February 14, 2011

The Behbeh

It would be pretty difficult for any guy to beat the Valentine's present I got from my first boyfriend back in high school. No diamond, no flower, not even a $90 box of chocolates could top what I got then: a rat.

The behbeh having a bath.

Not just any rat, though. This little guy was about as purebred as a rat can be and the sweetest rodent ever. And it also represented how well my boyfriend knew me: I'm not a real big romantic and though I'd have appreciated any gesture he made on Valentine's Day I just wasn't going to be as into traditional gifts. I don't remember anything else about that night other than sitting with a baby rat asleep on my belly.

That little rat, who I named Tuxedo for his classy markings, grew into my best friend. For a while he was even my only friend. He was a fat little sucker and would fall asleep all sprawled out on his hammock with his toes sticking off the edge. It was adorable. When I moved to San Diego of course he came with. He was the one I could talk to, the one who hung out while I did my homework, the one I had dinner with every night and the one who got so excited to see me when I came home that he'd run up to greet me. This happened because one night I forgot to put him back in his cage; he hadn't gotten into any trouble so I started leaving the cage door down regularly. Eventually he had free roam of the whole room all the time, but he'd fall asleep on my lap while I was doing homework.

I shared my food with him, giving him an olive or noodle or letting him lick up the last of my yogurt, I carried him around the apartment in my sweatshirt, I took him on car rides and trips back home and even to school a couple of times. Once or twice he got a cold and he'd lap up his medicine from my hand. He was my buddy.

Tux went nuts for yogurt and lapped it up like a dog.

Rats live about 2 years, but at 2 years Tux was still spry as ever. He must have had a stroke or something around that time, though, because he started losing function in his lower half and eventually could only move around by dragging his dwindling weight with his hands. He also started going bald and deaf, but nothing seemed to dampen his spirits. Sometimes I'd have to go looking for him because he'd have fallen asleep and didn't hear me come home, but when he saw me he would still get excited and do his best to come out from his sleeping space. He was always happy and seeing him happy made me happier than anything.

And then one Valentine's day he turned 3 years old. And then he turned 3 years and 1 month old. And then he got really sick. Three years is insanely old for rats, even domestic ones who are spoiled rotten their whole lives. I'd spent a week traveling for spring break, without Tux, but when I picked him up to take him back home to San Diego I knew he wasn't going to pull out of it this time. He didn't look happy anymore. He looked like he hurt. And so, hours before the new quarter started, I made the very difficult decision to have him put to sleep, a decision I hope someone will be able to make for me someday, should I need it. The experience was completely awful– the staff at the emergency clinic was rude, they wouldn't let me be there for the injection, and it took forever to take effect. I held my skinny little rat in my lap and saw the life leave his eyes. And then we went home. And then I started the most difficult quarter alone, without my Tuxie.

In the same way I know no cat will ever compare to Milo, no rat will ever compare to Tuxedo. The Behbeh was one of those animals that you're just happy to have known. I wouldn't have made it in San Diego without him.

Happy Valentine's day, behbeh.

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