We buried our pet rat at river instead of sea. We put Gordy in a box and brought her, in a procession, to the middle of the bridge over the Olentangy. I had a priest’s collar under my shirt and read a passage from the bible. We were playing, but something serious was hanging there, waiting. We dropped Gordy in, and the box settled on the surface, taking in water. Light from the bridge reflected off the river’s surface. The box slowly faded and then vanished. (Picture a frozen Leo DiCaprio sinking into the depths of the Atlantic, before Titanic.)
Rats make odd pets. No matter how passionate an animal lover, no one has ever crouched and beckoned to a stray rat, hoping to befriend and pet it. We were a suite full of college-aged dudes and almost all of us had a tender feeling for that rat. We’d let her sit on our shoulders and sniff our ears while we watched TV. We loved her. We got her pregnant. (We bought a male rat and put him in the cage with her.) Gordy was a wonderful mother. After she gave birth, she frantically dug in the mulch and arranged her babies in hollows. When someone in the suite disturbed them–because we were curious dicks and wanted to see what she’d do–she would frantically return to work, rearranging them. She never complained.
She got underfoot, and someone cracked her skull under his heel. I was standing nearby, and Gordy’s hind legs scrabbled across the carpet and ran her into a wall, but she was already dead, killed instantly. No one cared for her more than Greg R. (He was the one who got her pregnant. He bought the male rat from the pet store. What were you thinking?) but he was walking by just as it happened and he saw how distraught Nathan was for what he’d done, and he said, “It was just a rat.” She wasn’t just a rat, she was but she was our beloved pet, but she was already dead and he didn’t want Nathan to feel any worse.
After Gordy disappeared into the vast Olentangy, we stared down into the water until Gordy’s murderer (Nathan) broke the solemnity with an awkward laugh. Then we headed back to the dorm. We experienced grief in a microcosm, as we immediately relaxed and grew chatty; our memorial service became a celebration of life. We took the elevator up, and we wanted to go as a group because we knew we were going to pull open the doors and look for a message on the wall. (The elevator for the upper floors of the tower faced a wall and past college kids had covered it with graffiti and we often opened the doors and looked for messages.) No one seems to remember exactly what we found that night (I swear it was a drawing of a rat, but that seems so coincidental that I wonder if I’m misremembering it), but whatever it was, we erupted in a cheer.
Gordy lived on in our memories but also in her babies, who we loved as an extension of her. One of the guys in our suite was a three-hundred pound lacrosse goalie and he used to watch TV with his jaw open and a baby rat sitting on his tongue, facing the back of his throat. He said they liked it in there because it was warm and wet. And we laughed at him behind his back because we thought it was weird, but we didn’t think it was nearly as weird as it sounds to me now writing it. One of those babies, Amos, died of old age (or maybe from the humongous goiter she got) about three years later. I put Amos in a box and took her onto the bridge of the Olentangy. I said goodbye and let her go. I intentionally sealed the box so that it would slowly take in water, but with horror, I realized the box was water tight. Amos was floating in her casket on the surface of the Olentangy. If you’re not familiar with the topical geography of Columbus, OH, the great Olentangy moves so slowly that the surface flows both ways, depending on the wind. I walked down the bank, hoping Amos would start to float my way, but I had to abandon her as she languished in the middle. I had to leave my pet rat to drift ashore somewhere down the line and be discovered in a plastic container by somebody, who probably thought she was just a rat.
The other odd Gordy memory that’s never left me is that one guy in the suite wasn’t too involved in what was happening, and he passed through the room while some of us were, kind of, grieving, and he said, “I don’t get all worried about stuff like that.” And I’ll never forget Jason T.’s exact, terse response. He said, “That’s too bad, ___.”
Because loving anything, caring about anything, is a choice. We chose to love and care about Gordy. We were five or six dudes at a college of hundreds of thousands, and we made a rat matter.