Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A beaten caseworker is a competent caseworker... not.

For the past seven weeks I have been in training as a Child Welfare caseworker. If the people in my program irritated me before, they are now occupying the first fifteen slots in my not much longer list of people who make me very angry, very regularly.

I do not come from a typical social work background. For one, I come from a middle-class (perhaps upper-middle...I'm not really sure) Jewish family. For another, I never had use for a caseworker myself while growing up. I have never been addicted to any substance, was never in foster care, have not been in a mental institution, and was never, ever, even once, hit by anyone in my family. Or anyone at all, for that matter. This, along with my ability to spell, punctuate correctly, use proper sentence structure, and understand subject-verb agreement, puts me in the nosebleed section of the game, if all the other social workers were actually playing ball. Actually, I probably stayed home from the game to pick my toe lint.

Social workers, at least the ones in my program, wear their milieu of social ills like a badge of honor, a woe-is-me flashing neon sign on their chests or oversized foreheads. Not only do most of our classes become a competition for whose life was the hardest, they become full disclosure group therapy sessions, which most of the professors, sadly enough, are only too happy to indulge. One of the few ways I comfort myself is by nicknaming the various students by their pronouncement they wear only too well. There's "Bipolar Billy," and of course, "Heroin Hannah." There's even a "Not-sure-what's-wrong-with-him-but-we've-been-told-it's-back-problems-but-we-think-it's-a-prescription-painkiller-addiction-but-at-any-rate-it-takes-him-five-minutes-to-get-a-sentence-out-and-he-disappears-halfway-through-every-semester Jim." You get the point.

Any mention of flaws in the foster care system and Foster Care Fanny has a story about the time her alcoholic foster father came home drunk and called her a hussy. Any mention of whether there is ever a past-tense for an addict and all the former (or current, if there can be no such thing as former) addicts pipe up menacingly. It's one thing to use your past to inform your current professional practice. It's quite another to practice informing other current professionals of your past. Constantly. To no benefit.

Some of the comments have not even the remotest relevance to social work at all. My all-time favorite was, "Yeah, um, I had a dream last night that I had a penis. What would Freud say about that?"
I also liked, "My little boy is three and he like to wear pink, n'at. My sister say he a queer."
Come on, that's not even a question.

In one of my classes last semester, we were having a "discussion" about whether it was acceptable to hit your children to discipline them. I hardly need to say that the battle lines were drawn and paralleled what people had experienced in their own childhood. For the most part, it was, "I was hit and I'm fine." It also turned into a "who was whupped the most and the hardest and the most frequently" contest. The shocking part, after getting over how many of my classmates had been hit, was that everyone was laughing about it, bonding over the commonalities of their corporal punishment. "Oh, when you see that look in their eye, and you just know they going for the paddle." "How about them belts with the extra large buckle so you know he mean business?" Everyone laughs appreciatively, apparently reminiscing about their last paddling.

We repeated a similar exercise that managed to remain much more on topic in our training. The trainer put up an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper on one wall, with the word, "OK" written boldly. On the opposite side, a paper stated, "Not OK." The trainer would read a statement and we had to stand near the paper that applied to our thoughts on it. One of the statements was, "hitting a two year old on the backside with a wooden spoon." Needless to say, I was in the minority, standing by the "not ok" sign. Each of us stated our opinion and why were standing where we were. Those who thought it was acceptable stated that you weren't actually hurting the child, just teaching him a lesson by hitting him. Two-year-olds, they reasoned, could not understand a verbal explanation of why what they did was wrong, so they needed the physical memory of being hit to remind them to not run out in the street (or whatever the offense was) again. I said that I believe there was never a necessity for physical punishment, and that, if the two-year-old could not understand a verbal explanation, he certainly would not be able to rationalize why he was being hit by a spoon, a half hour after running in the street. He would only come to fear the spoon and possibly, the parent.

