Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Face Only a Mother Could Love

When I was a freshman in college, I went through a deep funk. I couldn’t manage to pass any of my classes (One aspect of my life that has definitely changed over the years), and my love-life was a wasteland (Another aspect of my life that hasn’t changed at all).

To console myself in my misery, I decided I would buy myself a rodent friend: a hamster.
So I went to the local pet shop on Main Street in Provo (I think it was called “Jay’s Jungle, and I’m fairly certain it’s still there), in search of a brainless fur-ball. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered three cages full of mice, two cages of feeder rats, and not one blessed hamster in the whole stinkin’ store.


Be that as it may, I would not be deterred: I had just purchased a $10 ten-gallon tank from off a Wilk-board advertisement and bought nine-hundred pounds of cedar shavings. I was determined not to leave the store without a friend. So I went back to reexamine the mice and rat selections.

The mice were pitiful, with their blind stares and pink albino eyes. I became totally uninterested.
Then, I looked at the rat cages.

I stared for a long time.

First, I saw two rats licking each other’s faces and cuddling together to stay warm, and I thought how bizarrely endearing they both were, if not somewhat disgusting. Then a little black-hooded boy popped his head up from out of a mass of others eating from a communal food bowl. He was smaller than the others, but he looked curiously straight up at me.

I bought him five minutes later.

I was obsessed with Jackie Chan movies at the time, and I wanted to name him something Chinese. My roommate’s fiancĂ© spoke Mandarin (I didn’t realize at the time, Jackie Chan was from Hong Kong, where only Cantonese is spoken), so we named him “Way-ba” or “tail.”

Wayba was something special. His disposition was sweet, and he was smart. He learned tricks, and he would sit on my shoulders for hours while I wrote papers or talked on the phone. He was the perfect friend, and when I would cry, he would lick the tears from my face. He was not unlike a very, very small dog.

I kept Wayba for two and a half years. During that time, I moved three times. He handled it well. For a while, he even lived at my sister’s apartment, when an unreasonable roommate would not let me keep him in the apartment (Neener, a best friend, would hide him during winter cleaning checks by rapping his cage up like a gift for a day or two).

When he died in the spring of 2003, my heart was broken. I don’t think, with exception of one dog I had, I ever loved an animal more.

I took his little body to the mountains, and buried it in Rock Canyon, after digging a more than adequate hole in the sand stone with a pick axe I “borrowed” from BYU Grounds Crew.

I tell this story, because after two years of being petless, and almost five years of being ratless, I’ve been looking into the possibility of some new friends.


Kira said...

Sweet rats. They rarely talk back. Only bite. They just need someone to love them.

Heidi said...

Oh, I was just talking about Wayba (I'm sure that is not the americanized way of spelling it, hee hee) the other day. I miss him, too.

Becky said...

That rat was a sweetheart.

He was in the world's most cramped cage, he lived in aromatic shavings (I didn't realize this at the time, but cedar and pine soft wood shavings contain wonderful smelling oils, i.e. aromatic, that are actually toxic to rats), and he still lived a pretty decent length of time for a large rodent.

I do miss him. I don't think I'll ever have another like him.

Fran said...

You ought to write a short story and name it ODE TO A RAT.

That would certainly make for good reading...try getting it published.