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My first time: Keeping tadpoles (and thinking about death)

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By V. A. Douglas

When I was very young, and was out on a walk with my parents, I came across a pond full of frog spawn. I wriggled free from my mother’s grip, and ran to the water’s edge. The water was alive with swimming black things. The edges of the pond were bubbling with clumps of white eggs. I stared at them, and a thousand eyes stared back at me. My father lowered a plastic bottle into the water, scooping up some of the spawn to take home.

We put them in an old fish tank. I peered down at them knowing that their bodies awaited transformation; emerging limbs hidden somewhere beyond my view.

Everyday after school, I would go into the garden and stare through the thick glass of the tank. On one of my visits, I saw that some of the tadpoles were floating lifelessly on the surface of the water, patches of grey fluff sprouting from their cellophane tails. They were dying.

One thought lead to another, and I began to imagine what would happen to me after I had died. Where would I go? All I could see was my body hurtling through empty blackness towards distant stars. Would I ever be alive again? I would never be able to hug those who I loved, ever again.

I did not know what to do: the tadpoles were putrefying, rotting. Some of the others had begun to grow proper legs, and were paddling vivaciously, their new limbs propelling them through the decaying water.

I decided that I had to deal with the dead tadpoles. I picked out corpses, one by one, and hesitantly threw them over the fence into our neighbour’s backyard. The illusion of wholesome healthiness had been restored, the sight of decay hidden from view. But I felt the guilt of having disposed of their bodies.

As much as I would like to end this piece with something illuminating, all I can say is that these thoughts still terrify me. I have come to terms with the fact that death is part of life, but perhaps now, I would say that not everything ends, not everything fades. The remaining tadpoles grew into frogs.

There’s no point trying to discuss what happens after death – all that I can say now is that life is there to be lived fully, with love and energy and vivacity and joy.

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