The next day, we were being shown slides of various injuries caused by abuse and we were trying to guess what had caused the injury. For example, four small bruises together with a separate smaller mark a little farther away on the neck is probably a grab mark. With one mark, I guessed it was a belt, and was derided by a coworker for thinking so. She stated, with an air of one-who-has-been-hit, that it was, most definitely a paddle mark, and everyone laughed appreciatively. It turned out, she was right, and after the declaration by the instructor, she quite audibly stated, "Well, Tova wouldn't know. She wasn't even hit by a wooden spoon."

Looking back I should have responded to the white hot anger that surged up in me at this comment, but I did not. Many times, I have wanted to say something to this particular girl, because she manages to mutter a contradiction to every single comment I make in class. She purposely tries to show me up, especially after I receive praise from the instructor for being well-spoken, deep, or insightful. What she said was that I couldn't recognize an injury because I myself had not experienced it as a child, but what she was really saying was," Go back to Rhode Island. You don't belong here. You look wrong, you speak wrong, you act wrong. You're a know-it-all who is determined to show us all up, and you have money and you didn't have to work to get through school and you are also white and no one here likes you because you make us feel uncomfortable and you don't fit in."

And that can be a little hard to swallow as a social worker who is trying to be open-minded, non-judgmental, and all those other social work things they teach you early on. Well, bitch, I hate to tell you, but open-mindedness goes both ways, so stop hating me because I can form full sentences.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Still as confused as ever

I just stumbled upon this gem: My first college essay, from English 105 with Jay Imbrenda. I'm not sure how much of it was meant to be connected to the literature...mostly I just wrote about my first month of college existential crisis. Reading it, I realized how incredibly confused, floundering, and miserable I was those first, um, two years of college. The floundering certainly continues, and although I've figured out a few of my quandaries in the 2.5 years since, new ones have arisen, and I'm likely only more confused at this point. Enjoy. Or don't. I was such a prissy little idealist. It's painful. And yet the sentiment of it is still mostly true.

I think this assignment was supposed to have something to do with Galilieo, Neil Postman, and Bill Gates all in one. Don't even ask me how, but clearly I didn't follow directions too well. I'm not even sure what I'm talking about:

Who Am I, and What the Hell Am I Doing Here?

