Everyone is silent as we sit at the dining room table. I pretend I’m not here. My sister stares at her hands. My dad’s jaw is locked and his face is a mask. My mother holds his hand and my brother’s face is blank. My grandfather’s hands are shaking as he sips cranberry juice from a glass. My grandmother sits in a chair in the corner. Tears stream down her grief-stricken face. Her face looks ten years older than it did the last time I saw her. My grandfather’s eyes have lost the fire that once burned within them.
“I was the one who found him you know,” he says. “God, he looked awful. His mouth was open and his skin was blue. His eyes were still open but they were completely blank. I checked his pulse and there was nothing there. He was cold. I went upstairs and said, ‘Renee, Tom’s Dead.’” My Grandfather walks out of the room.
I had had a great night watching Once Upon A Time with my two best friends. I had already finished all my homework and decided that I was going to go right to sleep once I arrived home. I washed the lettuce that I gave to Casper every night. I had been doing this for the five, almost six years that I had owned him. I walked into the bathroom where is cage is set up. I open the cage and then I see it. His body, limp and not moving. His eyes are still open. I suck in a breath and know what has happened before I touch his limp body.
“Casper,” I whisper. His body is cold and doesn’t move when I touch it. I know in that instant that he’s dead. The lettuce falls from my hand and I can’t breathe. I think I screamed. Tears rush to my eyes and I choke on my sobs. I run around the house trying to find my mother. My dad finds me first. I scream for my mom and I find her in her room. My dad doesn’t know what going on. He doesn’t understand how I feel. How could he? He has never lost something he cared for and loved more than anything else in the world. My mother hugs me and asks what wrong. I can hardly speak through the uncontrollable tears that stream down my face. I manage to choke out his name, “Casper” before another wave of grief and hysteria washes over me making any means of communication impossible. My dad walks out of the room.
My dad is talking to his parents about what to do for the funeral. My grandparents want something big and elaborate to grieve with. My dad thinks something small is better. He says that’s what Tom would have wanted. At his funeral, my grandparents cry the whole time. My grandfather loudly explains old happy memories. My cousin reads a eulogy she wrote. My Dad's face is blank. I still haven’t seen him break down about the death of his baby brother. I know how hard it must have been for him. To see his proud tough father reduced to the sniveling broken soul in front of me. To watch his mother lose her baby after a mere 39 years of caring for him. They are both broken beyond repair now. Losing a child will do that to you. They did everything they could to help him and he still died. He’s gone and will never return.
The day after I learned that my first pet and favorite thing in the world was dead, I stayed home from school. The moment I woke up I forgot what had happened. Then it came crashing down on me and the pain was worse than ever. The hysteria had subsided and all that was left was this empty feeling of grief. I lay there in my bed overwhelmed with all that had happened. I spend that entire day with a wet face. I struggle to keep calm and let go a little bit. I can’t. I don’t eat. I just watch funny movies to forget the pain. It doesn’t work and I sob through Jackass 3.5. I go to different art supply stores and buy materials. I make him a coffin. We bury him that night. My dad puts him in the coffin. His name is glued to the top of the blue box in plastic gems. I tell my parents that I want to see him one last time. I wanted to make sure he was really dead. I guess I was desperate enough to think maybe he was only sleeping this whole time. He wasn’t. I can’t stop crying long enough to say a real goodbye. I choke out how much I loved him and how much I missed him. Then I break down in the arms of my mother. I walk back to my house leaning on my mother's shoulders. My neighbor brings me cookies she made. I watch more movies and even though it should have been physically impossible, I am still crying. Everyone cries. Scientifically tears are needed to lubricate the eyes. Emotionally, though, I think we cry for some release. To put your energy into forcing fat tears down your cheeks instead of focusing on the pain that is actually breaking your heart. It’s funny how happy you can be one minute and in one second lose all happiness for a good three months.
My friends ask me why I missed school. I tell them that my uncle died. They all offer me their condolences.
My friends text me and ask why I’m not at school. I tell them that Casper died last night. They tell me how sorry they are and tell me they knew how much he meant to me and that they are here for me no matter what.
It has been almost one year since my uncle died and my grandparents haven’t moved a thing in his room. They want to ignore the fact that his body is ash in a little jar. They still don’t want it to be real.
It had been a little over a year since Casper died. He was my first pet and first responsibility. I miss him every day and it still hurts to walk into that bathroom and not see his cage. It hurts to see lettuce in my fridge and not just because I find it a disgusting excuse for a vegetable. All I can think about is how I’ll never see him again. How I’ll never hear him make those cute little guinea pig happy noises. I’ll never watch him fall asleep on my lap while I pet his fur. I’ll never get to cut him up fruit salads on his birthday or national guinea pig day (July 16th if you were wondering). I didn’t even hold him that day. I should have held him. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.