In the spring of 2010, if you were to say I was in a bad way, you’d have been making an enormous understatement. I had only recently moved out of my uncle’s house for the first time after landing my first lucrative job as a blackjack dealer at a local casino, and every dollar I made more per-hour was taken out of my very soul by the rude and confrontational clientele one encounters working at a casino in Gary, Indiana. The 7pm-whenever (literally the shift name) hours were taxing. My sleep schedule went from minor insomnia to almost entire work weeks spent awake, followed by two days in a row of sleep, waking up only an hour or so before the cycle started all over again. I was irritable, exhausted and stressed, and while I had become pretty good at keeping all of it in, an outburst cost me my girlfriend, and I spiraled into a deep depression. My adolescent life into my adult life I’ve always dealt with depression in varying degrees, and as a teen had even been held at a hospital after attempting suicide at my high school. My views on life and its value (namely, the value of my own life) have always been a little warped, and whatever it is in the brain that tells people “Yeah! You’re awesome!” is replaced by the not-always-as-compatible “...Just don’t worry about what others think when you do this.” I don’t think I ever once, even at a young age, developed an actual plan for anything I wanted out of life beyond to one day raise a child making none of my parent’s mistakes, and to sleep whenever I wanted, as long as I wanted. No career goals, no bucketlist. This was all I ever wanted, and remembering this pained me so much at the time because I hadn’t been single my entire adult life (so I always felt like I was on the way to a family, at least) and my dream of sleep anytime couldn’t have been further away from me. I began to try to think of reasons I had to live, as suicidal people do, and of course, found none, for lack of mental clarity. It wasn’t until actually planning it out that in my mental recreation I was forced to empathize with my roommate, and then with the rest of my friends, of which I’ve always had more than I can count. Realizing how close I came after how far I’d come scared me; I had resolved my high school scenario not through the inane drivel spouted out in the mental ward, but by realizing when I came back that a suicide would cause harm to the mental well-being of others, and I have no right to do that. I had another moment of clarity, one that I think defines me as a person to this day. But it’s always easy to backslide, and I decided that I needed more than a moment of clarity if I was going to remember this for the rest of my natural life. But how can one remember day in and day out that they’re wanted and needed for more than what their own existence is to themselves? It was such a deep and profound revelation, and yet after learning it and MATURING I still managed to forget it. I wondered about it a lot, and the answer I found was a revelation in and of itself.
My roommate D has a corn snake named Manda, and has always fed her fresh mice from a local pet store. Taking him to pick them up was a part of our routine, and I normally waited in the car. I don’t know what it was that day that made me go in with him (perhaps the loneliness that came with my brand of depression), but I did, and instantly my breath was taken away. In the very walkway, almost obstructing entrance to the rest of the store, was a 4' tall ferret cage with three of the most adorable creatures I had ever seen. Three ferrets, two sable colored and one cream white, inhabited it; a small sable one slept peacefully in a hammock, a much larger sable one dug furiously at the floor, and the cream colored one stood attentively watching enter at the side. Seemed like destiny for me to grab the white one, but I actually tried to bond with the sleeping one (who would later be named Moogleby; stay tuned) first. She immediately bit me for disturbing her slumber, fiercely, and went back to sleep. I then tried the chubby sable one, and it actively chased and bit me. Ferocious. So I grabbed the white one, which immediately nestled into the arm of my jacket and accepted my petting. That was it. I looked into her eyes, and they shined back like rubies. Carbuncle. That would be her name, and I’d make every hour not at work that I could accessible to her. She would be my reminder that there exists people whose lives are made better by my presence because every day I’d do my damnedest to make sure her life was better.
Upon entering my home, the first thing I remember is how different she was than she was at the store. I bought all the recommended supplies sans cage, because I never feel the need to cage family, as well as a few books and expected to return home to some ferret-in-lap reading, but was both excited and horrified to see his true colors were more akin to a Wigglin’ Water Snake than the docile cat I was expecting. I played with her until she got tired and resigned to sleep at the foot of my bed then settled in for the required reading. My alarm went off, and before I could get to it Carbuncle sprang into action, throwing it off my headboard and unplugging it. She then nestled in to the place in my headboard my clock had sat and snuggled up to sleep. I picked her up and placed her on a hammock in a small piece of cat furniture I got as her home and smiled. She hated alarm clocks as much as I did.
