Fortune and love favor the brave.
We bid farewell to George Staples yesterday. Just a few weeks shy of his 11th birthday, congestive heart failure ran its inevitable course; breaking our hearts dreadfully in the process.
There is no accounting for how well a wild animal will fare in captivity but I have found that truly non-releasables simply and uncannily know they are safe here and so go on to live a decently long and contented life. Some, like George Staples, however, embrace their captive life with sheer exuberance and joy. Though he was never fond of being held, George loved to play. And if I couldn’t play with him he gleefully played with his “baby” when I would tell him to “Go get your baby, George!” He’d growl at it and pounce on it, he’d roll with it, he’d groom it and otherwise love on it; throughout his whole life he only had three of them for unlike most squirrels given something with stuffing he never deliberately set out to open them up and use their innards for lining his bed. When I did play with him, he would pounce with his unique, throaty little ferocious growl and roll, let me roll him, scrabble, and otherwise quite literally bounce around in all ways squirrely until he reached the point of exhaustion. Then he would flop down on top of his stuffed toy and I would rub on him until he decided it was time to do it all over again. The last few months of his dotage of course changed to mostly the rubbing on him part of our play time but his stuffed toy remained the constant.
As his age truly began to manifest his last winter molt did not go so well and I began to call him my “Velveteen Rabbit” since he more resembled his worn stuffed toy than an elegant old fox squirrel. One line from that beloved book kept coming to mind:
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
If it is possible, it only made me love George more.
Though the tears run hot today I know that I have been blessed to have spent this much time with such a brave and funny little soul. I remember worrying how he would take to hearing the vacuum run since the sound is almost as loud and obnoxious as the chainsaw that brought our lives together, and then laughing as he simply watched me clean with a nonchalance that could not quite hide his curiosity. More than once early on he would even go so far as to try to investigate the business end of the vacuum hose but of course that potentially tragic action was never allowed. And when I was done it was nothing but playtime again.
For most of his life George’s cage was next to where I sit when I work from home so there was more than the usual opportunity for and opportunity taken for interaction. The quietness now is dreadful and it will be days and days before I stop automatically turning my head to glance over and see what my funny little boy is doing; only to feel the gut-punch of reality reminding me that so-loved togetherness is no more.
Where we were when this started and where we are when this ended are so very different. A decade flown past is an incredulous thought juxtaposed with the constant that was our relationship. A reminder that life will continue to go on. I can only thank you, George Staples, for so willingly sharing your life with me.