Happy trails

I had been concerned about his well-being for some time.

What really caught my attention was the sudden change in his eating and sleeping habits. Usually a greedy pig of an eater, his appetite had abruptly diminished; he ate in a week what he would have normally eaten in two days. He had taken to sleeping outside his house, even in the colder autumn weeks. When I could actually hold his attention, he seemed to look through me, rather than at me, with a distant, glazed look on his face. Perhaps dementia had set in. I couldn’t tell.

I told myself that he was old, that his behavior was probably an indication that the end was near. Knowing that didn’t prepare me for the inevitable.

When I returned home from a visit to my parents’ over Thanksgiving break, checking on him was foremost in my mind. He was not where I had left him five days before. When I found him, his body was prostrate in a strange position on the ground, his eyes were closed. Struggling to suppress the rising feeling of panic, I gingerly reached out to touch him. He was still warm, but the breath had left him. He had died probably earlier in the day.

I was surprised to find tears streaming down my face as I climbed into the shower.

Mike had arrived home a couple of hours before me, but he had left to run errands before the stores closed. He returned with a bouquet of flowers and a hug. I didn’t want to leave his embrace. “Awwww, what’s the matter,” he asked.

A moment passed before I could find my voice. “Kevin’s dead.”

An hour or so had passed before I could bring myself to think about what to do with the body of my dead hamster. As a child, I had buried Mr Nibbles in the back yard under the azaleas. Since we don’t own this property, I didn’t feel comfortable digging up the soil behind us; I also didn’t want to arouse the suspicions of our next-door neighbor, who, at such a late hour in the night, probably would have set his dingo on us and asked questions later. We discussed the possibility of going to the park and burying him there, but that idea fell through upon the realization that we didn’t own a shovel, or even a gardening spade.

A shudder passed through my body when Mike suggested the only option available to us: putting him in the huge garbage bin outside.

Rather than simply tossing him in with our usual bag of refuse, we prepared him a more appropriate resting place. Incredibly, neither of us had a shoe box in our closets. I did, however, have an overwhelming stock of gift bags. Mike chose a white paper bag with blue handles, embossed with the words “Let It Snow!” in blue metallic print. I found some black tissue paper that had been left over from Halloween. As I stuffed the bottom of the gift bag with paper, Mike retrieved my hamster. Kevin was delicately placed amid a sea of black tissue paper, covered until the bag was full.

“We can’t throw him out like this,” I said. “What if some animal gets in there? He’ll be totally exposed.”

During the first day of my visit the previous week, my mother had shown me a resealable plastic sandwich bag that was almost three square feet big. I thought it was so hilariously over-sized I insisted that she let me take one home, even though I had no idea how I would use it. Perhaps it was fate that introduced me to the giant bag, but I suddenly had the answer to my problem.

The resealable bag was opened, and the gift bag containing Kevin was gently placed inside. Using a Sharpie, I wrote the contents of the bag on the outside, just as I would have for a bag of leftovers or chicken to be frozen for later use. The epitaph was brief and informative.

Contents: Kevin Patrick Register
Owned October 2005 – November 2007
He was a good hamster. 

He may have been a little dopey (a hamster “mimbo,” if you will), but Kevin was a neat little part of my family for two years. He liked carrots, but not apples. He was perfectly content to sit on my tummy while I watched television. He nipped my fingers only a couple times, but never with malicious intent and always gently. He liked the plastic ball that let him run free through the apartment, but not the hardwood floors that didn’t allow the ball to come to a complete stop.

I will miss him. Happy trails, Kevin.

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