Circle of Life: Our Guinea Pig, Reggie

It seems odd to title this post the “Circle of Life” when I’m very probably talking about death, but then again, that’s what makes the circle complete.

Pity that knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

I’m at work today because I’m at work, that’s what I have to do, but I’m not happy about it. Not that I’d be any happier at home, sitting and watching my guinea pig, Reggie, decide to die.

He’s what they call a “senior pig;” he’s seven, and pigs reach senior status at age four. Every year after four is what I call a blessing. And, until recently, he’s been relatively the same guinea pig he’s always been. A little slower, perhaps, a little less inclined to go dashing about the floor or his cage as he used to; but the same chipper, bright, interested little guy.

Then in March he got sick, his breathing turning labored and harsh. Pneumonia, the vet said. The vet also found that he had cataracts and what felt like a growth on the left side of his abdomen. He didn’t think this growth was bothering him, so we left it alone; at seven, biopsies and such don’t leave guinea pigs with a high success rate of surviving the operation. And it was true, Reggie showed no signs of even noticing he had something like that.

The vet gave us medicine to squirt in him with a dropper. We were warned that at his age, it’s all a gamble. We took the gamble, gave him his medicine, hated giving him his medicine because he hated the taste, but it got him over his pneumonia and he was back to almost-normal again.

Then on Sunday he stopped eating and drinking and had that indefinable look settle over him, the one I’d seen before with other guinea pigs, the one that told me that this time something more serious was going on. That evening, his breathing became labored, just as it was when he had pneumonia.

We took him to the vet on Monday, practically begging for the same medicine, just in case it was the same quick fix. I knew the vet doubted it. We doubted it too. This time it could very well be the growth in his abdomen, growing or shifting or exuding enzymes or whatever it is those growths do. Reggie wasn’t complaining about it–he wasn’t doing much of anything.

But we had to do something.

So it’s the next day now, after a day and night spent where he still didn’t eat or drink despite our best efforts. I could almost think he’s responding to the medicine, because he’ll sniff food and make motions like he’s about to eat–but then he doesn’t, so I’m left not knowing what’s going on.

It reminds me too much of the guinea pig we had before him, Rowan. When Rowan decided this was it for him, he just stopped eating and drinking too. He didn’t have anything wrong with him (that we knew of); he just knew that his time was up. It was dreadfully hard on us, of course, watching him just lie there for two days, but it was what he wanted, and he knew we were there for him. In the end, that’s all you can do.

With all that, I guess I still have some hope, because guinea pigs are amazing creatures who do amazing things, things that people who haven’t been around them wouldn’t credit them with.

The thing is, it’s so hard to think of it from his point of view and not the clunky human point of view, the one that wants to intervene and insert liquids and foods and keep petting him, keep reassuring him that we’re here. It’s really just reassuring ourselves that he’s there. Rationally–and even instinctively–I know he just wants to be left alone. That’s what animals do; hell, that’s what I do when I’m not feeling well.

The rest of me wants to be DOING something about it. I don’t handle being helpless very well, and I guess I haven’t bothered to learn how yet.

So I apologize if this entry reads a little disjointedly; I don’t know what I’ll find when I get home from work today, and that’s on my mind.

But one thing I do know and nothing, no platitudes, no “it’s JUST a guinea pig,” no “you’ll get another one” (believe me, I’ve heard them all, as if you can legislate your feelings, as if love needs a hierarchy), will take away the certainty that he knows we love him.

And I wouldn’t have traded loving him for the world.

ETA: 6/13/12. He waited for us to get up and see him, and then he went. I think he did that for our sake. I had a dream after it was all over, about all sorts of different things that suddenly shifted into a scene of just Reggie and his cage. There he was, sitting on top of one of his cardboard boxes as if he were young again, looking right at me all alert, bright-eyed, and fine, just fine.

The healing process will be long, but I think he was telling me he was okay, and I should be too.

#Reverb11 Day 8: Joy

Prompt: Joy–Take us back to a moment this year when you experienced pure, unadulterated joy. (I found myself extending the moment.)

Joy

I’m in the second bedroom that serves as our library, costume closet and projects repository. My laptop, stand and scarred old grey leather chair are set up next to the single window. From where I sit typing, I can look to my right and see the sky.

I’ve been thinking all day about what to write. Joy. Why is it so much harder to focus on than something negative? The words overflow when I think of something that irritated me or something that hurt. I get the full sensory palate there whether I want it or not. Happiness must just come in a different form, transitive, elusive, losing some of its essence when you try to comprehend it with earthly words.

Offerings did make their appearance. Love. Hope. A wish come true. An unexpected windfall. Relief after a long wait. Release from a pressing worry. Something sacred, hallowed or time-honored. I could pick one of those, but today none of them seemed quite right.

What kept coming to mind instead was my guinea pig.

Reggie’s home is this second bedroom. His life is bounded by the four walls of his cage. It’s a generous cage, filled with hidey-holes and toys, but it’s still his sole possession. He’s dependent on us for food, water and bedding. He’s dependent on us to bring him out on the floor so he can exercise his little legs and tubby body, and guard him from those tasty electrical cords and tastier plastic bags.

He’s subject to our sense of decency, of humanity, of not being abusive degenerates who think having another being’s life in their care is something to destroy.

He’s dependent on our love. And he gives us his love right back, unconditionally.

When I was unemployed, the pig room was my office. Where before my routine was leaving early in the morning and coming home in the evening, now I was part of Reggie’s routine. I sat here with my laptop doing my job search job while he finished his breakfast, puttered around his cage, took a nap, got up, ate his second breakfast, so forth and so on.

We got along so well, me’n’the pig. He knew I was somehow not-gone during the day anymore, and he accepted me like I’d always been there.

Anyone who’s been on the job search circuit or worked on a months-long project knows how wearing it can get. The days seem endless, anything you produce seems to be biting its own tail, and hope is something you heard of once but don’t remember the plot.

But somehow just looking up from my screen and seeing my little guy snoozing in the sun or eating hay in my direction helped keep me going. Getting up and walking the few steps over to admire the latest toothy decoration on his empty Kleenex box or new arrangements of his cardboard tunnels (he had his own jobs too) reinvigorated me to get through the day.

He brought me such comfort–and kept me to my routine as well as his. There was no taking a long break and playing on the floor during the day, no. The evening was when he wanted to come out, after the laptop was closed and dinner was eaten. Then it was playtime, time to run races with himself, jump-and-twist in midair, talk to himself in that burbling guinea-pig way and explore adjacent rooms, one foot hanging back in case he needed to double back in a hurry. There’s such a lot of personality wrapped up in those little critters.

Eventually, I went back to work. I knew then that I’d miss this time. I knew that I’d look back and cherish those hours and days as much as I cherished them when they were happening, because with beloved pets you always know there’s an end date.

One day he won’t be there. But right now all I have to do is look over the edge of my monitor and see him. And that gives me joy.

Reggie

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