The Trouble with Feeding Demons

We brought our rat Trouble to the vet last night. It brought up the guilt and sadness I’ve been feeling since the last week or so of his cagemate Schmoozer’s life (Hole).

Trigger Warning

I’d been meaning to take Trouble for a “wellness visit” after Schmoozer died, but I was mourning and concerned about my credit card bills after paying for an “exotic” to be hospitalized and hiding in video games to escape my anxiety about my pending legal marriage ceremony. Trouble seemed to be doing okay for the most part, maybe a bit lonely but otherwise healthy, so I half convinced myself that a wellness visit was an unnecessary expense.

Until a few days ago. I heard that telltale chirping noise – in my experience, the first audible indication of respiratory doom – coming from his cage. When I went over to him I observed that his breathing seemed labored. I was worried and sad and maybe a bit guilty, but I wasn’t going to sit by and let him suffer untreated as Schmoozer had. With Fox’s support and assistance, I made him an appointment.

As we coaxed Trouble into the carrier, I couldn’t help thinking we were taking him somewhere to die. I got lost on the way to the vet; the resulting frustration was actually kind of helpful because it distracted me from my other emotions. We had to wait a long time as a result of being late; Trouble was relaxing in his carrier so Fox gave me his smart phone to play games on (I still have a stupid phone). It was so embarrassing and disorienting to be playing a game when the vet walked into the examination room where we’d been waiting! Trouble’s symptoms hadn’t seemed as bad, and I felt disconnected from the urgency of fighting rat illness.

Fox maintained that the symptoms have been concerning us, and the vet heard Trouble’s labored breathing for herself. We briefly discussed antibiotics, but quickly agreed that they didn’t seem to be working – or, at least, that they hadn’t worked for Schmoozer. I’d been so focused on Schmoozer, who had the worse symptoms, that it was hard for me to remember how Trouble’s symptoms had responded to antibiotics. I felt so guilty, now not only that Schmoozer had suffered so much in his short life, but that I hadn’t paid enough attention to Trouble to provide useful information about his condition now. (I also felt responsible for causing both their suffering by introducing them to my previous rat, who had carried the disease and made it clear from their first encounter that he didn’t want cage mates).

The vet recommended a pediatric nebulizer, which would deliver treatment directly to the affected areas and provide immediate symptom relief. It was something she’d brought up when I’d finally contacted her about Schmoozer’s condition, and essentially what they’d done for him (too late!) at the veterinary hospital where he eventually died.

I embraced the idea wholeheartedly – finally, anĀ effective treatment I could administer as needed to give my beloved pet a longer, happier, healthier life! It was almost like getting a second chance – almost.

The fact that Schmoozer is dead – my wonderful, extremely friendly, sweet and trusting little friend DEAD! – weighs heavily on my mind. I wish I’d done this months ago, in time to give my beloved pet a longer, happier, healthier life. Because I have to admit, I loved Schmoozer more than I loved Trouble, and if I could pick one rat to have I would pick Schmoozer. I feel like Denethor telling Faramir he wished Faramir had died, and Boromir had lived.

I try so hard to see Trouble for himself, to love him as he deserves to be loved, and so on. But I see a cage housing one rat when it’s supposed to house two. When Trouble runs off to eat the treat I gave him, I see Schmoozer sitting on my leg to eat it. When Trouble gets into an area I’d rather he not, I see Schmoozer staying closer to the areas where it’s easy for me to interact with him. When Trouble does whatever it takes to grab the treat from my hand, I see Schmoozer willingly doing the trick I’ve asked of him. When Trouble curls up happily in his hammock, I feel horrible because Schmoozer isn’t there to curl up next to or on top of him.

I remember the little black and white fur ball clinging to my sweater as though he thought I could save him from his pain and suffering and fear. I hate that all I could offer him was death – albeit a quick and merciful one. And I wish I could have at least another year with him, loving him up every day. But he died because of my negligence … and, I’ll admit, because Fox didn’t do whatever it took to make sure Schmoozer got the treatment he needed, even if it meant confiscating my video games. I wish he’d been more proactive in that regard, and I’m angry that he wasn’t. But we rushed Schmoozer to the veterinary hospital together, and we mourned his death together, and we’re doing our best to care for Trouble together, and to get our lives back on track together. We miss Schmoozer together, there’s no point in being angry with him.

Just like there’s no point in beating myself up, I know. But it starts with “I wish I had …” and then the Critic Heckler Evil Sadistic Torturer takes over, telling me I’m the worst person ever to live and I don’t deserve anything that I have – especially not love – and that I deserve to die the worst and most painful death possible, scared and alone.

At best I beg for forgiveness, and at worst I want to enact the punishment he has sentenced me to … except that I can’t. Because I’m aware of the suffering that would inflict on the people I love, and I just can’t do that to them. So I’m trapped. I might feel better for a time, but he’s always there, waiting. And the moment I give him an opening he charges in and I’m completely at his mercy. There’s no escape, its my own bloody thoughts that are doing this to me!

I told Mom about taking Trouble to the vet. All I got from her was a lecture about how much money I’ve been spending on these rats, and they cost more than the dog but live a much shorter life, and maybe I shouldn’t have pets anymore.

You have to understand, I had a dog before I was even born! There was just a very short time when we didn’t have at least one pet, after we put the dog I’d grown up with (who was no longer eating) to sleep. It’s taking all my willpower to resist the temptation to “get cage mates for Trouble” because it wouldn’t be what’s best for any of the rats involved, or me. I’m mourning and feeling guilty and trying to take good care of the pet I have.

Telling me I shouldn’t have pets – while financially sound – is like telling me I shouldn’t have a family. Even with all the emotional issues I’m having, just spending a few moments interacting with Trouble can brighten my darkest of moods. She’s also trying to talk me into “cutting back” on my sessions with Wakana to save money (I shouldn’t have therapy). Mom’s words cut through me like a burning knife. I know it’s not her intention, but she’s feeding the worst part of my illness. And I don’t even know how to ask her to stop.