The next morning, she was back in my headboard, nestled up with the hammock she’d pulled out of the furniture. That would be her place until me and my roommate moved that summer, and she spent her days playfully bothering me and collecting all things rubber to hide by my bedside. With my newfound friend, I had transformed. The pseudo-pack mentality I developed in my alone time with Bunkler was reflected in my personal life, and I found myself going out of my way to help and visit other members of my “pack”. I took her everywhere I went and everyone loved her. I was more social due to people’s curiosity about her. It was weird, but becoming the “ferret guy” was working for me because it wasn’t a simple aesthetic addition or attention grab. She was my companion, my familiar. I called her my “fleeting light” because when she was near me, I was engulfed in joy and as silly as it was, when she was bored with me or enthralled with something else, I’d miss her. The move to the new apartment gave her a ton of extra room to enjoy herself, and a fateful encounter that August would change our dynamic even more.
It was a hot August afternoon when D asked me to pick him up some feed for Manda. I needed some ferret food as well, so I sucked up my hatred of the heat and made the trip. I was very surprised to see the ferret cage (the same one that housed Carbuncle and still housed her siblings) out of the shop. Humane Society and Animal Control were both there, and were moving other cages into a van. I entered the cramped space to a very upset and frantic shopowner. The central AC unit had been stolen that night, and many of the heat-sensitive animals were in danger. She remembered me from my frequent feed runs accompanied by Bunkler and told me that if I took the remaining ferret I could take the cage as well. The large sable one had died of heat stroke earlier that day, and she feared for its safety. I couldn’t say no. I made it outside to see the scrawny ferret, half submerging her head in the water and panting. I took her home and cooled her down in the AC, and she snuggled me up the entire time. The next day I took them both to a vet and do regularly since then. Our vet loved them both very much and said he could tell I actually cared with Bunkler’s health, and after I explained Moogleby’s recent transfer into my care, said he was glad she’d be cared for properly. That meant a lot to me.
Moogleby was an odd addition. I wasn’t expecting her and was terrified of the thought of two rambunctious weasels tearing up my house, but what I got was very much the opposite. Mog preferred my company to stealing things and running around, slapping her body against things like Bunkler. I really feared, upon taking mog in, that I might treat her differently. Bunkler was already my established “baby” and Mog’s fur was always wirey and ratty compared to Carbuncle’s luxurious locks. This wasn’t the case at all, though. Carbuncle was still my “fleeting light”, but I came to know Moogleby as my “embracing darkness”; the warm dark that envelops, warms and comforts. Like sleep. Their dual natures of course further added to my budding philosophy, and I grew to love both equally for entirely different reasons.
Carbuncle changed upon Moogleby’s arrival. She began to refuse to relieve herself where Mog did, finding her own spots to make a litter box (going from a pet I could brag used litter like a cat to... well... a ferret) and would never cuddle anymore; her attention to me was play or nothing. They really were complete and total opposites, and my pack was more complete than ever before. I had newfound vigor for work and could smile even during the longest, most draining days. I had begun writing again, picking up and editing an idea I had in high school for a manga and trying to add into it all that I had learned to that point. I now walked two ferrets to the park in nice weather, waving at all who passed.
A couple of blissful years later, my health began to falter. I was starving all the time but losing weight at an abnormal rate despite how much or what type of food I was eating. I saw a doctor for the first time in my adult life. The doctor concluded I had hyperthyroidism and medicated me for it. For a time, my symptoms subsided and things were well, when between checkups Moogleby began to act weird. She was shivering a lot, and her inactivity always made me worry she had pancreas or liver problems (common in ferrets). My vet ran a lot of tests but found no reasons for it, but recommended a special diet just in case, since thyroid issues also run rampant in them. It was extremely odd that my ferret was experiencing similar issues to me, and it definitely caused for a new feeling of closeness to come between us.
As my health returned to a decline, I returned to my doctor, who it turns out was incompetent because after his rediagnosis of the same issue, I saw a second doctor who confirmed my suspicion. I had thyroid cancer. The frustration of it all was a lot to bear, but for the first time in my life my self-pity turned to a drive to get well. Radiation therapy has a 99% success rate and I was willing to go through it if it meant continuing my current life. However, my works insurance didn’t cover it, and the compounding debt left me phoneless and often paying rent a day or two late as I sold off everything I owned to tackle it. My life was spiraling out of my control; I knew this, and I couldn’t drag my pack down with me.
It was a sad day when my ferrets left FerretHall, the apartment me and my friends had named after them. I entrusted them to a friend who owned two of her own, and she ensured me it was only temporary. That same month I had to give up my apartment, and spent two fall months living in my car, stopping only to visit friends and ask to do laundry or shower. None of my friends knew I was homeless; I was hoping to get back on my feet and laugh about it before they knew. Panic set in as winter came, but keeping my cell paid and charged proved fruitful when my uncle, in his early eighties, called to ask how I was. I broke down and told him everything, and he told me I was an idiot to spend even one night outdoors. He said he had recently fallen and it took him an entire day to get back up, and was hoping I’d move back in to watch him. When I answered his inquiry on how the ferrets were doing, he told me to stop and get them on my way back.
