I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is hanging out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, giving rise to them in a way that suggests her body is capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.
The fruity fragrance from the pine trees that pass in my periphery along the road departing from the Weston Reservoir penetrates the air. A grand estate appears. David Gilmore’s voice fills the car; he’s singing “Poles Apart,” accompanied by his faithful guitar. His words are deeply personal and introspective and each line advances me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.
I had left the house an hour and change before, worrying about the chilly temperature, the state of the ground. If I’d be able to dig into the soil. The Reservoir, one of our favorite haunts, is where I intended to bury one of our beloved “girls” after visiting the vet.
The last three weeks had been difficult, watching her struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over; her body emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff out her remaining life. It had eaten away at me, causing me to dream images of her body’s decay from the inside out. She, “Bobbin,” is a favorite among our rescued menagerie; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.
Let me interject a matter of opinion here: I am not some weird lab geek or a questionable hermit with a strange fetish. I hold an advanced degree and am attractive athlete, very feminine, hail from an affluent area, and here to tell you, rats make great pets.
Especially those rescued from a hoarding debacle.
I had arrived at the vet around 9:00, having made a shaky-voiced call, indicating my decision to put her down imminently only twenty-five minutes before, checked in and sat down on the bench in the reception area. The clinic was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that indicated, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Bobbin in my hands I envisioned golden light surrounding her and tried to help myself feel better by taking deep belly breathes and blinking away my tears.
And we all know little compares to the emotionally-charged vibe when sharing a vet’s reception area with someone who is sitting there, tears streaming down his or her face, holding their beloved pet, waiting to be called into a room where it will be euthanized.
The cat and dog people around me didn’t understand that I happen to be that person during this particular visit. “What’ve you got there?” An elderly man asked, a Yorkshire Terrier at his feet, yapping. Four other people, wanting to satisfy their own curiosity, looked my way. “A rat,” I whispered, “she’s dying.”
There came the wriggle of noses, grimaces and sounds of disgust. Not one clutched their heart in empathy.
These were so-called “animal lovers.”
A vet tech approached me, hadn’t known what I was there for; she had been on the phone when I arrived and was busy chatting with a friend on the line about shoes. Couldn’t she take mind to see my tears? I wanted to punch her chubby cheeks, pound my fist and flatten the half-dozen munchkins on the napkin beside her. Tell her how damned insensitive she was being. But another client had stepped beside me to check in, interrupting my getting even.
The tech led me down the hall, Sabrina at my side. Bobbin lay still in my hands. I still could feel the intake and outtake of air making her belly rise and fall, and I set her down on a towel on the metallic table of Exam Room 1. Bobbin rolled onto her side. “What’s wrong?” the tech said, “It’s just a routine exam?”
I looked at her long and hard. Really? Then it dawned her – the demise – and her expression went blank. I affirmed, “Dr. Tuttenbaum is going to put her to sleep.” Bobbin flinched. “I’d like to take her body with me.”
Saying “I’d like to take her body with me” brought my euthanasia experience very down-to-earth. I usually don’t have to articulate the words, just check off my preference on some consent form. Which was not present.
I’d like to take with her body with me.
Dr. Tuttenbaum entered the room—a man so incredibly kind and empathetic and all-around good human that I’d later send him a thank you note profusely thanking him and reiterating the sentiment “you’re a good human in a world where there aren’t very many.” He and I engaged in a conference about Bobbin’s prognosis, told me I was doing the right thing putting her to sleep, she was old and feeble. Then he told me I was a good rat mom.
Babson MBA, Regis B.A., Master Certificate in Reiki, good rat mom.
As I waited in the reception area for Bobbin’s remains (Dr. Tuttembaum advised I not standby), a voice in my head echoed, Dear Bobbin, do you think I’m a good rat mom?
Chubby-cheeks cupped the receiver with her hand as I was leaving some half hour later when Dr. Tuttenbaum surfaced, said she was sorry for my loss. I looked at her long and hard and in another very un-Reiki moment considered telling her to take her remaining stale three munchkins and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine. Dr. Tuttenbaum handed me Bobbin wrapped in a light blue towel with care, as if she was his own dearly departed. I held her in the crook of my right arm and Sabrina’s leash in my left hand.
The door closed behind me.
To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. —Emily Dickinson
We negotiated the steps to the car; I was encumbered and feared in being distraught would drop one of my charges—the leash leading to Sabrina’s collar or Bobbin—fumbling to get in the car. I dropped the leash for the key in my pocket; Sabrina didn’t need a leash, it was more an act out of etiquette. Sabrina bound into the car and into the backseat and I slipped into the driver’s seat and laid Bobbin next to me thinking, She had life moving through her just twenty minutes ago and now she lays wrapped in this towel, lifeless, her little spirit gone someplace else.
The soil that I had worried about was soft beneath the snow. Sabrina sniffed about off the path of our favorite walk in the woods until I located a remote spot with a tree upended. I sunk to my knees, placed Bobbin beside me and dug a hole with a small garden shovel. A couple of women approached, crunching on the crisp fallen leaves, their voices chatty—gala, tailored dress, Dr. So-and-So’s—and before they walked by—without dogs—strange for The Rez, I ducked down behind the fallen limbs, my heart a-fright of getting busted and fined for burying a beloved pet near the Town’s vast location of drinking water.
When the coast was clear, I knelt before the hole and gently unwrapped the towel. Bobbin lay in the center of it, the blue cheery color of the towel an ill-fitting background for her horribly still body. Her pink legs were bent and rigid; her toes splayed slightly. Poor baby. I stroked her back with my forefinger. Sabrina’s cold nose brushed my cheek. I reached for a paper towel in my back pocket and picked up Bobbin. Her body still held warmth, leaving me feeling strange, wrong even, as I wrapped her in the paper towel and lay her down in the earth.
I finished my business, dragging heavy limbs over the grave, and as Sabrina followed me back out to the path I wondered, Had I been brave being “a renegade” burying Bobbin here, or strictly after mercy and doing what she deserved—to be returned to the earth, part of the circle of life?
As I questioned myself and Bobbin grew cold in the ground, I looked to Sabrina. She seemed to understand about death, the soil, the final resting place. Animals do.
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Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.