The other day, I was leafing through a college guide leaflet someone’s mother had ripped from an airplane magazine. One of the suggestions was to “reinvent yourself.” “Create a new you!” it flirtatiously suggested, alongside a cutesy cartoon of a disproportionately thin, primped, cool college girl holding up a picture of her former, geeky, eyeglass-wearing high school self. This article tells me I can recreate my image, reputation, and classification without a second glance. No one here knows who I was for the first eighteen years of my life. College is the great release from my oppressive house and family-bound high school life. A world of opportunities has been opened to me. I have complete jurisdiction over myself for the first time. And I can do whatever I want. Or so I have been told.
All these notions and ideals concerning college have been shoved down my throat for the longest time. So what it is about college that I find so unnatural, so disquieting, so…odd? Why do I often stare up at my Portuguese flag as I lie on my back in bed and wonder, “What I am doing here?” Or-as I read thirty pages about globalization for a class: “Is there something I could be doing that would be more fulfilling?” The lights blare as my roommates watch a TV show on their laptops or use facebook, and I let my mind wander.
High school was easy to reckon with. It is just what everyone does after middle school, and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t motivated, aren’t excited, or don’t like school, because you have a whole other life-that which exists outside of school. During this time you can do whatever you damn well please. College doesn’t afford you two separate lives. The thing is, when I was in high school, I was motivated, I was often excited, and I did like school, usually. Yet come to think of it, I was unsettled with high school and its purposes too. That is why, Junior year, I had to run off to a boarding school on a farm in Vermont, and why, Senior year, I cut out early and headed to Portugal as an exchange student. It was never that I thought I was above high school and now it is not because I think I am too good for college. I know I need college, by which I mean the reasons why have been drilled into me. I’m just scared of what it is doing to me.
Back to that leaflet. I got angry. How can you change yourself fundamentally from the time you graduate high school to when you start college? It's, um, three months. Or is the idea that you are bringing out that person who always existed but was stifled by reputation and the conventions of a typical high school? And what if I don’t want to change?
I like who I was in high school. I was not known by everyone, but I was respected by those who knew me. I was comfortable. I had a small number of friends who were and still are very close to me. And if my friends had to say one thing about me, it would probably be “down-to-earth.” I could not ask for a better image, really. I had no need to be friendly because I was secure in whom I knew and whom I didn’t. And now everything has changed.
We are supposed to have more options in college, but I feel I have less. I can never be alone. I am constantly surrounded by people. I tried to eat a quick breakfast this morning before class and I was summoned over by two guys, admonished for “being a loser and eating alone.” I try to fall asleep early at night, but my roommates are studying or dancing, with the lights on, of course. Or they are glued to their computers, to their facebook, wasting time, something to which I will return later.
I am exhausted, but my exhaustion has nothing to do with sleep deprivation and everything to do with social overexertion. Sometime in the six months I spent dropped off the face of the American earth, something changed in me. Suddenly, without even batting an eye, I have become two things I never was before, and I am not sure how I feel about it. For one, I am an extrovert, at least outwardly I am, though I guess that is by definition what being an extrovert is: outward appearance. I didn’t just decide I was. Someone told me last week. For a large part I feel this is in direct conflict with my former, down-to-earth, self. Hand-in-hand with this, I have become (once again, by others’ approximation; not my own) “the girl who knows everyone.” I have been struggling with this, and unsure of how to proceed. Have I truly become this new person,? Am I becoming shallow and less of an individual in the process?
And now you must be wondering, when will I bring in Postman and Gates? And Galileo, where does he fit in with all of this? I am struggling to be all of them. I am Galileo. The things I do every day try to defy convention, at least in small ways. In high school I did it by leaving. Now I continue in other ways. I am already seeking new options, leaving campus for my courses. I am juggling in my spare time and unicycling through ultimate Frisbee games. I question my place in the world, and more specifically, in college, just as Galileo questioned his and everyone’s place. And by doing so, I am making others angry, just as Galileo did. I am leaving the party when I’ve had enough. I am going to bed when I am tired. And I am trying, oh so hard, to eat breakfast by myself. And yes, this makes people angry.
I am Postman. I deleted my facebook. I was disturbed at how wholly unnatural it seemed to delegate friendships to the simple functions of “poking”, “grouping” and “networking.” Not to mention the time it wastes. It keeps my roommates up at night so they can complain that they are tired the next day. It sucks us in for hours each day, a virtual connection with no basis in reality. People say things on facebook they wouldn’t dare say in person. It imitates intimacy. And the complacency Postman speaks of? That is why I created my facebook profile in the first place, and that is why my peers are glued to it.
I am Gates. I am hooked up, strapped in, reliant on technology. And I am enjoying it. I am watching movies on my personal computer. I am using blackboard every day. I check my email constantly. My computer always seems to be downloading, uploading, printing, saving, with me at the keys. I need it.
I admonish technology and depend on it. I am a friendly extrovert, but it is not in my nature, or at least it wasn’t until now. I know a lot of people, but I don’t let them know me. I let the two guys at breakfast drag me over to their table. I think I am special, different, unique, doing and saying things that don’t fit the norm, but am I really? I may get into bed when I want, but I don’t have the guts to tell my facebooking roommates to turn off the light, so I stare at my Portuguese flag. I have no sweeping generalization to make, no all-encompassing conclusion to turn this into a tidy essay. I certainly had trouble keeping it at two pages. But maybe tonight, I will ask my roommates to turn off the light. And maybe tomorrow, I will eat breakfast alone. I’m confused, but who isn’t? Who am I and what am I doing here?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

as strange a coincidence as they come...

