Of Mice and Women
In 5th grade, I was obsessed with two things: cheese and mice. I was so convinced that cheese was the most magical creamy substance in the world that I created a cheese-crazed website called Got-Cheese.Webs.com (it’s still up!). One thing led me to another and cheese led me to seek out mice, the supposed eaters of the golden yellow.
So my family owned a dog—a cute, yappy papillion named Rosie who doesn’t know how to keep her tongue to herself. Every month, my dad and I would visit Petsmart to buy Rosie’s food and treats. Upon entering the pet store, I would visit the secret world of mice. Face pressed against the aquarium tank, breath fogging up the glass, I would gaze at the wonderful colony of mice playing with the assorted tubes and huts. Underneath the glass cage, a tag would read, “Female Fancy Mouse – $3.00.”
After months of daily begging, my dad finally gave in and picked up two mice with all the fixings. The two female fancy mice, which I named Cream and Puff, started living in a 2-level caged mansion, furnished with a blanket of purple bedding and heaps of toys.
The first thing I noticed was that these little creatures were poop machines—I’d find droppings smooshed on their wheel, piled up in their food bowl, scattered outside their cage, and hoarded in their own home. Cream, a red-eyed, creamy white Albino mouse, was very energetic. I should have named her Bolt because every time I visited her, I’d hear the pitter patter of her tiny paws accompanied with the squeak of the plastic wheel as she went about her daily mile. When she wasn’t running on her wheel, Cream loved to feel my fingers dance upon her soft, warm belly. Interestingly enough, I discovered that mice laugh when they are tickled.
My other mouse, Puff, was literally a puff—a big, furry ball of brown-orange. Her hobbies included eating, getting held, and eating some more. The chubby scoundrel always took out the good seeds and nuts before Cream could get to them, quickly shoving as many seeds as she could into her pudgy cheeks. As much as she loved her food, I think she might have loved me, too. She closed her eyes as I pet her and would also always let me hold her in my hands. Cupping the tiny, warm animal was one of the most precious moments I’ve ever had. Bringing her closer to my face, feeling her heart beating loud and fast, I’d give Puff a sloppy kiss on her tiny head—I didn’t even care if she let out a dropping in my hand.
Fast forward after one year of bonding with my mice, dozens of cage cleanups, and one “What type of cheese does a mouse prefer?” science fair project (it was swiss), I decided it would be a fun idea to introduce new friends to my pets. This was when my neighbor Anna and her female rats got in the picture.
Having poked a stray cat with a stick, concocted crab apple stew, sled in our backyard, and played countless games of roof ball together, Anna was my best friend. A fellow rodent lover and loyal friend, we would always bounce ideas off of each other. I would cut my own jagged side bangs, she would cut her own jagged side bangs. She would eat this mustard-cheeto-milk-ketchup-orange-juice stew that we made together, I would—heh—try a bite, myself. So when I proposed the idea of having our rodents befriend each other as we had befriended each other, she excitedly jumped at the proposal. We got started right away.
At my house, we put Puff, sweet loving Puff, into a cardboard carrier box. Puff was curious about what was happening, sniffing and wandering in the box. Little did she know what was to come.
Carrying Puff, Anna and I walked over to her house, opened the door, climbed the stairs, and hurried into her room. We then set the mouse and carrier onto her bed. Of her two of rats, Beethoven and Frankenstein, Anna first brought out Beethoven to play with Puff. Beethoven, an Albino rat almost triple the size of Puff, was set on the bed with Puff. Brave Puff scuffled up to investigate her, sniffing curiously. Beethoven sniffed back, raised her paw, and pet Puff on her head. It was a strange and cute sight.
Anna carried Beethoven back into her cage and brought out Frankenstein, a giant Albino rat with a shortened, stubbed tail. On the bed, Frankenstein and Puff immediately started sniffing each other. I got the sense that something wasn’t right when suddenly, Frankenstein opened her jaws and chomped down on Puff’s neck. Puff was squeaking intensely as her whole head was locked into Frankenstein’s mouth. Anna and I tried desperately to pull Puff away from Frankenstein, Puff screaming as Frankenstein’s teeth tore into Puff’s skin, but Frankenstein’s jaws wouldn’t give. Finally, Anna grabbed the rat’s snout and forced it open, releasing Puff. Puff, sweet, loving Puff, her neck wound red and stretched open, convulsed twice then lay still.
Tears streaming down both of our faces, Anna and I checked Puff for a heartbeat with a finger.
Cupping the tiny, warm animal was one of the most precious moments I’ve ever had. Bringing her closer to my face, feeling her heart beating loud and fast…
We scooped up Puff, put her in a plastic bag, and buried her in my front yard. The little mouse was still warm.
To this day, this memory still haunts me: Puff in pain, her leg spasming, blood seeping out of her outstretched wound. Months after the incident, I was still an angry, mourning child, swearing to get even with that killer Frankenstein rat. It wasn’t until years later did I realize that retrospectively, I was the one who killed my friend of one year. I took my rodent friend for granted, using her for my own entertainment, and she was the one who suffered. I realized that everything I did, whether big or small, had a corresponding effect. The littlest things, like mumbling a snarky comment, gossiping, or in my case, putting a friend at risk, can snap the fragile bond of friendship. This experience, as traumatizing as it was, humbled me into a more compassionate, understanding friend to others, whether human or mouse. In true friendship, friends can rely on each other no matter the situation, and that’s all that matters. As Lennie once said in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”