Ham Ham is missing.
Ham Ham with a gargantuan burst of hamster strength somehow nosed open the door of his Super Deluxe Hamster Have Cage and performed the big break-out Friday morning. He hasn’t been seen since.
Things are not good in the house. We are in a state of mourning and a state of nervousness.
Sunday night, Em called me up to her bedroom and with tears in her eyes said for the 37th time, “Do you think Ham Ham is okay?”
I checked my feet for fur and kissed her forehead. “I think he’s just on a happy little hamster adventure.”
She nodded and threw her arm across her eyes. “I’m worried that I’ll just find him somewhere, dead. I keep imagining all the places I could find his little, furry hamster body.”
Ham Ham was (Is? I don’t know if I should use the past tense or not. Is that giving up?) our only furry pet. Sure, he occasionally bites and he’s not all that into cuddling, but he is part of the family. He is sort of like a furry Aunt Erma who comes to visit on Memorial Day for a family picnic but then sits by herself on a lawn chair, squinting her eyes at the sunlight, chewing on things with her monstrously large rodent-like front teeth.
“If Ham Ham comes back I will NEVER tease him again,” Emily told me snuggling under the blankets.
Em likes to pick Ham Ham up by the back of his neck and figure out what gender he is. Last Thursday, the day before his big escape, it became quite apparent that he was (is?) a boy hamster. We were so awed and concerned by the sudden appearance of boy hamster private parts that we looked it up on the Internet.
“Maybe he’s just wandering around looking for a girlfriend,” I told Em, rearranging the stuffed animals on the bed so that Bixby the Dog was not next to Ambrosius the Tiger. They don’t get along.
She pouted. “Where’s he going to find a girl hamster?”
“Maybe there’s been a break-out up the street. Maybe some nice girl hamster is cha-cha-ing down the road right now and they are meeting under the light of the moon.”
She raised her eyebrows at me.
“Okay. Maybe,” I think, “maybe he likes squirrels. There’s lots of those outside.”
She eventually fell asleep. Doug, also known as HE WHO MOWS THE LAWN, and I took flashlights and searched under every appliance and piece of furniture one more time, hoping to spot the gleam of Ham Ham’s little hamster eyes, or maybe spy the new tufty whiskers that have sprouted out of his adolescent fface.
The sad truth of it is that our teddy bear hamster has hit puberty and he has left home without a look back over his swarthy hamster shoulder.
Someday, Em will do this too. Only let’s hope she looks back. And let’s hope that her shoulder isn’t all that swarthy. And, we should probably hope that she doesn’t have to break out of a neon purple and green cage with a twirly wheel in order to get free, but that we let her go more gracefully, with good wishes, a credit card and a cell phone.
The next morning we folded laundry and Em said, “Maybe we could get another hamster.”
“What? What!” said HE WHO MOWS THE LAWN.
Panic splashed across his features. Fear brightened his eyes.
I folded his undershirt just the way he likes it and put it in the pile and said the words that all mothers say when their babies leave home, “Let’s give it a couple of weeks. Maybe he’ll come back after he gets laid.”
Ham Ham, the wayward, hamster is back.
After escaping from his cage last week the lovable teddy bear hamster we know as Ham Ham remained on the lam lam for three days and nights. No one saw Ham Ham. No one heard Ham Ham. No one smelled Ham Ham.
Grady, one of my friends, he suggested that perhaps Ham Ham had met up with three other hamsters who had commandeered a skiff from a squirrelly squirrel and headed out for an adventure on the Union River.
Grady purported to hear a distress call on his Ham Ham radio. The voices, he said, had the squeaky intonations of little, fluffy rodents.
I thought he was kidding.
But maybe Grades knew something, because on Monday night Ham Ham was located in the bottom of an empty waste basket in the upstairs office.
“Carrie!” Doug yelled all frantic. Doug is never all frantic. Ever.
I decided it wasn’t him. I kept putting away the dishes.
“Carrie! I found the hamster!”
Dropping the sauce pan into the sink, I rushed up the stairs as Doug trundled down them. He carried a brown, plastic waste basket.
“Is he? Is he…” I couldn’t say it.
“He doesn’t look good,” Doug pronounced, placing the waste basket on the kitchen counter.
“But is he dead?”
Doug shook his head. “Not yet.”
I peeked in. Ham Ham’s little hamster fur was soaking wet. He’d lost a lot of weight. He may have had scurvy, isn’t that what sailors get?
We fished him out of his plastic coffin. We carried him back to his cage. He slowly lifted his head and looked at us, forlornly. He drank water. He tasted his food.
“I think he’s dying,” I said, wrapping my arms around me. “He is not allowed to die. Emily can’t have her hamster die.”
Ham Ham snuggled beneath his wood chips and fell asleep. Doug and I stood there, keeping guard until midnight. Then we went to sleep, too.
“He looks better, right?” I said as we turned off the lights.
I was afraid to look in the cage the next morning, but I did. If Ham Ham was dead in there, I didn’t want Em to be the one who discovered his little hamster body surrounded by the untouched Hamster Raviolo treats that Doug and I offered him the night before.
Crossing my fingers, I opened the cage and spotted Ham Ham. His fur showed no evidence of river water. His eyes were clear. He wasn’t shivering any more. He looked like he’d had a rough voyage out to sea, maybe battled some field mice, but he was okay now.
Emily came down the stairs and squeed.
“We have to give him some space,” I told her. “He’s had a hard time.”
She nodded and touched him gently with her finger.
“I will never tease him about his scrotum again. Poor little Ham Ham,” she whispered. “I wonder where you’ve been.”
“On an adventure,” I said, closing up the cage.
Ham Ham winked.
He’s been back a week now. He’s still a cutie bumble lootie but he doesn’t act the same, really. He no longer gnaws at the bars of his neon cage, trying to get out. He no longer knocks off his hamster wheel, trying to break free. He no longer tries to escape. He stays put. He eats his food, drinks his water, hides in his bedding.
Sometimes adventures are like that; they seem pretty cool until we have them.
Sometimes we go wandering and realize how much better home is. Sometimes we need to escape just to realize that. Sometimes we end up in the plastic waste basket and can’t climb out. Sometimes we really, really need to go away to appreciate how much we’re loved. And sometimes, sometimes we just get tired.