The Cart and Bull Fall Down


Wesley's interest in helping with laundry extends only as far as emptying the bag. Kids!

I’m trying to get my ferret Wesley to come sit by me on the couch.

“These fingers could be scratchin’ yer itches!” I promise, waggling my fingers at him. He is not impressed, and waddles away to redouble his efforts at destroying the carpet behind my couch.

Dig dig dig…

Oh ferret.

Dig dig dig…

The landlord will have to replace it all whenever the boys and I move out. It should be replaced anyway since I’ve been living with this carpet for almost five years now. Surely they wouldn’t pass it on to the next tennant? No, it will be replaced. Replaced, and with some reason why my security deposit should be used to foot the bill. Fine. Let them keep it. It’s been worth it for your  special company, weasels. (See: “Things I Never Thought I’d Say To a 1 lb. Carnivore.”)

I thought I’d lost one of the ferrets yesterday; Brodie, my skinny boy, my hyperactive climber, my sable.

I was in the living room watching a show on Netflix when Wesley trotted in. He ducked behind the couch where I was sitting, and immediately began to whimper. Was he hurt? Was he sick? What’s going on?! I paused my show and pulled the couch away from the wall to find Wesley pawing at the face of a suspiciously inert Brodie, who lay on his back, legs splayed wide. I swooped down and picked Brodie up, his body cool and limp in my hands.

Oh no.

Ferrets are notorious for going into such a deep sleep they can seem comatose, or even dead. It’s important to know this before bringing one home because at some point, probably at multiple points, you will witness this condition. It’s not unusual, it’s not dangerous. It is normal ferret behavior. But this time? This time it shook me. Brodie’s oddly low body temperature, his uncustomary position, the whimpering and pawing from my other ferret… And mustelidae lover that I am I of course immediately assumed the worst: That Brodie was dead or dying, right there in my hands.

I cradled the pound of fur, teeth, and claws to my chest, trying to find a pulse, trying to find any sign he might simply be deep, deep asleep. His tiny, chilly body was so relaxed I could barely keep him from slipping through my arms as I played out worst case scenarios in my critter loving head.

After pushing the bottle around for an hour with his face, a neck-lick was apparently in order.

Wesley padded over to us and crawled onto my lap where he began sniffing at his fellow troublemaker, alternately pawing at his belly and licking his face, a new behavior couplet. I held Brodie tighter, trying at first not to cry but almost immediately giving up on that plan in favor of weeping openly and praying aloud that I would be able to keep this bounding, thieving, sneezing, pooping, hopping, climbing, giggle-inducing beast a little longer.

Eventually one of his eyes opened slightly, but then rolled back. He was still completely limp, folded almost in half against my chest as I pulled him in closer and closer toward my face, unwilling to let go in case he really was on his way out.

I would rather die while being held, wouldn’t you?

I rocked him, rubbed his cheeks and head, trying for several minutes to wake him. It had never taken so long before. And as I sat there blubbering I knew I’d feel so stupid if he turned out to be okay, if it turned out I was just overreacting to a common situation. But when it’s your own pet? And everything is a few degrees off from normal? And your other pet is exhibiting unusual behaviors too? And you’re all alone?

I freed a hand to phone my mom and asked her to come over so I wouldn’t be by myself, just in case. She said she’d be right over. I love that woman. I hung up and dragged my sleeve under my nose. I was a wreck.

I rolled the pound of dead weight over in my hands, rubbed my little guy’s face, and thanked him for being my buddy for the past two years. And then? His eye flickered open again, this time followed by the other… A hopeful sign? There came a head shift, a paw wave, and finally a sigh from him as Wesley decided we were fine and lumbered away to find something crinkly to crawl in.

We made it! All three of us.

Brodie came to slowly, resting peacefully in my arms. My hope grew less cautious. A minute passed, and then another, each making me feel happier, and more ridiculous, my babbling grin catching tears I no longer needed. My little guy, for now, would remain my little guy.

My dudes, fast asleep.

I knew I’d let myself freak out. I’d let my fear of losing my fuzzy pal overtake me. And the worst part is at some point I realized there might be nothing to worry about, even as it was all still happening. But what is my head to argue with my heart? I will almost always laugh with you, cry with you, sigh with you long before I will even attempt to reason with you.

I’m trying to figure out why I’d want to share this story in such a public way. It makes me seem over-dramatic, I think, because in the end it turned out I’d been wrong and so was upset over nothing. And to anyone without a similar type and level of appreciation for a pet I’m sure it sounds downright silly.

I think– and don’t quote me because I’m still not sure– but I think I just wanted to share a time when a feeling of loss was replaced, quickly and completely, by a feeling of joy.

That’s it.

If I were a master story teller I’d do the same by inventing some clever tale involving not-overly-beautiful people in a loss/joy cycle in a universe of my own design. I’d O. Henry an unexpected heart-string-tug readers would be able to relate to, and they’d share it with their friends on Facebook. I’d submit it to a literary magazine, they’d publish it with watercolor illustrations painted by a tenured biology professor, and over the next three years my characters’ names would climb to slots 7 and 8 on “Most Popular Baby Names” lists across the web. It would span so many forwarded emails it would eventually earn its own page on Snopes from all the people asking if it was true.

But it wouldn’t be.

Maybe that’s why I’d rather swallow my pride and tell you about a pet that didn’t really die, no matter how foolish it makes me look. Because foolishness is believable. As believable as loss. And almost as believable as joy.

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8 comments

  1. We used to say, “What a rush”, for an event that took us to unexpected emotional peaks. This is certainly one of them. What an honest and simple depiction of a heart wrenching human experience. As an actress, I urge you to keep the memory close, so that you can use it someday in a role that demands loss and redemption.

  2. you’re a fantastic writer. this really got me: “But what is my head to argue with my heart? I will almost always laugh with you, cry with you, sigh with you long before I will even attempt to reason with you.” so true.

  3. Last week our boxer–family companion, younger child’s pillow, wrestling buddy to the males of the home, security system, and general room-stinker-upper–took ill. In the States, I guess I wouldn’t have thought much of a lethargic, vomiting, loose-stooled canine. But here in the land of leichmaniasis (read “immediate lethal injection upon positive blood test”), my mind was already on the worst case scenario before they made it to the vet to find out he only had a parasite, a treatable parasite. Phwew. Bullet dodged. Glad you avoided the loss, too. Funny how those pets WEASEL their way in to our homes and hearts, huh? (I couldn’t resist.)

    As for “If I were a master story teller I’d do the same by inventing some clever tale involving not-overly-beautiful people in a loss/joy cycle in a universe of my own design.” Well, if you were a missionary, you’d have been obligated to end this with a Jesus Juke, aka an evangelism bomb. Slighty less apt to go viral, but definitely submittable to a host of magazines, and bound to show up as links all over fb. ;)

  4. Very well written. I know what you mean about the fright that can happen, even knowing how deeply they can sleep at times. Ever since we lost Ysabell earlier this year, I come home every day,and find each of our babies, and pick them up for a quick cuddle. And every time I find one in that deep state of floppy-sleep, my heart jumps just a little, a brief flash of fear before I see that eye open just the slightest, or that small toss of the head that lets me know they’re alright. I’m glad the little furry fellow turned out to be alright.

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