Last Saturday was the day the world was supposed to end, except for those people (and, apparently, small furry creatures) who truly lived by God’s word and would be swept up in the Rapture. No people were taken. But you turned out to be The Chosen Rodent.
You were Dusty T. Doofus, a beautiful and frisky beige chinchilla I got Shelley seven years ago, and you were a distinctive addition to our household. Children would marvel at you, and all would be quizzed – can you guess what that is? Although little more than a chewing and pooing machine with fur, you’d be fun to play with whenever we’d take you out into the bathroom. We’d give you a raisin (your favorite treat) and Shelley and I would sit on the floor and watch you jump around (you had a mean volt from the sink to the toilet). You were skittish and could barely tolerate human touch. When I tweaked your backside you’d jolt and jump up and bounce off the wall…
Sometimes you’d scoot up my arm and around my neck, chewing little designs into the wall behind me. When you (or we) had had enough, there’d be 50 or more little pellet-like “gifts” you’d leave behind. Then we’d carry you back to your cage and give you your beloved dust bath that inspired your name.
When we got Romeo, our magnificat, I myself was sure he’d eat you for breakfast one day. But he seemed more content to simply jump onto the side of your cage and stick his paw in playfully/menacingly until you, far too much the gentleman to bite, would instead make a sound somewhat akin to “Neep!” only less ferocious. Then Romeo would retreat…for a while.
We kept your dust bath house down beneath your cage, and when I’d tap my finger against it, you’d go wild with excitement, actually scurrying your paws over it in an attempt to pull it in faster through the cage door. Then you’d jump into it, twirl around sideways, stop to peak out the entrance to make sure everything was ok, then twirl again, repeating this a dozen times to get clean.
A few years ago I also discovered that when I’d stroke the area between your chest and your chin, you’d go into a reverie, and actually smile and zone out like you were a crocodile getting a tummy rub.
You were always true to yourself, and you lived by the Rodent Rule: Poo onto others as you would have them poo onto you.
The high point of your life (for me at least) came one evening when your mother and I had people over. You always knew when you were the center of attention. When you sensed (your vision as a species was compromised thousands of years ago when your ancestors mixed blood with the Magoo clan) that there were lots of people around you, you liked to perform. This particular evening you “performed” alright – doing that thing that men love so much when it’s done to them. Our dinner guests were shocked into an embarrassed fascination as you demonstrated how self-sufficient you were, and how well endowed!
But as we fell in love with Romeo, we took you out to play less often. We felt bad about it, but you seemed unperturbed and always seemed content. Last week, Shelley began rearranging the living room, and we decided it would look better with your cage off by the far wall near the kitchen, and out of our main sight, and you didn’t seem to mind.
Also, a couple of weeks ago, Shelley mentioned that you seemed to have lost a bit of weight. I didn’t know what to make of it, and neither did she. It’s only now in hindsite we realize she should have said, “OH MY GOD! DUSTY’S LOST WEIGHT!’ But at any rate your appetite was fine. You did appear a bit more sluggish and scraggly as of late, but I thought that was just age.
Friday night, she gave your cage its monthly cleaning, and gave you your dust bath, and when I came home, she said, “He seems tired. Look at him!” You hadn’t left your bath.
I picked you up – a little too easily — and thought – oh oh.
“I’ll take him to the vet in the morning.”
The next morning was Judgement Day. And it was during my daily prayers that I was startled by a piercing sound emanating from the living room. It sounded like Shelley….laughing? Heaving?! I ran in and saw her bent over in absolute hysterics, sobbing so deeply I thought her world had ended.
And there you were, uncharacteristically out of your little wooden house in the daytime, lying in the front of the cage on your side, and just about done. Shelley took you in her arms, stroking you, sobbing. “I’m sorry!” she cried, again and again.
I ran you over to the vet a few blocks away, but there was nothing he could do. “He seems to be having a problem breathing…” Mostly out of guilt, we authorized $500 in immediate treatment, but you apparently wanted to save us the trouble. Shelley was so distraught because she was certain you’d died of neglect. “Failure to thrive!” she said, as if our taking you into the bathroom less often had disheartened you to death. But the vet told me that wasn’t the case; and that you might have had a pneumonia or something. I had him repeat that to Shelley on the phone, which calmed her down somewhat.
I brought you back home. We knew you were devoutly Jewish, and required a quick burial. So we wrapped you in some plain cotton, and dug a hole in the back yard and placed you there. (I resisted the urge to make you into a winter glove.) We said Chaddish (Chinchilla – Kaddish) and we’ll be sitting Shiva the next 10 days.
We’re telling our friends: In lieu of flowers, just bring raisins.
As we struggle with our guilt, I realize that the truth is you simply couldn’t compete with a cat. Romeo had totally won our hearts from the moment we lifted him up to our arms at the shelter, and you were relegated to second place like some dumb and dribbling sibling after his brilliant brother is born. By the time Shelley and I arrive home at the end of a day, we’re bushed. Romeo would come sit between us and be so easy to stroke, so purr-fectly receptive. You in your rodent otherness faded from our list of priorities. I guess we grew tired of you.
Dusty you were always so good natured and accepting. I am so sorry if you felt unwanted, and so sorry we didn’t notice sooner what was happening to you. I’m glad you had a few good years with us, and we thank you for all the smelly, furry joy you gave Shelley and me.
Now I wonder when that Rapture is for the rest of us.