Friday, May 22, 2009

The Build-Up, The Reset

Today I'm taking a break from writing my second book- a story about holding on versus letting go- to do some cleaning. You see, the mail piles up. The leaves fall, the dust builds. Rolling up your sleeves and attacking it, it's all you can do to keep from getting buried under.

Part of it is cleaning the cage of our most recent hamster to die. If that sounds blunt or in any way down-played, it's because having hamsters means seeing them die. You don't like it, but you get used to it. You get a good year out of them, if you're lucky, and then one night you go to feed them and realize you don't have to. All that's left then is to find something to dig with and to bury them, in soft voices and a wet rose garden and an envelope that will have to do.

This guy's name was Jett. Not to say they're all not special, we all know everything is, but he was our Monster. We called him that because he had no morals. Just a dirty, shameless little man who liked to hang on the cage bars and show you the balls he wasn't supposed to have.

The story with how we ended up with, at the high point at least, something like twenty hamsters all comes back to Jett's balls. After seeing our first hamster die very quickly from a sickness we decided we wanted another. This is what you do, instead of learning and moving on you cover it up with an even bigger mistake, that way the first doesn't burn so bad anymore.

When we hit the pet store we found a different breed altogether, a smaller type called Dwarf Hamsters that the sign claimed were semi-social. A term as it turns out that means non-social. So we took home not one but three supposed sisters, a little family that could crawl on each other and share seed. Where that went, well, it was sharing seed all right. It was one hamster with undeveloped, undetected nuts coming of age and developing an attraction to his sister, and two owners walking in on the whole, shameful scene. And that led to babies. And that, led to more babies.

He'd been named Jett after Joan Jett, the female punk icon. This was when we thought he was a she and because he had markings like a mohawk and the fact that, with rodents, you don't have much to go on. Luckily it worked as a boy name, too, until we settled into the more accurate nickname Monster. As you can imagine, watching a fat hamster air out the balls he used on his own sister, it doesn't cast him in the best light. But through all of it, you had to admire his sheer lack of apology, his continued hedonistic outlook right up to the day he went to his usual sleep spot and really meant it.

After the burial, the next thing is you clean out the cage. Wipe away the piss and fur, dump out the half-eaten sunflower seeds of something that isn't alive anymore, and that's what gets you. Seeing the teeth marks and signs of a thing that once was here and able to make teeth marks and leave signs. Not to make too much out of it, but it's an odd feeling. All that constant moving, that munching of pellets and sleeping like a Buddha, the running in wheels, the climbing bars to display covert testicles, it all comes down to a quiet dehydrating and the shit and piss you leave behind, the piles of fluff arranged just so, the cardboard you chewed to pulp. You do what you can and you hope to leave an echo, a smile and a story at your name. But sometimes, all that's left is someone cleaning up your mess, spraying to sanitize where your corpse fell, dealing with your children, illegitimate or otherwise, and watching them go and go until they go.

This is what I did to take a break from a story about what we leave behind and what we bring with us. Which is to say, I never left it in the first place.