• Mathura Hawley


But Carmen, sweet and expecting nothing but to be held a few minutes a day, just turned my own idea of loneliness inside out."

The veterinarian brings the small carrier tub to my jeep and we talk possible future drug treatment and the costs involved. Carmen hears my voice and stands up and sniffs my way. Carmen is a five dollar mouse from Petco, a gift for an ex-boyfriend who left and never asked about either one of us again. But more than that, she’s the only other living creature in my house now. Her sister, Lana, died suddenly a couple of months back, and she’s buried in the yard near the roses she never saw, but I’m sure she would have liked. The loss of my ten year old Luke, and then Lana, made me do something that makes no sense for my connection to and love of animals: I ignored Carmen. For weeks after Lana’s funeral, I fed her, changed her water and cleaned her cage. I would turn out the light in her room and leave. I couldn’t do much more. Then I had a rough day and broke off from a new friend and it tripped a heavy emotional time-bomb building all year. I screamed at the walls, threw a couple of harmless things, and cried my eyes out. I sat on the floor and suddenly felt more alone than I had in many years. Then I thought of Carmen. She only knows the aquarium world she’s in. She only knew life curled up with Lana, I’ve stopped touching her, and now she must feel very alone. I ran down the hallway like it was on fire and I opened the top of her aquarium and there she was, staring up at me. I lifted her out and held her, and she seemed happy about it, walking up my arm and then, once we sat on the sofa together, across my stomach and chest, which she would probably like to nest in. I apologized profusely but she was really cool about it, never mentioning how shitty it must have felt to sort of be forgotten. My friend Amanda checks on her when I’m away, giving me reports and sightings when she pops up from series of tunnels I’ve put under her litter. Amanda said Carmen wasn’t out everyday, and when I returned last week from a trip she was moving slowly through the cage. It seemed worse and today, for the first time ever, I took a mouse to a local veterinarian’s urgent care. They kept her all day as I tried to stay calm and off the internet. Finally, he called. Carmen, who hasn’t left my house since she was a baby, sat on his desk this afternoon and was examined, played with, and diagnosed by a group of really kind exotic pet specialists. Although Lana would have loved being “exotic,” Carmen doesn’t care much for fancy houses or expensive treats - I’ve tried. Carmen likes her straw house, her underground passages, and her wheel. So today, when I found out that she is in good health except for some neuropathy which takes the feeling away from her legs, and will eventually get worse, I was all right with it. This condition does not cause pain, and that’s all I wanted to hear. She came home and went directly to sleep, exhausted from her biggest adventure ever. I was terrified to lose Carmen after a year of so much loss in this house. I ignored her because selfishly I didn’t want to give my heart to one more living creature I would have to lose. But Carmen, sweet and expecting nothing but to be held a few minutes a day, just turned my own idea of loneliness inside out. Loss is separate. It’s dark and painful. Loneliness is different, especially if you’re inside the same cage for over a year. I get it, Carmen. And I get you. That’s why you and I have been put together right here, right now. There’s only gratitude, not shame, in needing each other.

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