I hate endings. I have always hated them. I hate finishing books and movies. I hate the end of a lovely vacation. I’m not even willing to watch a toxic friendship wither without some grieving on the side. I believe my angst from this is part subtraction and part addition. The joy or satisfaction of the thing that is finished is subtracted from my life, leaving an emptiness. Where there was something, now there is nothing. And the worry or fear of what will happen to the lost thing is my addition. Will it be okay? How will I know what happens if I no longer have access to it?
A therapist could have a field day with me. Because this resistance to change is as deep as the hole I felt when I lost my sweet mother. And it is as shallow as the grave of a dwarf hamster.
I know this firsthand.
Sometime around summer of 2019, my older daughter began to ask for a hamster. I immediately, unequivocally said no. I didn’t leave that door cracked. It was a no. Which turned into a yes when she followed up her request with a powerpoint, written contracts, a song performed on video by her and her younger sister, a ceramic piece painted and fired and given to me as a reminder of her pain, and a Christmas list with nothing else on it.
She wore me down.
On Christmas day, she opened a hamster cage with all the food and accessories a hamster could ever need. The day after that, we drove to the pet store to pick him out. It was to be a boy and his name would be Peter.
There are a lot of stories about Peter and his life as a Snapp. Most of them I’m unwilling to put in writing because they make me feel really bad about myself. But Peter was extraordinary. I mean that. And Peter wasn’t going to have a long life.
During our long summer of going nowhere and doing nothing during lockdown, we began to notice that Peter wasn’t looking or acting quite right. His fur was falling out in places. His hands turned from pink to black. And he started to act a little manic. It wasn’t a good time to lose Peter. Life was sad enough already. So both girls begged me to do something about it.
By the time he was in crisis stage, school was back in session and I was receiving texts between classes and at lunch. What are we going to do about Peter? How’s Peter? Have you called any vets about Peter?
I was faced with the unimaginable.
I was faced with the task of calling a vet about a $15 rodent.
I decided in my mind to call the vet we use for our dog. If they could see a hamster, I’d consider it. But I wasn’t going to start calling around town about small and exotic pets.
I dialed my vet’s number.
“Yes, hello,” I started tentatively, with the amount of confidence any person would have in calling about a rodent. Which is none. “This is Buttercup’s mom and I have a strange question to ask you. I have a sick hamster and I’m trying to find a place to take him and figure out if we can afford to treat him.” I was unimpressed with myself when I first dialed the number. I dropped another notch when I said “Buttercup’s mom” aloud. And I dropped all the way down when I asked them to save my hamster.
“We see hamsters,” the receptionist said.
“Oh, you do! Oh great!” Dropped another notch. “Well, I hate to sound heartless, but can you give me a basic price range, because I don’t know how much we want to spend on the hamster.” What is wrong with me?
“The office visit is $60 and then there would be cost on top of that if there’s treatment or meds.”
“OK, we can do that,” I said and proceeded to set an appointment for that afternoon.
And then, by myself, I drove to the vet with a hamster cage on the passenger seat beside me. I went in with a mask. I sat down in a faux leather chair and waited to be seen.
The cage was sitting squarely across my knees and Peter was running on his wheel like a man possessed. I looked at him. I looked at the empty chairs in the waiting room. My friends have jobs. Accountants. Office Managers. Teachers. Speech Pathologists. And I am sitting in a waiting room with a hamster cage on my lap. I gotta make some changes, man.
“We’re ready for you,” the nurse said as she led me back. They put Peter on the scale and weighed him at 20 grams. A healthy dwarf hamster should weigh 50 grams. My mind raced to all the possibilities of illnesses and ailments that could cause a hamster to drop more than half his normal body weight.
The next few minutes were a blur of ridiculous decisions that ended in the diagnosis that Peter had woppy teeth. They were not meeting in the middle like normal rodent teeth. The upper and lower teeth were missing each other and continuing to grow in a curly-q fashion inside his mouth, making it impossible to chew and eat. Basically, Peter’s own teeth were slowly starving him to death. I imagined myself driving from the vet to an orthodontist for small and exotic pets. I pictured Peter in braces. But reality was far less complicated. They would simply trim them, which was like a tiny surgery. It sounded expensive. It actually wasn’t. For $12, the vet trimmed those teeth and said to come back in 6 weeks for a check up.
