Last friday I came home to find my pet hamster collapsed in the entrance to his favorite tunnel. He was an old hamster. He was balding, and what fur wasn't gone was turning from black to gray. He didn't run on his wheel anymore. He hardly ate. I knew he would be dying soon, so it wasn't a huge shock, but it was still sad. I lifted him from the cage and discovered that he was still alive, but barely. So I wrapped him in a wash cloth and stroked his head until he passed, and then I sat down and cried.
I have had other hamsters over the years, and their lifespans have always been heartbreakingly short. Blackbeard lived the longest, at nearly 4 years old. They were a sort of symbol for me, of a freedom finally gained.
When I was a child, I always wanted a rodent of some sort. A hamster or a mouse. My mother has never cared for them, and never let me have one, which I accepted. I figured I'd get one when I was old enough to make my own choices.
When I was 21 I became involved with a man who was verbally, emotionally, and borderline physically abusive. He told me that if I ever did get such a pet, he would kill it. I believed him. He'd quite calmly threatened to kill me before, and while I wasn't certain that he'd actually kill me, I was quite certain that he was crazy enough to kill a pet I loved. I stayed with him for a year, and finally tore myself free when I grew up enough to realize that I didn't have to take the abuse, and that such things were not normal, and that I certainly deserved better than him. Leaving him was a huge relief. Every outburst he'd had was more violent than the last, and I have no doubt that if I had stayed, he would have become full blown physically abusive towards me.
One of the first things I did after leaving him was buy myself a hamster. My sister took me to the pet store, and I bought myself a russian dwarf hamster. I named him Rasputin. It turned out to be accurate, since he was quite possibly the most evil little creature in the world. He was mean. He bit me every chance he got. He attacked anything I put into his cage until he'd collapse into an exhausted, panting heap in his wheel. He peed in his food dish. I had to handle him with gloves because he'd bite me as hard as he could.
Still, I loved him for all of his meanness. It was a way of moving beyond that hellish year..a sign of freedom. I could have a pet without fearing someone would kill it. I could do the things I wanted. I could be myself. Rasputin lived for three years. The only time I touched him bare handed was when I wrapped him up after he had died.
I also had Attila, who lived for just a few months after I adopted him. I think there must have been something wrong with him from the start. He never seemed to gain much weight or grow, but was active to the point of seeming manic.
Now that Blackbeard is gone as well, I am without a hamster for the first time in over five years. It's odd not hearing him in his cage. Sometimes when I'm alone in the house I think I hear the rattle of the wheel or the rustle of bedding. But it's just my imagination, or the house settling, or maybe the wind outside. I buried him in the back yard under an oak tree, with a pile of pink creek rock on top of his grave to keep the foxes from digging him up.
I may get another one eventually..I don't know. Whether I do or don't, I will always be grateful for how those furry little bright-eyed creatures played a part in the healing process. Rasputin, Attila, and Blackbeard all helped me move beyond the abuse, and the emotional issues I had afterwards. I am with someone now who treats me far better. Life became good again. I am no longer the same scared person that I was. Pets can be many things, regardless of their shape or size..companions, helpers, supporters, and friends.
I thank them for all of those things.