Imagine if everything you knew about human existence, from birth to death, was based on the years 2020 to 2022. Imagine if the worst two years of almost everybody’s lives thus far encompassed your entire lifetime. Would it be a good life, or bad?
Ralphie was my hamster. I loved him. I adopted him because he looked sad and alone in his enclosure, away from the bustle of the other hamsters, and because he put his hand on the glass when I peered in at him. I pressed my fingertip over his paw, and promptly signaled the pet store lady to fish him out and ring him up.
I adopted Ralphie for emotional support during a period of unrelenting stress, terror, confusion and malaise. I named him after the late morbidly obese comedian Ralphie May. He was a longhair hamster, and looked like a fluffy cloud, with grey “cheek flash”. At first he was very timid, but it wasn’t long before he loosened up. He loved to be brushed and petted.
I don’t know how I would’ve handled the past two years if Ralphie hadn’t been there. As isolated and alone as I felt, I still had Ralphie to bond with. There were times where I joked that my hamster was the only thing keeping me from just offing myself. He is the sole warm-blooded living thing with which I’ve had any meaningful contact in longer than I care to think about.
Some people think that hamsters don’t live long enough to warrant serious attachment. These people are dumb stupid idiots who don’t understand that if you share your living space with any living creature for every day of even two months, you will become attached to it. Especially if it has silky long fur, bright beady eyes, a tiny pink tail, and smells like a fresh danish.
Ralphie was never into the wheel, although he loved excursions in the ball. He had no fear of the two cats in the apartment and they respected him for it. They liked him enough to show concern at my door when he started to get sick. And it bears pointing out that Ralphie was at first sick with vestibular disease; he had the head tilt, the stumbling, and everything, and I was pretty sure he was on his way out, and then he beat it. He still wasn’t completely well, but he never had the head-tilt or stumbled again.
Ralphie was such a robust hamster that he would set up “vaults” where he would actually sort his food. Since Ralphie didn’t like the wheel, I set him up in a habitat with lots of tunnels, so his lazy butt would still get exercise (aside from the ball). He loved loading up a capsule with his favorite seeds and treats until it started to weigh the attached tunnels down. One of his vaults registered 7 pounds on my postal scale.
I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with this warm, charming, funny, sweet-natured little creature. The pain I feel at his inevitable absence only underscores what an indispensable and endearing presence Ralphie was. Even in the days leading up to his too-soon demise, he was affectionate and not unhappy, often snuggling up to my scraggly white beard and clicking his teeth in contentment.
Last night, the neighbors made some manner of Lovecraftian crab boil monstrosity that stank up the building so horrifically, the stench woke me up at 3 am. At first I was blood-shittingly enraged, needing three more hours of sleep before getting ready for church (that’s after doing laundry in the finally-empty laundry room, because I’ll be damned if I go to church wearing the same underwear I wore yesterday, and I was out of clean underwear, and yesterday some neighbors used the machines all day, but I don’t know if they’re the same ones who stank up the building, although that would be funny, as if they were trying to get the stank out of their clothes and blankets). I’ve been crying for hours over a hamster.
My point in that last fragrant anecdote is that because I was awakened in the middle of the night, I was fortunate enough to spend some of what turned out to be Ralphie’s last hours holding him and lovingly stroking his fur. I made absolutely certain that Ralphie knew just how precious he was to me, and my world.
Today I buried Ralphie, and I thought that if I could carve him a proper tombstone, I’d appropriate the epitaph of Dewey the cat from the well-known early 1900’s grave, because it fits Ralphie like a fuzzy glove.
HE WAS ONLY A HAMSTER
BUT HE WAS HUMAN ENOUGH
TO BE A GREAT COMFORT
IN HOURS OF LONELINESS AND PAIN
Ralphie was my hamster. I loved him.
I’ll miss him.