“What could cause his teeth to grow funny like that?” I asked. I don’t know why I asked.
“Sometimes there’s no way of knowing. It’s just the way they are. Sometimes it’s trauma of some sort…a fall…something like that.”
That’s another story for not another day. I’m sorry, Peter.
The next 4 weeks flew by like a sequel to Mary Poppins. During the day, I hand fed Peter and nursed him back to health. I texted daily updates to the girls, letting them know that Peter had weighed in at 27, 28, 30 grams on the days that I weighed him. We were bringing him back.
At the one month mark of his first tooth trimming, I took him back in—a full two weeks before they told me to. Because by then, Peter and I were very close. Sometimes a mom just knows when her boy’s teeth need a trimming. They did need a trimming, but his weight was better than I had expected. Peter was up to 40 gm. I was feeling downright positive about the direction we were headed.
I wonder now if that wasn’t the problem. I got too confident. I looked away. The 4 weeks after Trimming #2 did not fly by as the first had. The days were busier. Peter was eating on his own more at a table for one. At least I hoped he was. I didn’t have as much time to ensure that he was eating and pooping like the champ he had shown himself to be at his last appointment.
It seemed like he was holding his own. It became fairly obvious when he wasn’t anymore. The old behaviors were back and Peter was struggling. And one day last week, on a day home for eLearning, it was time.
The girls begged me to do something. Do something, Mom. Call the vet again. He’s suffering. We can’t watch him suffer anymore.
So I made another phone call I never pictured myself making and said the words only a crazy person would say, “Do you all put hamsters to sleep?”
Peter was definitely dying. Even though the vet was not going to let all three of us back in the room with Covid restrictions as they are, the girls rode along in the van to the appointment. Lucy cried all the way there. She knew what was coming. Jenna was stoic and silent.
“Keep your phones handy, in case there are decisions to be made,” I instructed as I got out of the car, then mentally reminded myself that we were talking about a hamster. They said their goodbyes. Again.
The scene in the exam room was more grim than it had been the first time I had brought him in. His teeth were a wreck and he was back down to 20 grams. He was just barely still alive.
“We could try one more time and see if he can rally again,” the doctor said.
“We feel like he’s suffering,” I said.
“He is,” the vet agreed.
“I’m not sure we can bring him back from this,” I said.
“I don’t know that you can either,” she replied. I facetimed my daughter and got her to buy in. And then I gave the order to put down Peter the Hamster. They left the room with him and I could feel the burn rising up behind my eyes. I was heartbroken for Lucy and Jenna. I was sad for Peter. And I felt like I had failed. Any person of modest intellect could keep a hamster alive for longer than 10 months. I had not been able to do it.
I shook my thoughts away and tried to keep the hamster tears at bay as the door opened and the doctor returned. Peter was handed to me in a small sealed bag, inside a cardboard box with his name and a heart drawn in Sharpie. I carried the cage and they carried Peter up to the counter where it would cost me $80 to walk out with a dead pet. And as it was all happening, I found myself in a truly astonishing circumstance. I was full-on crying over Peter. Wearing a mask. Trying to talk to the Vet and the nurse and the assistant. Real. Tears.
It all got very awkward.
People don’t put down hamsters after spending a cumulative $207 and 8 weeks of hand feeding. People who do that certainly don’t admit to it in writing.
I hate endings, but here we were, standing at the end. We had to honor Peter’s departure as we had celebrated his arrival. With a foam headstone and 5 participants, we held a service out by the river and said goodbye. For like the third time.
And yeah, that was the end. But it doesn’t end there. And because I’m not the only one that hates endings, today we drove to PetSmart and scoped out our next situation. I’ve never seen so many hamsters. It was like a vending machine full of them.
After much deliberation, we adopted Pablo. He’s very fat and doesn’t seem to like us much. It’s possible that he doesn’t like endings either and feels like his is now in sight. Somehow he knows. We’ll spend as much time and money as it takes to prove to him this isn’t true. For Pablo, it’s just the beginning.