An interesting update to my story from last night about the fraudulent "homeless" lady: On the very same day, she duped my roommate as well. I only just found this out.
Omer was going to some restaurant on his lunch break and there was this very pathetic (yet very genuine-looking) lady with a cast and a walker asking for money. Omer, contrary to what he usually does (I swear, this lady makes all of us have a change of heart) decided to buy her a sandwich. When he came back out of the restaurant, he sees she was being harassed by the cops for panhandling. He asked them if he could give it to her anyway and they said yes, but she's a fraud. So he gave her the sandwich and went on his merry way. It must have been just after he left that, as the woman told me later that night, there was a car accident that distracted the cops enough for her to make a getaway. The idea that she could make a "getaway" with her fake cast and walker should have been enough information for me, but I was clearly pushing out all thoughts that she was anything but a kind lady in need of some help.
So I can pretty much piece together her whole day.
Omer said, "What are the odds that she got two roommates in one day?"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I feel like the world's biggest chump. I feel green. I feel like a loser. I feel duped, cheated, messed with, and everything in between.
I got off a very long shift at the theater and I was walking to my car when a woman approached me. She was a middle aged black woman, with graying hair, frayed clothing, with a cast on her leg and leaning on a walker. Few sights are more pathetic. She told me she was trying to get a room for the night for her and her daughter. She said she needed to get $19 by the end of the night for the room. I gave her $2 and she told me that was the first money anyone had given her all night. I said, "Listen, you are not going to get $19 by the end of the night. Here." I handed her a twenty, and said, "Let me give you a ride."
I was half afraid she would run before I could get my car and pull it up, but she was there, right where I had told her to wait. I pulled up my car and helped her with the walker, got her into my low rider. She gave me directions and on the way we small talked. She told me she had seen me before, that I had helped her and her daughter. I had no recollection of this whatsoever, but she told me she had seen me at Fat Head's on the South Side. This is incredibly likely. I've never been any other place on the South Side, a neighborhood littered with restaurants and bars, but I have been to Fat Head's quite a few times.

Some of the things she told me I wanted to believe, like that she had just gotten a job at Goodwill, that they were going to pay her $9 an hour and par for her bus pass. Like that she had a little girl. Like that she needed to get this address so she could apply for welfare tomorrow. Some of the things I couldn't believe. Like that she had eight children, four sets of twins each a year apart, four boys and four girls. Some of the things I didn't know if I could believe. Like that she had leukemia. Like that her baby daddy worked mopping floors on the South Side.

In the end, our final destination was not a place she could "get a room." It was a broken down row home, now detached from what may have been other homes that had made it a row home. Next to an empty lot.
She didn't seem to need any help getting out of the car. Or unfolding the walker. Or taking out her key and going inside. Or taking me for a literal and figurative ride.

I had to fight back tears as I pulled around in the street and headed back to Fifth. I put my blinker on to turn left. A policeman walked over to me in the rain, signaled to roll down the window. I was certain he was going to say something about my passenger, though I had not a clue what. Instead, he leaned over and shouted in my face, "What the hell? Are you from another planet?" Right, because trying to turn left on Fifth meant I was as insane as the woman I had just dropped off. At least in Pittsburgh. I wanted to say, "What the hell? Not everyone in Pittsburgh was born here, lives here, and will die here. Maybe to any dumb fuck who's never left da 'Burgh, anyplace else is another planet, fucker." But I didn't. I turned right on fifth and made my way back to Forbes before breaking down. Not my car, just me.

It isn't about the money. I could easily have spent $20 on something else. And only part of it is about the lying. More of it is about the uncertainty, the betrayal of my trust. I NEVER do this. I learned the "don't give money to homeless people, they'll spend it on alcohol and drugs," lesson a long time ago, but it seems I have learned nothing at all. In my attempt to be a do-gooder, I've been played. And it doesn't feel good.

I know she needs help. I know she needs money. That much is certain. I know she needed a ride on a rainy night, and she hadn't even asked. I know, fairly certainly, that at least when I gave her the ride, she was sober and straight. I know I brought her to a safe place for the night. I can't say much else. If I can convince myself that I helped her in some way, maybe I won't feel like such shit.

