complaining about – the crab would not stop scratching at her aquarium walls. I took my work to my bedroom, where I couldn’t hear her, but I could imagine her scrambling in her tank, reaching out her red pincer and clawing at the wall of her cage. Staring at me.

Living alone makes people extra paranoid; I triple-checked the doors at night, and Dog making extra mysterious noises in her cage didn’t help. When other residents walked past my townhouse to get to their own, their feet pounding on the boardwalk startled me. When I heard thumps at night I came downstairs with a hefty can of hairspray, preparing to knock the intruder out. Usually, it turned out Dog was just tipping over her food bowl against the glass or having a particularly ferocious fight with the lid of her cage.

One morning, while eating breakfast in the kitchen, I saw a shriveled, orange, spider-like thing scurry across the tiled floor. I screamed. Hermit crabs with their shells on are weird looking but still cute beach pets. Shell-less hermit crabs are the stuff of nightmares, completely gross shrimps with centipede legs and pincers that have no doubt been the inspiration for many horror movie monsters. Some people give their hermit crab transparent shells to live in and I can’t imagine why. (If you’ve never seen one without a shell, don’t look up pictures. I mean it.)

Too freaked out to catch the crab with my bare hands, I caught her in a cup and deposited her back into her tank. I figured out that she learned she was small enough to escape if she wormed out of her shell. I stacked textbooks on the tank lid to keep her there. She scratched at the aquarium walls, refusing to put her shell back on, threatening to get out again. I added extra textbooks for good measure. Catching bugs never scared me again. On the other hand, I constantly scanned the floor for an escaped crab with pincers aimed at my ankles.

When I told Jen about the incident, she said, “I’m pretty sure that crab is possessed by demons. It died that day, and demons took over her body.” It was hard to argue with that. From then on, Dog and I kept an eye on each other from across the living room, until one day she didn’t; she died for real this time.

I dumped Dog’s body unceremoniously in the trash, both relieved and guilty for feeling relieved. In reality, Dog was probably sick from the day Jen bought her from the big-box pet store due to the poor living conditions there, and went crazy because she was trying to cope, escape, do anything to make herself feel better before her illness took its toll. Even I, hermit crab wrangler since the age of ten, wasn’t able to help her.

Because I was living by myself, the responsibility of Dog’s death was mine and mine alone. I had to take care of her tiny body on my own and feel the weight of all the guilt. You don’t realize until you are living alone and dealing with a situation like this how much having roommates diffuses responsibility. Having Dog around helped me get over some of my anxieties and to learn how to wield hairspray as a weapon. But she also taught me how to be an adult in some ways – to take control of situations, and to realize that I don’t need a companion to live comfortably alone – especially not one that makes creepy noises at night.

Graduate of Florida State University and starving writer. Enjoys watering her cactus, hammocking, and Amy Poehler quotes.

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