His footprints are still visible in the dust on the base of my floor lamp, and I can’t bring myself to clean it.
His empty cage sits on the floor of my room, and I can’t bring myself to throw it out, though I also can’t ever see myself wanting to turn it into anyone else’s little home.
I avoided my apartment for as long as I could–an amazing four days–so I wouldn’t have to be reminded that he wasn’t there. Even still, parts of my routine remain engrained in my mind–I don’t know how long it will take until I stop trying to feed him on my way to brush my teeth.
Last Thursday morning, I noticed Margaret Thatcher–my chinchilla of over five years–was sleeping on top of his little cubby house instead of inside of it. As I scooped him up to examine him, he winced uncomfortable as my hand touched his soft little belly. I set him into his dust bath–something he usually really looked forward to–and became increasingly worried when he barely had the strength to roll over.
I only had to work half a day that day due to the upcoming holiday, but my greatest fear was that he would be gone by the time I got home. I spent an extra half hour laying with him in my bed, sobbing.
While at work, I made an appointment for him at an exotic pet vet in Fairfax that my coworker researched for me. I instantly felt better and more hopeful that he was going to be fine after a quick trip to the vet.
I came home and laid down with him on my bathroom floor–his favorite place in my room–for two whole hours before his appointment, offering him drinks of water from a tiny cup when he would take them. This would end up being the last time he ever spent with me at home.
We drove through a horrendous storm for nearly an hour before reaching the vet. But even as the storm subsided and the weather improved, the forecast for my poor little Mags was not nearly as promising. His temperature was low, he was incredibly dehydrated, the smell coming from his mouth indicated an infection, and probably scariest of all–the vet couldn’t hear his tiny heartbeat.
I sat in the waiting room by myself for three hours while they treated him. Brian met me right before the vet closed, and we said our goodbyes to Margaret in case he didn’t make it through the night. I held him in my arms and kissed his sweet little face for the last time.
The next morning, the vet called to let me know that my sweet little chinny had made it through the night. His temperature was stable, he was still taking in all the fluid they were giving him, and best of all, his X-ray showed that his heart was fine. She was worried about a dark spot she saw in his stomach, concerned that maybe he had swallowed something he shouldn’t have. Unfortunately, chinchillas usually don’t make it through surgery, so her best bet was to give him a laxative.
She warned me that his teeth weren’t in great shape, and that should he make it through his treatment, he would probably need regular teeth trimming. “The costs can quickly add up,” she said–hinting that euthanizing would most likely be the least expensive option.
At this point, cost didn’t really matter to me. I wanted to stick by his side–bad teeth and all.
Best case scenario, I was going to get to bring him home the next afternoon after another night of intensive treatment at the vet. She was going to show me how to give him his medicine, and I was going to bring him in later during the week for his teeth trimming.
Hopeful, I went to my apartment to make things as nice as possible for if and when I got to bring the little guy home. I deep cleaned everything he owned before getting ready for a party at the Capitol for the fourth.
The party was a nice distraction. I ate finger sandwiches and drank wine and overlooked the National Mall from the steps of the Capitol building. For minutes at a time, I was able to forget about the nightmare of an evening I’d had the previous day. And when I did remember, I was hopeful that it was going to all be worth it.
Around 7 p.m., I saw a number calling me that I didn’t recognize and my stomach sank–the vet wasn’t supposed to call me until the next morning. Something is wrong.
My festive red, white, and blue sunglasses weren’t enough to veil the tears that escaped their way beneath the lenses–gaining speed off the contours of my cheek before plunging off my chin and onto the navy dress with white polka dots that I’d had picked out for the occasion weeks before–weeks before when Mags was fine, or at least appeared to be.
His temperature had destabilized; his respiratory system was failing.
She told me this as I stared at my feet on the steps of the patio. It’s almost as though I couldn’t bear to gaze upon the Washington Monument basking in the fading July summer sunlight or look out at the mob of people on the National Mall–all of them celebrating freedom while I felt chained to those steps by the tendrils of my own breaking heart.
On April 12, 2011, I celebrated Margaret Thatcher’s birthday. Well really I was celebrating the anniversary of the day I brought him home. This was the first photo I ever took of him:
In that post, I wrote that I was looking forward to our next 20 years together. You see, what most people don’t realize is that chinchillas have an amazing lifespan–most of them will outlive a dog.
But this wasn’t the same chinchilla that had been my most faithful companion for the past five years. I once made the decision to take my bed off it’s frame because I couldn’t keep Mags from going up inside my box spring and chewing on the wood–he had so much energy! The chinchilla I had dropped off at the vet the night before couldn’t even lift his head off the towel his aching body rested on.
On July 4, 2014, in one of the most unselfish decisions I’ve ever made, I decided to let the vets end his suffering.
I retreated into the Capitol building to try to find a place to privately call my mom. I ended up outside of the old Supreme Court chamber and wondered if any decision they ever had to make hurt as much as the one I just did.
Maybe I sound dramatic.
I’m okay with that.
I just wanted to let you know that the star of the show I’ve called my life (and my blog) for the past five years is no longer with me and that I stood by him and tried to give him every chance I could. I’m extremely thankful to have had a pet that made me a little more interesting of a person and who didn’t hold it against me that I named him after a female British prime minister.
I always knew I loved him–I guess I just didn’t know how big of a hold on my heart he actually had.
i cannot keep my room clean, can’t keep my headphones from tangling and my music from blasting
and the pen from bleeding through the page, and the
stairs from leading both up and down, and the river
from the ocean and the sun
from the sky, and i can’t help the fact that i stay up
every night, and i miss you. [source]