My mom said that at least I learned my lesson. But what lesson did I learn? I am not going to categorically stop helping homeless people. I acted on a whim, and no amount of experience can dictate for sure what our instinct will be. The lesson is that I may get played again, that sometimes these things happen, and that hopefully, possibly, maybe, I helped her in some way, just a little bit.

The other lesson I learned is to never put on a turn signal to suggest I am going West on Fifth past Bellefield. For that is a cardinal sin, perhaps even worse than assisting panhandlers. I'm not sure; I'd have to ask the cops here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Let's talk about dandruff

When did it become socially acceptable to point out physical flaws and deformities to strangers?
I know it's always been laudable to confront strangers about things they can change. But when it comes to things they can't, then it's just plain rude.
I remember once in 8th grade the 7th grade science teacher had her long skirt tucked into her panty line. It wasn't subtle either. A bunch of teachers were all standing in a circle talking, and it was clear no one was going to say anything. That is, except for Mr. Kenner, the somewhat inappropriate (though we could never put a finger on exactly how) drama teacher. He leaned in, and, without much pomp or circumstance, said, with full volume, "Honey, you've got your skirt tucked into your underwear."

I think that's nice.

On Saturday I stopped into a gas station to buy a soda and a kit kat. I'd just gotten my hair buzzed into a mohawk the day before. I always have a few problems in the days after such a haircut, namely, a dry scalp and tiny hairs that cling to my face and pillow. Anyway, I went up to the counter. At first I thought the cashier was going to flirt with me. His intro was, "How's it hanging?" Or some other shit like that. While he was ringing me up, he motions to his own head, and says to me, "You've got a little something in your hair."
Horrified, I grabbed both sides of my head to see if I could feel it.
"Nah, nah, left side of your head, here."
Slightly embarrassed, I say, "Oh, that's just a scar."
He follows: "No, not that. It's white stuff, or like something from outside, like..."
"DANDRUFF?" I practically shout.
"Dunno, maybe."
I frantically started to look around for something to find my reflection in, and the guy directs me to a sunglasses stand with the narrow little mirrors that you can never actually see anything in.
I go over, and I can't quite locate the dandruff flakes, or whatever it was, without my glasses. I sort of rub, as if I can see it, but I really can't. He tells me that I got it.

I walked out with my friend, reeling. She told me, "He was just flirting with you." Um, I know you can playfully jab at someone when flirting: "Hey you're short. Hey you smell funny. Hey your skirt is tucked into your underwear. " You DON'T tell them they have dandruff.

The thing is, I don't think he was flirting with me. I think half the time we think they are, they aren't. Maybe this is all coming off of seeing "He's Just Not That Into You." It comes off a high school and college career of never being able to tell if someone was flirting, or really just picking on me. Why should it be so hard to tell? At any rate, why do they have to be so mean? Because if they were nice, we wouldn't brood about it. We wouldn't even notice.

