I don’t give a f**k what the Chinese Zodiac says, 2017 was THE YEAR OF THE DEAD HAMSTER.
Beanie Boos are a gateway drug to animal abuse. Their pleading eyes hook children like my daughter, Elsa into subjugation. Their name tags give them personality. Their cuddliness demands company until the entire bedroom, floor and bed, are covered with them. They multiply without mating, spilling from shelves and containers, seeking refuge under furniture, finding ways to surprise without moving.
The high they offer is passive, eternal, on-demand comfort. And your kids will huff that shit deeply until they’re speaking in little baby voices and hosting chubby little tea parties with a Studio 54-level guest list where cuteness always gets you to the head of the line and seated at the reserved sugar-filled tables.
But Beanie Boos have no hearts, of course. The only warmth they give is borrowed from whoever is holding them. They don’t blink. They don’t react. They’re dead. This is their only failing and it is this hole that creates a craving in your child that can never be met.
You’ll see it when space runs out for Beanie Boos. Then it becomes clear that your child can drown in them and still never be satisfied. Because they are unsatisfying. They can’t make good on the promise their cute faces make. They take and take and give nothing back but a fiber-filled-fluffy lie.
Inevitably, your child will seek a more potent fix. They have that craving now. It’s infused in their double helixes. Their children will be born pre-programmed to seek out synthetic fur. As they seek fulfillment, your kids might jump to Furreal Friends with their battery-powered simulation of life. But your child will feel the plastic bones under the thin skin of their Furreal Friends. The comfort they crave from the Beanie Boos will not be found with these machines. Sure the Furreal Friends look good, but they don’t feel good. After defecating a trail of double A’s the Furreal Friends will jitter their way out of your child’s life.
And still the void will remain. A howling emptiness even the most attached parents can’t fill.
With itchy skin and red eyes, your kids will demand something cuddly and warm. Something more. Something that moves without batteries. Like a guinea pig, a rabbit, or a hamster.
You’ll resist as long as you can. But you’re only human. You’re only one human. To make it worse, you’re a parent human. You’ll weigh the options. You’ll review what I’ve said about guinea pigs. You won’t need me to tell you that rabbits are far worse than guinea pigs. So the only choice you’ll have is to get a hamster. Because you really have no choice at all.
It’s what we did.
We started with Cinnamon. She was orange-red and adorable. She wouldn’t bite your fingers when you picked her up. She kept her shit in the corners of her enclosure. She was a Syrian hamster who never answered my questions about Assad.
She wasn’t enough. Oh you thought an addiction to cuddly was something that could be sated? You thought if you did this one thing, and bought a hamster for your child, then they would finally be content? You thought you could trade in all the fifteen thousand beanie boos for one twitch-nose hamster, and that would be settle the fix? That’s cute, but sorry, I don’t traffic in bullshit. No, they will be keeping every last f**king Beanie Boo they already own in addition to their now-growing menagerie of hamsters. You own hamsters now. F**king plural.
We next enslaved Pepper–a black and white Djungarian dwarf hamster. She was also adorable.
Have you noticed all the past tense I’m using?
They lived in separate enclosures because apparently if you put more than one hamster in a cage, they instantly move into BLOOD SPORT MODE and tear each other to pieces. Sure, you’ll still have one hamster after the fur settles, but that hamster will be inside out and eyeless. And there goes the cuddly factor. You’ll be forced to buy a new one.
Elsa was sailing on a two-hamster high for a while. Until Pepper decided “f**k this noise” and got out of her enclosure. Which was something of a feat. Pepper was a DWARF hamster and we keep our hamsters in huge storage bins that are big enough to include a goddamned hamster-sized amusement park and a hamster-sized restaurant and a hamster-sized hotel. How she scaled those walls is still a mystery. But she did. And she was gone.
Reducing her hamster dosage by 50% was giving Elsa the bugs-under-the-skin feeling. She was itching for a fresh fix. She didn’t even have time to mourn Pepper.
So we got a new dwarf hamster pretty much immediately. We named her Coconut and plopped her into dead Pepper’s bin. It didn’t matter that Coconut would bite your finger if you ever tried to touch her, Elsa was back up on her two-hamster high.
The next day, Cinnamon went on a rescue mission to find Pepper. How she scaled those walls is still a mystery. But she did. And she was gone.
We tore the house apart looking for Cinnamon because she was cuter than Pepper and she deserved our best effort. In the process of searching for Cinnamon, we found Pepper alive and well, nesting in some drapes, perfectly healthy. Not all that remarkable considering she had only been gone five days.
It didn’t turn out the same way for Cinnamon. We never found her. I like to think she caught a bus to Hollywood and made it big. I like to think a lot of stupid things.
