Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reflective Pets

In the book of essays, "For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance" edited by Victoriz Zackheim, Clea Simon writes, "They say that children identify with their pets. That we see ourselves in these small, dependent animals, so much more vulnerable, like children, than any around us. So much softer." (page 241)

Growing up, my family had hamsters. Most of us were allergic to other kinds of pets. I never identified with any of the string of "disposable" pets that came to live in the plastic cages my mom and dad bought.

That is until I was in grad school. I was living at my parents' house at the time. My niece was just two years old, but she decided that my mom, "Nana," needed a hamster - just like that obnoxious purple dinosaur. Off to the pet shop my brother, future sister-in-law, and niece went. They picked out a little boy sandy-furred hamster for my mom (who named him Zippidy.) My niece, of course, needed one for herself. She picked out Zippidy's sister and named her Sandy.

Well, Zippidy and Sandy had a sister whom no one wanted. This little girl hamster was albino. She was also born without eyes. (Her eyelids were forever closed.)

My sister-in-law told me about this little girl. She also mentioned that the pet shop owner was willing to sell this little girl to a good home for half price.

I was a grad student and while my parents took care of tuition, I still worked part time to pay for my car and gas. (And try to save as much as possible for my future with Todd.) I really couldn't afford a pet. I really didn't have time to care for a pet - after all, I was a full time grad student who worked part time and still wanted to have some time with my fiance on the weekends.

But I was drawn to the pet shop.

I bought that little girl and named her Fluffy.

Why?

Because I recognized myself in that little furry creature. A critter who was different; someone no one wanted.

Unconsciously, I didn't want her to know the loneliness, the disappointment, the despair and sadness that I felt. This poor little eyeless hamster deserved to know love.

So Fluffy came home with me.

Fluffy not only had no eyes. I found out soon that she couldn't hear. She also would run in her wheel/ball until she passed out. (I called it narcalepsy.)

But Fluffy was far from disabled. She was determined to escape. She ran so fast in the wheel in her first cage that it vibrated off my dresser and crashed on the floor. Luckily, my mom and I found her in the maze that was my overly stuffed bedroom. We put her back in her cage and within minutes she was biting the clip that held the top in place, pushing up on the top, and climbing through.

I bought her another cage the next morning; this one with an interactive feeding tube. Within a week, she had learned to twist the cap on the tube and escape. (Zippidy inherited that from his sister.)

When all possible caps and lids were out of reach, she proceeded to try to gnaw her way through the plastic cage. And within a month, had created a hole big enough for her nose.

Cage number three was a glass aquarium with a metal screen top and "no climb" water bottle. Yeah, right.

You guessed it. She scaled the wall by climbing the water bottle. She would chew on the metal screen to try to get out.

So I could sleep, I placed a piece of cardboard between the screen and Fluffy. Fluffy chewed the cardboard instead. To conserve cardboard, I'd turn the square around. One of her creations looked like a graduate with a morterboard. Another looked like a chalice. Another looked like the head of that horrible purple dinosaur.

A little hamster, born without eyes, deaf and narcoleptic, was an artist. She created beautiful works.

Had I not loved that little girl, she would never have realized her potential.

Fluffy died almost a decade ago now. She lived with me for a year and a half (a normal life span for a hamster, in my experience.) But her "can do" spirit lives on. I think of her often when I don't think I can go on. When I think that I'll never be completely healthy.

I remember how my love saved a little furry artist.

My love (and patience) can save me, too.

1 comment:

Charlynn said...

Aw, this is the sweetest story! Thanks so much for sharing it.