Thursday, February 14, 2008


this is something i’ve been wanting to write about, in some form, for a while now. but up until about a month ago it hurt too much to even look at pictures of bellybuttin, and writing was out of the question.

belly was a baby orphan mouse i found by the side of the road. i was riding my bike down parkcenter when i saw his sibling—a tiny, lifeless body in the middle of the sidewalk. i stopped to move it to the shrubbery out of respect. thank goodness i did that, because there in the mulch was bellybuttin, blindly stumbling his way toward the pavement. i didn't see the mother or any other babies anywhere nearby. it was a hot summer day, and the sibling almost certainly died of exposure, probably only a few minutes before i rode by. in other words, it was a foregone conclusion that this little mouse was coming home with me.

i emptied one of my bags, except for some knitting i was working on, and then scooped up the baby mouse and snuggled him in with the yarn. i rode home so carefully you’d think i had a crystal vase balanced on the front fender of my bike. once home, i found a much more suitable ball of yarn for bellybuttin to crawl into—it was the softest, warmest yarn i could find, and the skein was about half gone, so it was nice and loose, good for burrowing.

belly loved that yarn. the only thing that could get him out of it was if i put my warm hand on the underside of the skein, then he would quickly push and shove the strands away until he was in the palm of my hand. he bonded with my hands very quickly. i did a bunch of research about how to take care of orphan mice, what to feed them and all that. it was depressing, because basically everything i read said it was nearly impossible to raise a mouse without its mother if its eyes hadn’t opened yet. belly’s hadn’t. based on some of the pictures i saw online, i guessed that he was around a week old; not a pink, he had hair, but just barely.

i started out feeding him half and half. many of the articles i read suggested feeding esbilac, a puppy milk formula, so i bought a can of that from zamzow’s, but belly wasn’t having it. i don’t blame him, it smelled terrible. but i mixed a bit of it in with the half and half, and he was appeased. later on i started grinding rice crispies into a fine dust and adding that to the mix. it was so adorable watching him eat. he lapped up the mixture from little pools on my hand. he would sometimes get really excited about the prospect of eating and would start scratching and pushing at my hand, as if fending off siblings. he was a messy eater.

bathtime usually came after each meal, which was every 3-4 hours, because he was so messy and also because it aids digestion. i used a damp, soft paintbrush to simulate his mother’s tongue. at first he would always get really pissed off about getting bathed. he’d be like “fuck this noise! i intend to make this process as difficult as possible!” and try to escape. but the protests only lasted a minute or so, and then he’d get really into it. he would start helping me bathe him by pulling his ears forward and doing that cute face-rubbing motion that rodents do. then he’d get really, really into it and roll over on his back, exposing his cute little pink tummy, and start licking his tail and back paws. i could see his big pink tongue and tiny little mousey teeth forming in his mouth. once i stopped brushing him with the paintbrush he would roll back over, and climb back into his little yarn ball.

for exercise i let him out to run around the floor. at first he could barely teeter a few steps; he would sort of sway back and forth on those long, gangly legs, then his hindquarters would fall to one side. he’d get up and repeat that over and over again, turning in all different directions and never moving substantially forward in any of them, until i put my hand down and he would climb up and cuddle into my palm. he got stronger, though. every day he would go a little farther and a little faster, until he could practically shoot across the room—he hardly fell over anymore, and he had so much energy.

that was around the time he started teething. he teethed on my hands, and i know that sounds kinda painful, but he was so very small, and his teeth were so tiny that it was like being scratched with a toothpick. things seemed to be going really well. after those first couple days i thought the poor creature really had a chance, and when almost a week had gone by i thought we were in the clear.

bellybuttin lived with me for one week. i still can’t talk about the circumstances of his death, out of tremendous guilt. he relied on me for everything, his life was in my hands and i failed. it’s amazing what an impression that little mouse made on me. i’ve started crying three or four times just writing this sketch, and i haven’t even gotten to the part that makes me cry the hardest, no matter how many times i think of it. for some reason, one of the things that upset me the most about belly dying was that he never opened his eyes. he never got to see me, or anything around him. all i could think about when i found him was that he never opened his eyes.


Jodi said...

Thanks for sharing this. You have such a beautiful and compassionate nature. I'm sorry about bellybuttin.

PeaceLily said...

thank helped a lot to write all this down. i wrote a little poem for him too. i think it was the last step in my healing process.