And all the while, we grappled with the fact that Mr. T didn't have much time. On the streets, most rats die before their first birthday. In captivity, many die by 3. Not long after he turned 2, Mr. T's once rapid pace slowed to a jog, then a waddle, and he began to sleep more solidly through the days. But he was determined to keep going. When, as I had often worried he might, he developed a tumor—it was as large as his head—we found a microsurgeon who removed it, and Mr. T sprinted across our living room the same day. When a spinal condition paralyzed his back legs, he adapted by pulling himself up and down the ramps with his front paws.
One night Mr. T began to struggle to breathe. This time the surgeon couldn't save him. Mr. T died in Colin's hands. We had him cremated, and held a small ceremony in which we scattered some of his ashes in the park behind our apartment building so he could rest near his family. We put the remainder of his ashes in an urn, which we placed beside a picture of him in our living room, and tried to adjust to the sad fact that we didn't get to be Mr. T's mom and dad anymore. But shortly after his passing, Colin and I became parents to a son, whom we named Louis T.
A few years earlier, we had struggled to find even a spare hour in the day—but Mr. T taught us how to make room in our lives for the future we wanted, to be more empathetic, more patient. He taught us to love unconditionally. We'd found Mr. T in one of life's interstices, between dating and marriage, coupledom and parenthood. If it had been a dog or a cat slumped in our alleyway that night, there would be no story to tell. We would have brought the animal to a shelter. Knowing that nobody would do that for Mr. T made us bring him into our home, and doing so made all the difference.
Some of our friends and family just didn't get Mr. T. They never understood how we could love a rat. We never understood how, if you had the pleasure of meeting him, it was possible not to.
Alexandra Harney is the author of The China Price (Penguin) and an expert on economic issues in Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.
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