Continued from “Surprise.”
Red-Eyes and Squirt got along famously. (Squirt was the name of my second hamster. Named after the hamster in Sister Charlotte’s second grade class at Sacred Heart. (Again, REAL original name…))
Sparky, on the other hand, did not want anything to do with these new intruders. As far as he was concerned, these new rodents were on his turf—and he wasn’t going to sit back and take it. The first time we put the hamsters in one cage together, Sparky started to fight. Biting, clawing, and—well, actually that’s it. Just biting and clawing. But it was fierce! Not at all what I had expected from the little fur ball that liked to sleep on my lap—whom I had mistakenly assumed to be the world’s most docile pet.
I took Sparky out of the cage. It wasn’t fair, but there were two of them and only one of him. Sparky got relegated to the hamster ball—rolling around the house in his transparent, yellow prison, filled with little pellets of hamster shit. It broke my heart to see my friend like that.
Fortunately, it did not last long. The hamster party of three was short-lived. A week after rediscovering Sparky in the basement, Squirt got sick.
Unlike Sparky, Squirt was introverted. He did not like to crawl up and down my leg. He wasn’t an asshole like Red-Eyes, but he wasn’t the World’s greatest hamster like Sparky, either. He was just—delicate; a kind soul in a hamster body. I was devastated when he died.
The last time I saw Squirt was in the kitchen of my house. It was a Saturday. Mama was cradling him in her hands, his little ears tucked back behind his head, feeding him medicine out of a hamster bottle. His eyes were crusted and shut. I gave him a loving caress before going to a birthday party. It was in a dark movie theater. All I could think about was Squirt. I cried in the dark, trying not to let anybody see. I think I already knew Squirt was dead before Mama picked me up.
We buried Squirt in the backyard in a shoebox. I put flowers over the mound and said a prayer. I was heartbroken.
Inconsolable, I did not go into the basement for two days. I could not bear to look at either Red-Eyes or Sparky—who was still rolling around in his increasingly filthy hamster ball.
One day, it was decided that enough was enough. Sparky was coming out of the hamster ball and going back in the cage. To hell with the new hamster! If he could live with Squirt, he should be able to live with Sparky. We re-introduced the two on Monday morning just as Mama drove me and Juli to school. We shut the cage and ascended the basement stairs—waving good-bye and turning off the lights.
When I came home that afternoon, both hamsters were dead. Full of cuts and scratches, the two bodies lay three inches apart—cold and limp. I picked up Sparky’s lifeless body by the tail and held him for a moment. My first pet—gone. Killed by that albino bastard. The fact that Sparky killed him back was little consolation.
Most children are ill equipped to handle death at eight years old.
Let me tell you now: All children are ill equipped to handle the deaths of three pets over the course of 72 hours.
Those rats taught me a lot about life.
Sparky taught me what it means to persevere in the face of adversity. If he could survive in that cold basement for two months—anything is possible!
Squirt taught me about cohabitation. Sometimes it’s necessary to put up with huge assholes—especially if you’re caged together. Diplomacy is key to survival.
And Red-Eyes—well, in a way he taught me the most important life lesson of all: that biting your little brother is an easy way to make him cry. I haven’t forgotten that.