The Hamster Whisperer Part 2: I Know Why the Caged Hamster StaresHer name is Ruby, and she is my third daughter’s second hamster. Ruby is the ignored one, the homely, oversized, rat-faced one who smells really bad despite repeated switching of hamster bedding and spritzes of perfume. She's the one who isn't played with, who must watch the other hamster, the delicate, pretty, odorless hamster in the cage next to hers, be lavished with attention and praise.
I am in love with Ruby, and it goes much deeper than mere human to hamster appreciation of a cutie-pie nose and fat, furry buttocks...I get this girl, man. I so get the misery in which she dwells, and I get that she does not dig her circumstances. I get that she is an intelligent, mysterious spirit trapped in a stinking, seed-eating existence, and truly, the commonality between us is almost more than I can bear.
We’ve had many a late night talk, Ruby and I. We both suffer from insomnia, so when that old familiar, “I’d like to kill my snoring husband” feeling begins its murderous trek across my sleep-deprived mind, I put down the butcher knife and pay her a visit. She’s always glad to see me, though sometimes she’s so involved in the television, she doesn’t notice my presence until I give forth a polite cough or press my face to the wire bars of her prison.
Yes, you heard that right -- the hamster watches television. No matter the time of night or day, if she’s not busy with her wheel or packing her cheeks full of goodies, Ruby can be found standing (upright, straight as an arrow, on two bowed legs) on her little hamster platform thing, her disturbingly human-like hands wrapped around the wire bars, nose peeking through, as she watches her Nickelodeon programs.
The T.V. is always on for Ruby. I demand it be so.
Anyway. Ruby and I speak a special language, one that requires nothing more than an open mind and a few shots of bourbon She expresses her intelligence by gazing into my eyes as I make quiet lovey sounds, small, whispery oooohs and motherly coos. She appears to enjoy this quite a lot, regardless of my intrusion into her world of Jimmy Neutron and Rosanne repeats. I coo, Ruby stares. I moan in agony, Ruby stares. I gnash my teeth and curse the hell that is my life, Ruby stares. Ruby stares a lot. And the reason Ruby stares the way she does is this: She gets me, too. She is my sole confidant, my tiny, silent, nondenominational pastor, my anthropomorphic sister.
Ruby doesn’t judge me. Ruby doesn't make faces if I say something stupid or seem bored if I read her my poems in progress, unfinished stories, revised vignettes. On occasion, I even cry. All the while, Ruby stares, interested more than is normal for a rodent, following my every move, walking on her bowed hind legs as if that was proper procedure.
It may seem silly to you, but many days I feel that Ruby is the only creature with whom I can relate. I’ve never been one to follow “proper” procedure either; I don‘t think or react in ways that are expected or “correct.” I’m not like you, or you, or even you. I’m odd, I realize that. But so is Ruby, in her own hamsterish way. I’m thinking that if Ruby were put into a situation in which she had to relate with other hamsters, she would be shunned, sent off to her own little corner of Hamster Town. And I’m thinking that she’d most likely be grateful for her own space, would be very happy to exist on the peripheral, observing but not interacting, happy to be left alone with her thoughts, to eat in peace, away from the obnoxious others who can’t seem to respect her eccentricities.
If I were a hamster, I would be a Ruby for sure.
Ruby doesn’t have long on this earth -- the average life span for a hamster is three years. How sad to know that one day soon, I will find my friend curled up in her bedding, silent, still. The television will be on, as usual, the theme song from Rosanne squealing morosely, or perhaps a commercial jingle will be blasting obscenely when I enter the room, and there Ruby will be, silent, still. She will be at peace, finally at peace, no more prison, no more lonely hamster dreams and stale corn. Silent, still. And I will cry.