I mean, I knew they only lived for a few years. I knew our time together would be short lived. But, despite what I’d expected, I’d really grown to love a hamster.
If I was being honest with myself, I knew she wasn’t just hibernating. I knew she had been dying for the last two weeks.
As I sat in front of Ophelia’s cage for the last time, I was thinking about how I would put the cage in my street trash bin with the garbage bag from the kitchen on top of it so that even if the bin was opened you couldn’t see the cage. I didn’t want to see it. But I also didn’t want someone else to walk by my garbage bin, see the cage and have dead-hamster pity when they looked up at my little ranch house in the San Fernando Valley.
Two days ago I’d seen Ophelia at her weakest. She couldn’t take a peanut from my hand to put it between her teeth. She didn’t even clasp it between her teeth, I just held it there for her until it felt too sad. Then I dipped my finger into her water, and finger fed her a few drops. I could see her eyes were not working at all. She’d open them occasionally but I didn’t see signs of much life left to live. No happy chirps, not waddling around my hands. She toppled over, jerked to attention and then fell again. I propped her up with some bedding after I fed her water, and watched her until she fell asleep.
I left the room, walked to my fireplace hearth and built a fire. I was thinking about endings. To deny an ending of any form is to self-torture. Lying to yourself doesn’t do the sparing you’d hoped it would. I smoked a lot of weed and fell into a zone of loss.
When I returned to the room several hours later, I was shocked to find Ophelia in the opposite corner of her cage. Her body looked like it had melted into her plastic-bottomed world.
She was a blob. I watched her for signs of breathing. I tapped the cage. I lifted her whole world an inch into the air and jiggled it very, very gently so I would still be able to see if she moved on her own. I opened her roof and reached in to pick her up. She was very heavy. She’d never felt heavy before. She was, in fact, dead. I imagined how she’d wobbled so far across her cage. It must have taken a long time. She died in the corner she used as a bathroom. Ophelia died on the toilet. Like Elvis Presley.
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Two days later, today, I put Ophelia in a plastic box with bedding and two pieces of corn. I laughed, imagining Elvis had also been buried like that. It took me days to get her out of my house. Mostly because I don’t own a shovel and I had to wait until the landscapers my landlords pay for came by on Monday morning. But also because I loved her and endings are hard.
“When did you get her?” Hector asked.
“The first day of covid lockdown.”
“Maybe this means it’s over now.”
I laugh, he goes on, “You’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.”
“You know how many tortillas I eat every night?”
“TEN TORTILLAS.” Hector's face lights up with joy and I think about endings and how I’ve lost almost fifteen pounds while building my fires every night since the winter began, frequently falling into a zone of loss. I thank Hector for his extra burial service.
I walk into the house, directly to the kitchen, and I grab a slice of Swiss cheese and a can of Coke.