At any rate (as my mom would say), I've been checking for dandruff daily.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tova-xander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Today fucking sucked.
I mean, really fucking sucked.
I've had worse things happen to me. But really awful things are usually the only bad thing that happens in that day. The thing about a bad day is that it's comprised of a shitload of small, otherwise manageable trials. It's just that when a few of them happen, you can't manage any more. They string together like notches on a bedpost. Or a belt. Or some shit like that. Tiny things become insurmountable. An untied shoelace is akin to skinning your knee. Getting caught in the rain is akin to a car breaking down. And a car breaking down? Well, I might as well be kidnapped.
The day really started out just fine. The majority of it I was in a car, insulated from the evils of the world. I sang along to Blues Traveler and godawful a-cappella. Well, it may have been raining, but nothing could ruin my mood. Little Squirt slept in my lap and tried to eat my yummy bowtie pasta and chicken. I got soaked at a rest stop when I tried to pee. Not soaked by pee. Ew. It was raining really hard and the closest parking was like a half-mile across the lot. I swear, if the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the second busiest. I waited 20 minutes in a fucking filthy bathroom with screaming children being dragged to have their diapers changed. I skipped the winding lines for Famiglia Pizza and Chili's Too. Not worth the wait. What was also not worth the wait was the line to get back on the fucking highway. It was backed up from an accident and took another 20 minutes to get on. From then on it was predicted stop-and-go traffic from an accident at mile 152. At mile 160, however, I saw a Geo Metro, intact only moments before, with its entire front end smashed in. Clearly the driver had made some mistake the traffic while approaching the original accident. How ironic.
Anyway, I make it to Pittsburgh after only six hours. Not too shabby, considering the rain which turned to snow which turned back to rain and the backed up traffic. I was still ready to get home and conquer a group project for which I'd been rushing to get home.
So my neighbors have parked close in on either side of the driveway so I can't pull in. It's a narrow street and I can't get in at a wide enough angle the clear the cars. It ends of taking like 12 passes while the cars that are trying to get by honk at me.
I finally make it down the driveway, unfettered. I step into the house and my nipples fucking freeze off. It's a sultry 40 degrees inside. We had set the thermostat low while we all left for Thanksgiving. I just hadn't realized how low. So I turned it up and padded upstairs to freeze my ass off in the shower. I rushed around to gather all my materials for my group and run out the door in a sweatshirt. I get to my car and hear a strange hissing sound. Then I notice I have a fucking flat tire. Then I notice a fucking nail in the fucking tire. Fuck it.
So I run to the bus stop close to my house, realize I'll be waiting forever on a Sunday, and walk to the farther, more frequented stop. I still end up waiting for a half hour. In the rain. I'm late, but I'm not the last one to arrive, so still I have to wait.
I end up doing nearly the entire project by myself. I write the whole powerpoint and then have to teach how to search journals, have to teach what a journal is, and have to teach how to write an annotated bibliography. No one is cooperative. No one offers to do some of the project. Everyone forgot to bring articles and sources and to do the preparation for the meeting. So I have to compensate for it. I spend five hours in the library, doing that and other things. I wait a half hour for a print-out that never comes.
After dinner at McDonald's, the entire 20 minutes of which a creepy guy was staring at me and listening in on my phone conversation with my brother, I go to wait for the bus. Any bus. Usually one comes within ten minutes. But I waited for 40. In the rain. Wearing a sweatshirt. To make matters horrible, a drunk and possibly mentally disturbed man harassed me the entire time. He kept asking me where I lived, what I was doing, what were my goals in life. He asked me how old I was, and I said, "Does it really matter?" He asked me what bus I was waiting for and I said, "Whatever fucking one comes." He keeps mumbling about the 61A, and I vow to not take that bus if it's the first one that comes. Then he gets the idea that I want to steal his 6-pack and starts screaming, "It's mine! It's mine!" at me and whoever else walks by. He won't fucking shut up, and he starts talking about "fucking bitches controlling his life" and such. The bus that does come, mercifully, is not the one I really want, but I take it anyway and walk the extra blocks.
That's really the end of Tova-xander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I guess it wasn't so bad. There were a few goods things.
I finished three things on my list of things to do before the end of the semester. Only seven to go.
Squirt napped on my lap and kept me warm the whole drive home.
I made it home safely.
Dena made lodging accommodations for Dublin next month. Something great to look forward to.
I pet Cosmo, the adorable Westie who lives across the street. He has soft fur.
I have new boots and a brand new designer handbag from Abi.
Oh, and I had a fucking great, relaxing, wonderful, cathartic Thanksgiving. The best in recent memory.
Maybe it wasn't so bad after all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

ode to Olivia... memories of a mouse

An era has ended. It was not socialist era or a fascist era but an era of mice. Olivia has died. I found her last night, feet up, half-buried in her bedding. We had a good run, Olivia and I. She was a good mouse, good as a mouse could be. I'll now recount the saga of the mouse era in all its glory.

