The End of the End
At the risk of sounding like a complete nutjob over a hamster, I need to tell this story. To mark the end of Cozy’s life.
About three weeks ago, Cozy started biting me. Little nips, but they were out of character. I made up explanations. Once he had been chewing on my sweater and I said that he must have mistook skin for material. Another time I wondered if I had the scent of food on my hands. I came up with a plethora of reasons, it’s just that none were why he was biting me.
On Tuesday night, we had a little cuddle and chat, and I remarked that he hadn’t nipped me once. He had relaxed in the crook of my arm, and I ran my fingers over him, imagining that is what a hamster mother would do for her young to make him feel safe and protected; she would groom him. As his mother, albeit one without hamster skills, I approximated.
The next morning, I started working beside him as I always do, and I noticed that he was sleeping at a strange angle. He was holding his head up as he slept, something he never did. So I went over every few minutes to check that he was breathing, that there was nothing else unusual happening. And there wasn’t until noon when he stood up and wobbled over a few inches and began walking in a tight circle, over and over again as if he were chasing his tail. He had wood shavings on his face and he wasn’t brushing them off, and two of them were stuck to his eyes, which were bulging out strangely.
I picked him up and he allowed me to brush the shavings from his eyes… and he didn’t blink. He didn’t even nudge my hand away. So I set him down and called the woman who sold him to us, an ethical pet dealer whose family has been selling small mammals for years. She’s somewhat of a DC institution. She loves animals intensely, so she is who I always call when I’m worried. Every other time, she’s given me an explanation for my worry. But this time, she gave me the name of a veterinarian a few towns away who could take good care of Cozy.
So I gently packed him in his pet carrier and put him in the car, keeping up a running stream of conversation with him as I drove to the vet. I cried the whole ride over, telling him about the grapes I’d pick up on the way home. That he may need eye drops which suck, but we’d have a cuddle afterward. He just didn’t look right. He wasn’t blinking. He was hunched over, quiet.
The vet had been about to leave, but she waited for me. I was embarrassed to be crying that hard in her examination room; I literally couldn’t get words out. She told me that he had a pituitary tumour. That hamsters, like humans, tend to show issues with their brain in a very acute, very sudden way. In the wild, he would be eaten if he showed weakness. So he pretended to be okay until he couldn’t pretend anymore. She pointed out the way he was pretending to eat, his jaw not really working anymore, and said that he was still pretending for predators that he was fine. But he really wasn’t fine. She told me that he was in a lot of pain and the kindest thing I could do would be to euthanize him.
I didn’t know how to say okay.
I called Josh, I spoke to the vet again and again. I wanted to be the sort of responsible person who would put an animal out of its misery, but I selfishly wanted him alive; would take him alive and not really himself than not alive at all. But she gently got me to a place where I could say goodbye to him. So I picked him up and nuzzled him to my cheek and told him how loved he was. And when I was ready, her assistant took him from me and brought him to another room. The vet admitted that she would probably cry doing it, that it never got easier.
And then I drove home. The vet had decorated his box with hearts and his name. I kept talking to him, even though I knew he couldn’t hear me because I didn’t know how to not talk to him. I’ve been talking to him for two straight years, all day every day. I talk out plotline with him and I talk about the twins and I talk about how cute he is.
And you all know what he is. He’s my stand-in. He’s my receptacle. He’s where I’ve poured all the love I thought I would be pouring into another human being.
I got home and sat in the living room, but he wasn’t there. And I walked in and out of the room, always looking for him in the corner, but he wasn’t there. And this huge emptiness swallowed me, and I wanted to run out to the pet store and immediately bring home another pet. The idea of being alone in the house felt unbearable.
I picked up the kids from school, but didn’t tell them that anything was wrong until we walked in the house. “We need to talk about something,” I told them. “Could you wash up and meet me upstairs?” I didn’t want to tell them near his cage, but the ChickieNob ran straight into the living room and started screaming, “where is Cozy?” So we all climbed into the glider and rocked and cried. And I told them the story of the end of the end. His nips had been his way of telling me that he was in pain. It was the one thing I never guessed.
I told them that I needed another pet immediately, maybe before they were ready, and that this new pet wouldn’t be a replacement — Cozy could not be replaced — but I needed to put my love somewhere. And talking about pets helped all three of us to stop crying, and we looked up various animals on my phone. Part of me felt sick for moving on so quickly. And part of me knew that I had to hold something this weekend or my heart was going to explode.
We worked on their science fair project, and then went out to dinner because I didn’t have it in me to cook. After dinner, we ran into the food store for a moment, and that is where I said aloud, “I want a baby” as I pulled out a cart. I heard myself say it, and then I continued on, “I want a baby animal. A little baby animal.”
I loved Cozy on his own, as my furry confidant, as my sweet moosie, as our first family pet. But I loved Cozy because he was home with me during the day, and he would cuddle whenever I wanted, and because he was tiny, and because he was simple. As long as I gave him a steady stream of blueberries, he loved me hardcore. He would never get bigger, never move away from. I loved him because it was easy: I went to an ethical animal dealer and she gave me a beautiful hamster, and that was it. There were no injections, no procedures, no blood draws. There were no failures. It was easy to love him because he was so easy. And I just needed that.
It doesn’t matter how small you are; you can still be deeply loved.