For a while Elsa was making due with two dwarf hamsters. But two dwarfs just didn’t pack the same dosage of cute. Elsa tried to hold it together as long as she could but the cracks her in psyche began to appear. Pepper and Coconut could only output so much cuteness. Not enough for the lifestyle Elsa had become accustomed to. It wasn’t long before the pleas for a new hamster began.
“Come on, mom! We got the space! We got more than enough food and bedding! Come on! I need this. I need another cute chubby cha-cha cheeky choo choo chuckalicious hamster! I NEEDS IT!”
Jill and I were breaking. At the time, I would have said we were broken, but I didn’t know how bad it was going to get. There’s always another floor to fall through, another hard surface to crash onto.
We caved and agreed to her demands. That’s how we came to welcome Chub-Chub into our lives. He was an adorable Syrian brown and white hamster who was the most chill hamster I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
His adorability was off the charts. It shimmered around him like the heat off a Texas highway in July. It had an overpowering effect on Elsa. Her eyes were all pupil around him. He pushed her to new heights of addiction. Chub-Chub changed her brain. He rewired it. She started getting feverish thoughts. She was seeing a future where humans were the pets of giant benevolent, cuddly hamsters. And she embraced that future. She dedicated her life to ensuring that it came to pass.
His cuteness would not be contained (foreshadowing, duh).
Elsa met with her friend who had a hot female hamster looking for action and they decided to breed their beautiful baby hamsters so they could have batches of beautiful baby hamsters. ALL THE CHUBBY CUTENESS.
They set a date. Elsa created a calendar so she could count down the days to hamster-a-rama over and over and over again. She dutifully scratched the days off every day, multiple times, until the paper was scratched through.
Chub-Chub was going to be a dad. And the armies assembled from his progeny would usher in a new epoch of hamster dominion. And peace and cuddly comfort would reign for a thousand years.
Then, a few days before future history was to be written, after putting a load of laundry in the washing machine, I came across a frantic Elsa running her fingers through the bedding in Chub-Chub’s bin. The hamster amusement park was on the floor. His food dishes were carefully set aside. The little house was overturned and empty.
Without looking away from her search, she lamented, “Chub-Chub is gone!”
“He can’t be!” I protested, despite the fact that it wasn’t a crazy development. Of course he was gone. To be surprised about an escaped hamster is to be surprised by a sunrise. Though, how he scaled those walls is still a mystery. But he did. And he was gone.
We tore the house apart because Chub-Chub was the chosen one of the prophecy. Elsa was shaken to her core and I reminded her that Pepper survived for five days on her own while overlooking the fact that Cinnamon was probably auditioning for a Netflix series somewhere.
When a hamster goes missing, there’s not a lot you can do. Unless you live in a 400 square-foot minimalist’s paradise, that hamster will have an infinite times infinite number of places to hide. For the record, we do not live in a minimalist’s paradise. Our clutter could thwart the supernatural. And because hamsters usually escape at night, they’ll have hours to find that perfect spot you’ll never think to look before you even know to look. Pepper was missing for five days and she might not have even left the room we kept her in. Again, we are a minimalist’s waking f**king nightmare.
We gave it our best. Elsa was cautiously optimistic. We went about our lives not cleaning our horrible, horrible home.
After a few hours, I decided the wash had enough time to get that nice musty-mildew-fresh scent and went downstairs to put it in the dryer.
Are you going down the stairs with me?
Do you see the top of the washing machine?
My hands are reaching out and lifting the lid. Do you see my skinny wrists and tiny hands?
The clothes are all pushed up against the walls inside the washing machine drum. They form a twisted mass of multi-colored fabric. The visible metal gleams.
Let’s watch together as I remove the clothes in absent-minded handfuls. Reckless handfuls. Performing the same automatic motions I used when I put those clothes in the machine just a short time earlier. Back when I didn’t know that Chub-Chub was missing.
The clinging pile of embracing shirts and scissoring jeans is getting smaller. Almost everything has been transferred to the dryer. Almost.
Among the few socks in the bottom of the washing machine is a small lump of fur. Do you see it? Sitting there, unmoving, in vibrant white and brown. Do you see him? Do you see Chub-Chub? Because he doesn’t see us. And he never will again.
I crumbled against the machine under the sudden weight of the knowledge that the only way that hamster got into that washing machine was by my own hands. He must have nested in some discarded clothing. Clothes I then scooped up and loaded into the washer in absent-minded routine. Not knowing even then that Chub-Chub was stirring, wondering what was going on, trying to climb to the top of the pile to investigate as soapy water began raining down, flooding the drum, weighing the sodden clothes down into impossibly heavy blankets, trapping Chub-Chub, keeping him completely submerged as the drum began to spin.
This story gets worse.
