TODAY in neglect: I'm supposed to be writing my weekly essay for the Creative Nonfiction class I'm taking.  It's due tomorrow.  Or yesterday. I forget.  I've sort of lost heart because NO ONE ever comments on my essays. No one.  They, the other students, trip all over superlatives commenting on each others 500-800 words on My First Marathon, and Why I Love Babies…When I Was 20 I Lived With A Man My Father's Age.  My slightly less mainstream topics (My Friend Cindy's Black Eyes For Vicadan Quest and Evidence that Ducks Are Addicted to Autoeroticism)  are ignored as if I'd evacuated my bowels on the Oxford DIctionary of the English Language and called it an urban update. 

This week I'm supposed to write about The First Time.

So far, students have written about The First Time I ran A Marathon, The First Time I Fell in Love, The First Time I Met My Mean Boss.

(insert long time lapsed doing real work) 

So, I finally finished my essay. It's entitled My First Soul Mate:

A few years ago, when he was turning nine, my son and I went
to the local pet shop and got a hamster.  The sort of entry level pet that dies in a few
years I believe was my line of thinking at the time.  Still, not wanting to isolate this creature,
we thought ahead and purchased a palatial Hamster Estate. The estate included 2
cages, 3 ‘outposts’, a hamster bathroom, a lookout post, and 2 exercise wheels,
plus probably a ¼ mile of tubing to connect everything. 

After having one hamster for a week, we returned to the pet
store to buy him a society.
We brought our hamster along in his mobile outpost.  

“Can we see if he’ll get along with a couple of these hamsters?”
I asked the pimply attendant in the Rodent Room. I pointed to a couple of
attractive long haired Siberians hanging out near the salt lick. 

“He won’t.” said the post puberty boy, not even looking up
from his Gamer’s World magazine. “Hamsters fight.”

“We could buy a mate, then. We don’t want him to be alone.”

Pimple boy shrugged, and put the magazine down in slow but
heavy motion.  He grabbed a book from a filthy shelf of seeds and sawdust,
flipped to a page in the middle, and read aloud to me, in a sing-song voice,
oozing disdain,

A Hamster is a
solitary creature with a nasty social disposition.  They should be
together only for breeding, and even then the results of combining two hamsters
can be very unpredictable
.”

It was then that I knew, after 20+ years of dating, countless
boyfriends and 3 husbands, that at last I had found my soul mate.  He cost $1.99.  His
name was Howard. It was eerie how alike we were, both enjoyed
running, eating fruits and vegetables, being out of drafts, and having our shit
in a room separate from our sleeping quarters. Neither of us was inclined to go
looking for a dinner party.

I understood Howard in a way that I am never understood by my human loved
ones.  I did not force other hamsters on Howard, for instance, and yet a
week did not go by that my husband wasn’t trying to ease me into some awful social situation.

“Its just dinner!”  he
would whine, “They are my friends!”

His friends were trouble for me.  They ironed their clothing
and laughed at stuff that wasn’t really funny; they used the word ‘cute’
without a sneer to back it up. They owned ceramic wildlife figurines. Their
lives were adorned with dust free whimsy. 

I did not blend easily into this environment.  It was a bad situation for
everyone. What I lacked in social
grace
and conversation skills, I made up for in furtiveness and
sweat glands.  Even a simple question like,

“What do you do for a living?” could trigger a response so
awkward or just plain lurid that only an explosion or rectal bleeding could move us past it.

I have always had the sort of friends who wouldn’t think to invite
me to dinner unless there was a darker and more sinister intent,

“I need you to keep watch while I break into this guy’s
house and get back my Vicodan™. THEN I’ll buy us pizza!”

I don’t like forcing myself into someone else’s world. It didn’t work out for
any of us.  I relish solitude or the
occasional evening with my own friends. I savored time spent with Howard.  Did I mention that Howard would stay up all
night making unholy racket and then sleep all day? The way I'd like to…

Howard and I enjoyed many quiet evenings alone together. I would take him out
and hold him gently, lovingly in my palm for just a few moments while we shared
an apple chunk.

When I put Howard back into his cage I never failed to notice the solitary
object left in my hand: After eating my apple and sopping up my adoration,
Howard paid me back with a glistening black turd. Every time.

Howard lived for 3 years. That’s about right for Love.

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