Our guinea pig decade

Our guinea pig passed away this week. She was 10, which is ancient for a guinea pig. Google tells me the average life expectancy is 4-8, so she well exceeded that. She fought hard and was relatively healthy and normal right up until her final afternoon, but alas, the reaper man finally came a-knockin’.

Ten years is a long time. It’s long enough for things to change. Big things, small things. In our case, basically everything. The guinea pig came into our lives when we were still in our 20s, the apex of youth, and sailed with us straight through into our 30s. Not necessarily “old”, but the beginning of old. Oldish.

(Aside: “I’ll figure it out when I’m, like, 30, or whatever” was a mantra of mine pretty much right up until the point I turned like, 30, or whatever. I’m sure to the kid who clung to this as a guiding ethos, I would more than qualify as “old” now.)

Two apartments, a condo, and our first home. She was with us through it all. Quite a journey.

She had an interesting personality. She wasn’t a huge fan of being doted upon– it became clear very early on that excessive manhandling didn’t bring her a great deal of joy. She liked her home, a massive enclosure that, looking back on it now, took up such a disproportionate amount of our tiny apartment square footage. She loved her carrots, apples, and oranges. She knew the fridge was the source of all this produce, and a strong Pavlovian response set in– open fridge, loud and persistent whistles from her. It became part of the sound of home for me.

She loved the little kids who would come to visit, a parade of nieces and nephews. I think their small size and excitement genuinely brought her enjoyment. She was good natured, never a bite or even a nibble. Yet she had an air of not being a fool. Sounds crazy, I know, but I’m telling you…I lived with this creature for a long time and she had a distinct haughty vibe all her own. This was a slightly aristocratic guinea pig.

Ten years is certainly enough time for a living thing to become woven into the tapestry of your life. Their sounds, their movements, their needs, their routines- they all become part of your own routine. I didn’t quite realize how much so until this week. Her absence is deafening. All her stuff, now gone, has left an enormous hole. A missing piece. It’s very strange.

Her first and only vet visit came two years ago. The vet said there was nothing to be done with an animal of such an advanced age. I tended to her, tweaked her diet with care, and her health issues subsided. She returned to being her normal self. She got two more quality years beyond that. Summers in the fresh cut lawn. Halloween with fun decorations. Christmas with a house full of guests. And so on. The older I get, the more those little cyclical traditions rooted in nonsense become meaningful. Little buoys to cling to in the cold water. I’m glad she was there with us for all of that.

She was with us for so long and for so many of those little buoy moments, and all the unremarkable days in-between, that I foolishly began to think of her as immortal. She was a permanent fixture, part of the standard kit that made up our life. Like the clown painting in Jim’s parent’s house in the Office. The Highlander guinea pig.

The end, the true end, wasn’t protracted. It arrived like a bolt late one afternoon earlier this week. The morning was normal, but by that afternoon a sort of internal countdown suddenly clicked on, as if set on an egg-timer, and the spiral began. I knew it was the end when I held her– I could feel an unnatural lightness that had not existed just a day before. That evening, I cradled her and gave her comfort. I shed some tears. You can know it’s coming for years, but when the moment arrives it does so with such unexpected force. The train pulls up to the station, and there’s little more you can do but wave goodbye. As I laid her down inside her home for the night, I knew it would be the last moments we would share. The last moments of an unbelievably long string of moments– thousands of days, a partial lifetime. I woke up at 5 the next morning, and she had passed. She hadn’t moved from the spot I set her down in.

I was mentally prepared for her passing– the math was clear. But the mind is just one tiny facet of our being, and a faulty one at that. As life ticks along, these moments of grief and loss open rare doors to all the other things that make us up. There’s pain, but also an overwhelming rush of love. We loved her. I’m pretty sure she loved us too. Or at least our carrots.

We were spoiled to have her in our lives as long as we did. RIP Ginny. You were the best.