I told Elsa immediately. I told her because it was my fault that Chub-Chub would never know the joys of fatherhood where he had to break the news that he had accidentally killed his kid’s pet. I told her because I didn’t want her to continue to look for a hamster that I knew was gone. I did it for myself, to avoid feeling even more guilt.
She cried. She declared her eternal hatred of me. I agreed that I was pretty awful. And I meant it. Jill consoled her. At least Elsa had one parent she could still love. I slinked away.
I don’t know why, but I decided to check up on the other hamsters. Maybe it was to reaffirm my belief in the persistence of life. To remind myself that in every life living every day is the rule and death is the one time exception. To prove that I was worthy of forgiveness because of all the hamsters that had lived in our house, I had only actively killed one.
I first checked on Pepper who was stiff and motionless and dead as shit. Just sitting there in the middle of her bin, not even giving me the courtesy of hiding her death and causing me wonder if she was just sleeping. Nope, there she was, obviously, blatantly, flagrantly dead.
I poked her anyway. Stiff and cold.
Did she die out of solidarity? Did she enter a pact with Chub-Chub that said they’d go to the clearing at the end of the path together? Did she die out of heartbreak? Did Chub-Chub’s ghost scare her to death?
Who could know? I just knew I had to tell Elsa that Pepper was somehow dead. I left without checking on Coconut.
I told Elsa immediately. She cried and renewed her eternal hatred of me. She turned and asked Jill for a new hamster and we said yes immediately because we’re those parents and 67% of our hamster population was just wiped out.
I was told that if I took Elsa for a new hamster the next day, then maybe the eternal hatred could be overturned.
The next day she chose a hamster to replace the chosen one. She picked a beautiful white female Syrian hamster. She named her Snowflake and she was just as chill as Chub-Chub was. Elsa began making plans to mate Snowflake with her cousin’s hamster Pumpkin. She created a calendar and everything.
We bought a new bin for Snowflake–one with a lockable lid that I drilled air holes through. Snowflake was going to stay put.
Snowflake survived and the day came to mate. Her and Pumpkin did the deed almost instantaneously in front of all the children. No conversation or getting to know each other. They didn’t even exchange one text. They just went right at it while all the giant children gazed down upon them from the heavens.
They did it like 5 times in three minutes. Snowflake looked shocked with her shocked little face pressed against the clear acrylic side of Pumpkin’s bachelor pad as Pumpkin pumped.
After about two weeks, Snowflake looked like a blizzard. Elsa had researched a special protein-heavy pregnancy diet for Snowflake and prepared it for her every day. We watched and waited and gave her her space.
Soon after, she gave birth. We saw them. Little babies in the bedding. Like little pink gummy bears that had come to life. I noticed that they were somewhat scattered and that Snowflake was nowhere near them. She was tucked into her corner, fast asleep. I didn’t like what I was feeling, but we game them space.
The next day, I checked on them and the pups were still scattered around the bin and Snowflake was still buried in her corner. The pups were all perfectly well-formed and intact, and, from what I could see of them, motionless. I removed the lid and picked one up and it was dead. I put it back down. Snowflake emerged and gently carried the baby over to her food dish. Then she returned to her corner and went back to sleep I didn’t know if she had any of her litter in her burrow with her. Or if any other pups were alive in there. I didn’t want to risk it, I put the lid back on.
We gave it two more days before I tried to find her litter. They were still where I first saw them. A few were by themselves in different spots in the enclosure and three were together under a little hamster log bridge. All the babies were uninjured. All the babies were dead.
I took them out and put them in a container. There were six.
Snowflake came out and went looking under the bridge, sniffing around a bit, before going back into her burrow. She moved slow.
I told Elsa. She was sad but we had been preparing her for the worst. Hamster parenthood is an iffy thing sometimes. And this just hadn’t gone the way we had hoped. Elsa understood.
That night, we inspected Snowflake. She was still sluggish. I picked her up and saw that she had fresh blood between her legs. It wasn’t running, she wasn’t bleeding, but she had been injured. Delivering those babies had obviously taken a lot out of her–more than she could spare in order to care for them. So they died from neglect and Snowflake did what she could to heal. Maybe even as she mourned. No matter how depleted she was, she didn’t turn to her babies as a source of protein. She might have intended to go back and care for them just as soon as she was able. After the pain faded enough and her strength returned. After just one more sleep.
I told you the story got worse.
Snowflake has recovered and Elsa still talks about getting new hamsters. But not with the same fervor. She’s learned that attachment to cuddly things comes at a price. That sometimes cuddly things can hurt you. She’s happy with Snowflake the way she is.
We still have Coconut. She’ll bite your finger if you try to pick her up. And I don’t blame her at all.
Looking back, the hamster deaths weren’t even the worst thing about 2017. Not by a long shot.
Here’s hoping for happiness in 2018.
Happy New Year.