When I was in 7th grade, I stole a hamster.
The hamster belonged to my science “teacher” (using the term loosely). The things I remember about him (the man, not the hamster) are that he had a thick Boston accent, a reddened complexion which I now recognize as one sign of chronic drinking (which makes sense because he was arrested for DUIs several times and often seemed drunk or high), he made dirty jokes in class and shamelessly flirted with 7th grade girls, did not seem to understand basic science or math, coached some sort of sports that I didn’t pay attention to, and apparently had a deal with the devil (or the teacher’s union) because nothing he did ever got him fired– he was even still “teaching” (using the term loosely) years later when my son was in school.
One memorable incident was when a question on one of his “science” tests had the wrong “right” answer. The question was: “John has 5 bananas and trades 3 of them for 2 naked photos of Jack’s sister. How many bananas does he have left?” (I am not making this up.) The answer he said was correct was “three.” So when I could not keep myself from insisting that answer was wrong, I had to stand at the front of the class pretending to swap bananas and polaroids with him so that he could find out how 2nd grade math works. When I told my parents of this, they were incensed at the inappropriateness of the entire situation and went to the principal, who did nothing. He told them the teacher’s defense was that he had gotten that question out of a joke book at Spencer’s Gifts. Because of course that’s where 7th (2nd?) grade science (math?) material should come from, and how could he be expected to fact check such a reputable source? (Or calculate grade school math on the fly?)
Anyway, I stole his hamster. One of the hamsters that lived in his classroom– a sweet-natured, short-haired, creme colored hamster with a white band. On her left cheek was a lump about the size it would be if she had overstuffed her cheek pouch. This lump had been bothering me for a couple weeks as I had observed it mostly unchanging. I told him it was a tumor and he explained, “It’s just got food in it’s cheek. That’s how they store their food,” as if I was as dumb as he was. I said, “No, it’s a tumor” in a tone that meant, “You are a moron.” My friend Lori helped me take her out of the cage and put her in a box so I could take her home. To his credit, he did not try to stop us.
I was hoping I was wrong but unfortunately I was not. After I had taken her home and given her a nice cage in a quiet area, the lump grew noticeably bigger. And bigger. I asked my Dad to take her to the vet– I couldn’t bring myself to go. They told him they would chloroform her for free, because nothing else could be done. That they would not try to operate angered me. I was too scared to go and ask them outright to do so, or to call a hundred vets and ask them as I would do now. I felt helpless. I did not know about natural remedies then. I didn’t know what to do except pray– I was religious back then, and took “thou shalt not kill” literally. As the lump got bigger it moved forward on her little face, until her little eye was overtaken, until her little eye was just gone, crumbled off. On her last day, her cries were horrible, and I will probably never forgive myself for not accepting the free chloroform. I was too scared to let her die peacefully as I should have done.
The kind of man I want to be– rather than passively watching an animal suffering, when there is clearly no hope left, I want to be the kind of man who snaps its neck. Or at least uses chloroform. I wonder if I will ever be that man.
The thing that reminded me about that poor hamster was that my beloved chihuahua recently grew a lump on his head. It became alarmingly huge over the two days I was away from home for Thanksgiving, to the point that the lump was as large as half of his little head. When I got home, I wept at the sight of him. Even though I hadn’t been home long, the lump seemed to loom closer to his eye than a few hours before. I wept at the thought of losing my beloved chihuahua, I wept for his suffering and for the little hamster’s suffering years before, I wept at being a coward, I wept for not working harder so I could afford to feed him raw organic beef every day instead of grain-free kibble most days, and I wept at the unfairness of other animals having to die to keep my beloved chihuahua in good health. My son saw my tears and then tried to hide his own.
I did not want to take my chihuahua to the vet because I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with them. I didn’t want to pay them a bunch of money to tell me he is dying and there is nothing they can do, or he’s dying and they want to give him drugs and radiation, or it was a cyst and harmless. There is not much of western medicine that I believe in, especially where cancer is concerned. I texted a few friends desperately trying to locate some cannabis because I believe that to be the best remedy for cancer, besides baking soda injections. Not being a smoker, I had no idea where to get it or how much it would cost. Two friends quoted me vastly different prices, then Trevor let me know where to buy CBD– basically cannabis with the THC removed– which I did not know was a thing, let alone a legal thing. I rushed out to get some. The kind I got was Charlotte’s Web Hemp Extract, 5mg CBD, by CW Botanicals, 30 capsules for $40, from a local head shop.
My son and I treated the lump with hydrogen peroxide, the CBD mixed with coconut oil, and we also gave him water mixed with baking soda to drink, and peanut butter mixed with CBD to eat.
In the middle of the night the cyst burst open. It was not a tumor. His eye is OK. My little chihuahua is still with me, recovering with a wound on his little head where the cyst was. I am still shaken from the thought of losing him, which I understand is inevitable someday. When it is time for him to go, which hopefully will be when we are both old, I hope for the strength and the bravery to alleviate his suffering, if it comes to that.