My dad hates small animals. Rodents, mostly. He’s a big man and mostly fearless, but when we kids chose to keep guinea pigs and rats as pets, his discomfort was palpable. He always warned us not to let them loose in the house-“If I see that thing, I’m gonna step on it.” He’d say it over and over again, not as a threat, but as a matter-of-fact statement of cause and effect. Like the weather man explaining that if a cold front moved in, there would be storms.
I had two rats—Sebastian and Toby. Sebastian after the crab from the Little Mermaid, Toby after Toby Tyler, who ran away from home to join the circus. Toby was half-albino and had one red eye and one black. Sebastian would sit on my shoulder and go for walks around the neighborhood with me.
I used to play with them on the floor of my bedroom, building elaborate mazes for them out of clothes and books. They each had separate cages—male rats do not get along very well in adulthood.
One day, I walked into my bedroom at my dad’s house and it was cold. Cold enough to be noticeable, and weirdly quiet. Both rats were still.
They died on the same day. Looking back, I always wonder what happened to them, and why I didn’t think it was strange. I was paranoid about carbon monoxide poisoning after a girl in my year died in the nighttime because of a faulty heater, but no part of me saw the rat’s deaths as ominous. I just assumed they both reached their expiration point at the same time.
Maybe the cold was what killed them—our heater had been faulty too, frequently shutting off in the middle of the night. At the time, though, I thought the cold was just what death felt like.
My dad hated small animals, but he buried the rats for me, digging two small graves in our backyard garden and finding small boxes suitable to be their last resting places. Despite his discomfort, he put their tiny stiff little bodies into the boxes for me because I could not stand to touch them.