In the early Spring of freshman year, Maggie and I were feeling restless, lonely, and in need of something to cuddle. This is pretty much how we always felt at Goucher. Maybe it was these normal feelings in addition to the Spring thaw. Perhaps it was the resurgence of the Goucher Plague, and we thought we could test some vaccines against it. It could have been our impending choral trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Anyway, after what felt like a carefully and painstakingly discussed, years-long debate (which in actuality was conceived the same night it was carried out), we hopped in my Honda Del Sol and took a trip to the PetsMart (Pets Mart? Pet Smart?) down Goucher Boulevard.

Our original plan was to buy a single mouse. We would mete out this mouse between the two of us. It was to be a shared custody situation. Of course, we realized in our heart of hearts that the sharing would never work out as we were planning. One of us would take all the responsibility and would be lucky to receive monthly mouse support checks from the other. So we decided, on the way to the store, that we would each get a mouse and have play dates when we cleaned out their cages.

Upon arrival, the snarky "small animal specialist" informs us that mice are social creatures. They thrive when they live with other mice. They play, the run, they are very happy. So we would each have to get two mice. The problem was, there were five mice in the holding cage. Buying four would mean leaving the last, undesirable one alone, solitary. Basically, in entropy until the next shipment of mice brothers and sisters arrived. I just couldn't have that. After much argument as to who would get three mice and who two, most directly related to one particular, scruffy, gram-sized mouse, it was decided I would care for the three small mice and Maggie would mother the two larger.

I thought the baby mouse was cute. Her scruffiness endeared me. Her runt status made me gaga. Unfortunately, she was very sick. She died that night, unnamed and unbaptized, a pagan baby. I buried her in the mulch outside of Pearlstone. I was devastated and vowed to care for my two remaining mice, whom I promptly named. Olivia and Princess Buttercup. Maggie had Fudge and Arthur.

Our mice, by the way, were contraband in the dorms. There was a several hundred dollar fine for each, so that, between the four, we had a few thousand dollars of illegal goods. In one situation, we were warned last minute by a friend coming through to do inspections. He shouted dramatically into the room before entering with an all-too-serious puss of an RA. I had just enough time to stash the girls in the closet and swipe the bureau of any telltale mouse droppings or bedding. (They did make quite a mess).

I would put them in a giant ball to do cleanings and laugh at them when they bumped into chairs or got stuck in corners. I would take them out on the quad and stick them on peoples' heads. I would become extremely impressed when they could go an entire half hour without pooping. It happened, I swear.

Then things began to go downhill. Arthur died. Concerned about Fudge's well-being, we rushed to the store and brought home Nicodemus, a darling black-and-white with a fierce personality. Fudge immediately tried to eat him and we soon found Nicodemus was missing large amounts of fur.

Then, in a horrendous turn, Princess Buttercup died. I found her, still warm, on the lower floor of the mouse house. I immediately extricated her, so as not to traumatize Olivia. I buried her in the woods. Attached as I'd become, a brief eulogy was said, with a delineation of her better qualities. I cried.

Then Fudge died, possibly for his sins of cannibalism. Possibly from old age or improper care or disease. Not wanting to give into the vicious cycle of companion-providing, Maggie set Nicodemus free in her backyard in Downingtown over Spring Break. She was so scared to tell me for fear that I would be displeased. But, in truth, I began to wonder if such a life of freedom, where she could find other mice and possibly be eaten by a hawk, was preferable for Olivia, over a life absent of a companion.

But I could not let her go. Several times I thought she was dying and nursed her back to health. Her ears would get red and bleed, she would lose fur, and then, miraculously, she would get better. Nevertheless, she was no longer a young mouse. Olivia and I still had our good times. She made the move with me out to Pittsburgh and sufficiently stank up my room. Squirt continued to try to eat her and her bedding and poop. And we still had playtime. But no more. Those days are over. She has gone onto a better place, and I don't mean the trashcan for the the garbageman to pick up on Monday. She had a good life. She was a good mouse. Here's to the end of an era.