If the rat is the Nixon of the rodent hierarchy, the Guinea pig is the Gerald Ford. When my blue-eyed boy commenced to begging for a Guinea, his plea triggered my God-given phobia of scuttling, gnawing creatures.
That went on for months. My husband was OK with a rodent as a pet. My consistent rebuttal: “I have allergies.”
Which was true. However, had I not allergies, I would hardly be cuddling One of Those to my breast.
My eight-year-old informed me, “Guineas are a species of rodent. A cavy.”
The sweetness in his specification hurt my heart. I agreed to visit a pair of available cavy.
The house of the family seeking to shed their home of a particular species of rodent smelled like rodents. My blood pressure went voom in a rat panic. The house also smelled of hay. My nose and skin began to itch.
“Please, Mama, please!”
“Four years old is kinda old for a Guinea pig. What if they die on you?” (Ha! Selfishness disguised as compassion.)
My son lifted his pointy chin with purpose. “That would be sad. But I will enjoy them for as long as I can.”
It came down to my phobia and allergies or his joy. Welcome home, Spice and Biscuit.
My husband donated his postage stamp of an office in the basement for Guinea pigs’ habitat. Between the piggies and their hay, I couldn’t be in the lowest level for more than five minutes. I gave up going down there for any reason—not to watch a Seattle Mariners’ games with my family, not to work in my office. I took to working on the living room couch. No privacy and back pain. But my boy was happy and so I was happy. (Well, let’s not go that far. I was OK with it.)
One rainy night three years after we acquired Biscuit and Spice—my son was eleven, now—my husband came into our living room with a serious face.
“Biscuit is listless and has a bruise I’ve never seen before.”
To the vet. Of course, a tumor. We bought miniature pain medications. The next day, Biscuit stopped eating. Even I thought, “Poor l’il thing.”
My boy took it like a champ. Two nights later, father and son sat with Biscuit throughout the ordeal. Unable to stay in the hay-suffused room, I searched out a Stride Rite shoebox striped pink and lime green for when, you know. Then I turned on Colbert. About midnight, my boy crawled into his bed, physically and emotionally drained. Seth Meyers was finishing “A Closer Look” when my husband came into the living room to let me know that Biscuit had gone to that great hay field in the sky. Ooo-nellie, was I allergic to that hay.
What to do with a dead cavy?
Obviously, we would bury Biscuit with full honors. I put forth that we might consider inviting her former owner-families to the funeral.
Me and my mouth.
Over the week it took to arrange the burial, there sat in our fridge a grocery bag, inside of which was an unsuitably cheery shoebox, inside of which was a zip-lock bag, inside of which was a dead cavy. Stacked right next to the chicken legs and the cubed lamb. I couldn’t force myself to open the fridge. We ate Taco Time and take-out pizza for four days (Biscuit dies and I gain two pounds?) Four days into Taco Time, the funeral was still not arranged. I demanded that my husband, “Get that thing out of there!”
My son overheard me. “That thing?” he shrieked, hopping up and down in anguish. “That thing?” He called me a bad mama. He was right.
Thus did the funeral take place on an ignoble Thursday afternoon, father and son in sole attendance. The families I thought to invite did not care. The weather did not comply. It bucketed down on the meager gathered as they swiftly placed the beloved under a basketball-sized Buddha head in our backyard and dashed for the kitchen—where a good mama and a decent human begin would have been waiting with soothing cups of hot tea.
I was busy not caring—about my son’s feelings, about my husband in the rain. I cared only about getting “that thing” out of my house.
About six months after Biscuit died, Spice followed her. Remembering my boy, hopping up and down pain, it didn’t surprise me that I was able to be at our son’s side when Cliff told him. It did surprise me that, powered by something that was not me, I accompanied them into the hay room, that I stayed and itched while he petted Spice goodbye and finished weeping. As I tucked him into bed, he said, “I bet Spice met Biscuit already, and they are in that great big hay field in the sky.”
Perhaps it was the clutch at my heart that prevented me from saying, “Ooo-nellie, was I allergic to that hay.”