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Part One: Confessions of a Hero
I should have known. All the signs were there. That hamster was not normal.
His name was Yogi, as in the bear or the Yogurt-filled snacks. He was a birthday present for my sister. She used to say that Yogi was hers 90% of the time and mine 10%. Soon, that 9:1 ratio faded.
“He needs your love!” I said to my sister. “You can’t ignore him forever!” Playing with him became a chore, soon forgotten. I like to think that, even in these dark days, I still showed Yogi a little affection. But, to be quite honest, the poor hamster was neglected. And it just got worse and worse.
Eventually, Yogi was 100% mine. Mine to play with, mine to feed, and mine to take care of.
I was so young. So unworldly. I knew nothing about the realities of being responsible for another life. My sister, on the other hand, knew the world. Well, she knew enough to know when to pull out of the hamster game. She knew that, sooner or later, playing this game would get someone (or something) hurt.
For the first couple of weeks, he seemed like every other hamster. He played in his ball, ran around a little, even squeaked when we had company. But then, he got too needy. He needed my time and my love and I was just eight. I wasn’t trying to win the Mother Teresa award. I just wanted to play lava monsters at the park with my non-hamster friends. (Besides, he seemed happy alone in his cage.)
My little “happy hamster” was just a decoy, a mask to fool the world. Maybe he was happier before at Petco. After all, who knows what kind of life he led before we lovingly took him into our home?
Days faded into weeks, weeks into months. I tried not to make eye contact with Yogi but I constantly felt his black, beady eyes staring me down. One day, as I was running out of the house to play, a sense of guilt overwhelmed me. I gathered up all my courage and looked that tortured soul straight in the eye. I needed to do something.
The hamster ate. He ate a lot. I fed. I fed him a lot (out of guilt). I told myself that Yogi was a growing boy who needed his food. I was “smothering him with love” but that was not enough.
So he kept growing. I found out that my sister was also feeding him; however, she fed him more than she fed herself. She was on to his death plan, almost an accomplice in the act.
Poor Yogi couldn’t even fit in his hamster wheel anymore. Desperately, I countered and tried to cut down Yogi’s food intake. But the hamster was hungry and I was weak (and guilty). In retrospect, I should have taken such a hamster to a dietitian. I was naïve, thinking it was just a phase in Yogi’s life. (Plus, my parents weren’t going to pay for it.)
I have to give it to him. He was smart. Soon, he picked up on the fact that I wouldn’t let him eat himself to death. From intense obesity came a hunger strike. Yogi starved himself. Maybe he was protesting for the right to his own life (or lack thereof).
He was skinny again so we put him back in his little hamster ball but all he would do is sleep. And pee. Where he was once bulging out, he now seemed so small, miniscule even.
No motion came from that death cage, almost to the point where my mother would routinely kick poor Yogi’s ball to check if he was alive.
Those days were tough. I made it a habit to lean in front of Yogi’s cage daily begging him to eat, luring him with foods of his favorite color. Sometimes he fell for it but, like I said, that hamster had a 6th sense. And even I was scared of him.
He stunk. Literally. Wafts of hamster scents floating in the air and stinging your nose. The pain was unbearable. We were soon fighting over who had to clean his cage. Being the “weakest link” and the only person who cared, the lovely task was quickly passed on to me. My family was just waiting for him to die. No one wanted to bear the stench of his existence much longer.
I halfheartedly got to work, dreading this chore. Soon, even leaving Yogi on a ledge while I cleaned his cage became a danger. Yogi turned extreme, jumping off of high ledges and tables all over the place. I first thought it was an improvised game of catch in which he was the ball. I was excited about him being playful again. But, my parents told me that this was not “normal” or “playful” behavior. You see, “normal” hamsters do not have serious death wishes.
I wanted Yogi to break through this dark spot in his life. I convinced myself that he just needed to be left alone to his thoughts for a little while. And that’s what I did. I left him and his stinky cage alone. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I didn’t even like him, I just felt guilty that no one else loved him… I didn’t want hamster blood on my hands.
I will never forget the night Yogi’s dark, twisted journey ended. We went out to dinner. When we came back, he was dead. Guilt consumed me and fear swallowed my sister. She demanded that Yogi would be removed from the house that instant. Maybe she thought that the ghost of the mistreated hamster would come back to haunt her. She was almost as smart as Yogi.
I am confident my sister let go of the guilt inside of her, if she had any. We weren’t even there when the passing occurred. We often think to ourselves that he went out peacefully. He is happy now, sleeping (and peeing) in that little clear hamster ball in the sky.
Part Two: Confessions of a Suicidal Hamster
Hands are petting me all day long. I see my friends. Birds squawking. Dogs barking. Frogs ribbiting. Many kinds of smells. Food is good. Water is always there. Plenty of room to play.
Then, two large stranger hands grab me. I get put into a smaller cage. I’m moving.
I leave the good smells and noises. This strange cage bumps. I see knees and large boxes on wheels whoosh by making loud noises. My tummy hurts from the bumping. I shut my eyes.
Where am I? Did I get stolen?
I see new people staring at me. I smell the stranger hands.
Five long fingers poke me. Teehee, teehee, comes out of their mouths.
I want to go home.
The big one with the curly hair does not seem to like me. She always watches the moving pictures on the medium-sized box, not me.
The small one with the big, brown eyes and long stares, pays more attention to me than the colorful box. She taps the glass and calls me Yogi. Sometimes she sings it. I wish she would stop. She scares me. I just want to sleep.
Then one day, she stops. Now she watches the colorful box with the big one.
The only time the small one comes is to feed me. So I eat a lot, even when I am not hungry. I wolf down my food and then look at her for more.
Soon, I can’t fit in my hamster ball. The big one feeds me as much as I want. But she does not look at me. The small one looks at me.
She looks at me everyday now. She takes away some of the food that the big one leaves for me. But the big one doesn’t come by very often. The small one now feeds me without looking at me.
I stop eating. I want her to look at me again. She begs me to eat. She has water drops come out of her eyes.
I want to sleep all the time. I feel weak. But the bigger one who smells like a mother does not like that. She uses her feet to turn me over. Why does she do that? She stops and goes back to work with that sharp metal object and the vegetables.
When the small one cleans my cage, she rests me on top of her piano. I see my chance. I jump.
The biggest one with the deep voice who smells like a father catches me. I keep on jumping whenever I get the chance. Somehow, someone is always there to catch me. Everyone except for the big one. She understands me. She is letting me die.
One night, they all go out. It is quiet. I am alone.
“Good bye, cruel world.”