My room was eerily silent. I didn’t hear the usual sounds, my pet mouse running around her wheel, the familiar tick of her tongue against the miniature water bottle. I leaned over my bed to the open window and pulled the latch, shutting out the October wind that was just barely slipping through. Then I turned to my closet.
As I reached for the cage, I had a sinking feeling. The air in the room had become even quieter now, heavier.
The cage itself looked empty. The little green wheel was deserted and hanging silently against the edge of the wire. The food dish was covered with scraps of brown bedding.
I set the cage down on the floor and knelt next to it, already dreading the worst. I closed my eyes for a second, breathing in the fresh cedar of the bedding, the earthy-smelling animal food, the waft of a needs-to-be-cleaned cage. I opened my eyes and looked down. My tiny brown field mouse was lying stiff and unmoving next to her play castle, her little white paws curled into her chest and her eyes closed.
I immediately burst into tears.
This is Henri. She has miniature paws and a little pink nose that moves up and down constantly. She has a tail that’s pink and brown striped. She has tiny velvet ears that are smaller than a pinky nail. And she likes to climb.
She was a gift to me on my twenty-first birthday. I originally thought she was a boy, thus ‘Henry’ as the original name. When the pet store told me she was in fact a female field mouse, I changed her name to Henrietta, and Henri for short. That’s a picture from the day I got her. 🙂
Okay, I know what you’re thinking…I’m twenty-two…and I have a pet mouse? Yes, the answer is yes.
And there’s a lot I learned from little Henri:
1. Sometimes the little things really do matter the most
On a Saturday in March, almost two years ago, I wandered into the PetCo in the town next to mine. It was a few days before my birthday, and I had every intention of veering out from the grocery shopping trip/lunch date to look at cute animals. So I dragged my boyfriend at the time through the doors and into the place that smelled like a combination of dog treats, fish food, cleaning supplies, and sawdust. We walked first to the glass windows on the right, where a puppy was getting shampooed. Then we wandered to a little cage where an assortment of speckled cats meowed at a sign above them that said, “Cute & Cuddly Kittens for sale!” In the leftmost corner of the store was the small animal section.
I admired the ferrets with their slinky-like movements, the guinea pigs that reminded me of my childhood pets, and then the little mice. Normal people typically don’t ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over mice. But there was something about a tiny brown one with a striped tail. This little creature was energetic. He (later she) was pushing her tiny body against the glass in an effort to climb. She kept looking at us, wiggling her nose, and running the length of the cage.
“I want him,” I said.
My boyfriend, who was used to my randomness and love for the strangest of creatures, agreed. It was almost my birthday, after all. And the little fella only cost $4.
By the time we left PetCo, I had a pet mouse and my boyfriend had spent almost $50 on a cage, mouse food, a movable play ball that you can put on the floor, and a tiny, spinning wheel.
But this little creature became a source of simple happiness for me. Her cage decorated the desk of my college bedroom, and two new bedrooms after that. She would keep me company during thunderstorms and long stints of homework, and on bad days she would always climb my arm and tickle me with her tiny, sticky paws.
She was such a little gift, such a small animal, but she made me happy. She reminded me, every day, that sometimes little things can mean the most.
2. You can be content with food, water, love, and exercise. Everything else is an unnecessary luxury.
There are only a few things that matter to a field mouse who’s the size of an apple slice: getting a tablespoon of fresh nuts and seeds every few days, a fresh bottle of water, a spinny wheel, and a good petting every so often.
Strangely, this is the same with humans. When you get down to it, all we really need is to eat, drink water, have some type of non-couch-potatoing every so often, and (daily, if possible) a good ole’ fashioned hug.
3. Life is impermanent
Henri survived three moves and my three-week trip to Europe. We moved from my college bedroom (where she was most definitely not allowed) to my first apartment. Then from my first apartment to my big-girl house.
She survived the three weeks I spent gallivanting around Italy, Paris, and London, just wheeling about at home and eating food my roommate so diligently provided.
And so I took her for granted.
She became a constant–always running on her wheel at the most ungodly of hours, waking me up. Always sniffing around her cage when I got dressed for class or exploring my room in her little ball.
Like most small animals, she lived a short life. A short life, but a good life.
Her death took me by surprise. And at age twenty-two, as I found myself crying and kneeling before her cage, she taught me that nothing will last forever. I couldn’t take things for granted. I needed to appreciate what and who was a part of my life.
4. Don’t be afraid to explore.
This tiny animal was fearless. She would navigate the mountains of my bed sheets, sniff out every corner of my closet, and even climb up the wall when my roommate’s cat sniffed her cage (yes, our house was like a Tom & Jerry episode). For being five inches long, not including her striped tail, she was pretty ballsy.
5. If you keep going in the same direction all the time, you’re going to keep hitting a wall.
Simple logic I learned from a field mouse who would, in her play ball, bump into the same closet doors, chairs, and walls of my bedroom over and over–sometimes you have to change your direction if you want to move forward.
And 6. You should probably never play with your pets while drunk.
Here I am, a few days after buying Henri, a little tipsy and giggling like a crazy person as she tickles my arms and runs up my shirt, getting tangled in my my hair.
In retrospect, I probably scared the crap out of that poor animal. There’s me–thinking I’m being cute and bonding, and there’s her–probably freaking out, trying to find an escape route via my knotted, curly hair.
There’s plenty of special pet-bonding moments in life. Tipsily chasing your field mouse because she’s trying to run away from you is not one of them.
Hopefully, from mousey-Heaven, she sends her forgiveness.