During my early 20s, I was living in L.A. and was perilously lonely. One day while waiting for my Xanax and Zoloft prescriptions to be filled, I wandered into a PetSmart. As I stood looking at the rodents, a woman approached me. "Do you want a rat?" she asked. "Um," I answered. She explained that her daughter's pet snake usually ate frozen dead mice but lately had been making meals of live baby rats. "The thing about them is, they scream," she said. "And I can't listen to that anymore." We went to her car and she pulled out a tiny box. Sleeping inside was a baby rat no bigger than my thumb, nestled in wadded paper towels. I took him home and named him Martin. I forgot about the prescriptions.

I fell in love with Martin that first night, when he sniffed me, decided I was trustworthy, and took a nap curled up in my shirt pocket. The next few days passed in a bewildering haze. I'd never taken care of another creature before, and being in charge of someone else's well-being—even a rodent's—was revelatory.

Martin grew up big and boisterous, and I learned the timbre and tone of his different squeaks. He learned his name was Martin and came when I called. When he grew too big to sleep in my pocket, he slept in my palms. I was so humbled by his trust, I'd just sit there and hold him. Martin (like most of his kind) didn't live for more than a few years, but I loved that snake food so much, I forgot to self-destruct. Since I met him, I've never been able to find my way back to those pits of impossible sadness. And it's all because Martin loved me, too.


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