I was worried that the offer to bring in my ferrets was just him trying to be nice, but within a day I could see he really enjoyed their company. He would hold them and regale me with tales of odd pets he owned in his youth, take them outside to place in a pen he fashioned for them (and I helped put together), and my other uncle Benny said he was certain it was making him more conversational, something older people really need. He had begun slipping a bit mentally, and the added benefit of having the pets was making a real difference. For a time. Now it’s almost 2 years later, and aside from a backslide into McDonald’s employ followed by a double-backslide back to the casino, life continued forward. I repaid my medical debt thanks to his letting me live there. My uncle revealed to me that he willed the house to me (mortgage free!) much to my surprise, so i began taking an added interest in cleaning and repairing what he’d let me (he’s always been a hoarder, though not at dangerous levels, so the cleanup is continuous). After never getting a single friend to read my written work, I found an artist to adapt my work to manga format. My daily interactions with the ferrets are limited, since their room is in a central area so my uncle could contact them. I leave the house only for work, grocery shopping, and three times a week to visit my (amazing) girlfriend, and if by some freak occasion I end up spending a night somewhere else, I head home the next morning to ensure my pack’s safety. This morning, however, my fears were realized; I returned to find a pack member ailing.
When I came inside this morning, I immediately noticed her position and disposition were odd. Carbuncle was coiled up in her black hammock, but Mog was laying on the roof of a small cat house, eyes half open and making a soft whining noise. I quickly scooped her up. She was warm, but responsive. I called the vet office, which was overloaded with emergencies and also didn’t have my doctor there. The receptionist recognized me and, most likely driven by my tears, said she’d call the doctor directly. They all loved Carbuncle and Mog. Within a few minutes the vet called me back, and had me proceed with a few tests. She was responsive, she wasn’t choking, she’d nibble at food a bit before snuggling back up to sleep and moan. The doctor said (as a friend, not a diagnosis) that it sounded like a flu, but probably warrants an emergency visit. The local Animal Hospital had no small/exotic animal doctor in, and even if another doctor was ok with seeing her, they were all busy. Apparently many sick animals today, sadly. The nearest place to take her was Chicago, and I have no car. I called the vet back and he tried to calm me, saying that it might pass, just to remain calm and try the animal hospital in the morning if there’s no improvement, sooner if she deteriorated. My uncle sent me for the weekly groceries saying he’d watch her, to try to calm me. I agreed, but halfway through the shopping realized he’d only be able to call me if her condition worsened. I sped back home to find her unresponsive; my worst fear. The vet warned me before we began that this was a long shot, and that the best move is the animal hospital, which had just told me they’re now referring people to Chicago. I gave Mog some syrup, rubbed on her gums, to snap her out of it. About a half hour later she was responsive, and very very hungry and thirsty. I gave her a canned food high in crude protein, chewed myself since she was avoiding chunks. For about an hour she was herself again, snuggling and licking me and then snuggling again until she fell asleep. I cradled her in my arms, and sat in for what I was expecting to be a long night, calling friends and asking for a ride to Chicago. It wasn’t to be. After far too short a time, she was in the same unresponsive state, and I ran her, wrapped in my favorite scarf and tucked into my jacket, out to my uncle’s car. Suspended license be damned, I was going to make it to Chicago. But not long after the second highway, I was too late. With one last whine and a final nuzzle, she was gone. I knew it inside when I heard it, but I pulled over to confirm. There, lifeless in my jacket, lay one of my best friends. Taken from me within the width of a single day. I cried more deeply than I had already been crying. Perhaps, more deeply than I’d ever cried. I returned home and buried her, still wrapped in my scarf and layered in three boxes then several bags, in the backyard of my uncle’s house, New FerretHall. I live in East Chicago in the Superfund site, so she’ll have to be moved next spring most likely. The tears stung my frozen cheeks and my sobs echoed between the houses, across the street and back, compounding my own sadness. I returned inside and told my uncle what had happened, to his own sorrow and consolation. I think the saddest part may be not knowing if I’ll have to tell him again tomorrow.
There’s a lesson here I’d be remiss to share. Problems like insulinoma or liver disease can strike out of absolutely nowhere unexpectedly, even if your pet has been healthy up to that point. So have not only a vet but a backup; I’ll be finding a backup for Bunkler tomorrow or Monday. And remember that you’re someone’s world out there, no matter who you are. She showed me every single day that I was hers, and I regret that I can’t have another day to show her how much she was mine. She’s still survived by her sister, though, who will have to accept all the loving for two.
Rest in Peace