Whidbey Island until the End
Somewhere in there Otay had reached sexual maturity and night time cages became more necessary when we were outside or in dilapidated houses that were less like inside than a tarp. His testicles, which were as big as his torso called him to wander in a way he was less likely to return from.
We moved to Whidbey Island in the spring. Otay met a lot of goats and passed the time tearing keys off laptops that were left open and unattended. Sometimes he could get one off while a person was just a few steps away from their computer.
We hopped around to Olympia a little, and sometimes stayed over in Port Townsend, me in a bed in the back of a box truck and him leaving pee trails on the front seats.
These were the days when he took up a rather curious hobby of chasing Skrap (or any other dog I trusted not to eat him) and trying to nibble at their penises. He was dedicated and would not give up the chase until such time as I took pity on my patient dog and picked up Otay and tucked him in my shirt. Tucking Otay in my shirt was like putting a towel over a birdcage and he would go right to sleep.
Otay lived nights in a condo built from an old rabbit hutch so that Skrap could rest a few hours in the evening unmolested.
When we moved back to Olympia it was summer. We bounced around for a hot minute and then moved into a little house made of windows in a luscious backyard. It was a place I had seen in my dreams and not surprising to me that it showed up physically.
Otay took no time finding an escape under a gardening drawer; at least I think that was where the hole was. Truth be told it was months of me plugging up holes I though were ‘the one’. Eventually he could only be off me when I was right there and even then sometimes he would disappear and materialize outside in the tall grass.
Once he escaped for less than five minutes but I found him covered in leaves as though he had fashioned himself clothes chewing on the bark of a tree he was clinging to. It was as though he had been on his own, surviving in the wild for months. This was Otays only foray into re-wilding.
In October that year I put together an art instillation at a hall just outside of town. My dear friend watched Otay for a few days so I could work around the clock without him leaping off of ladders or chasing raccoons to try to taste their junk.
That was our first time apart. I would not have thought it was possible but when I would walk into a room after being separated from him for any length of time he would scamper to me as fast as his little legs would go, or he would sneeze to me where he was until I picked him up.
When we cleaned up the show we had a load for the dump. I was heaving bags of non-burnables and smashed toilets down about twenty feet into the otherwise empty bin. I was just about to throw down a very heavy object when I spotted none other than Otay at the bottom of the bin sniffing broken glass, wading in dumpster soup.
I nearly had a coronary incident. I put down the heavy object and ran to the lady in the booth where the dump handled money. Like a cartoon, 8 very buff men showed up quickly like they just hid all day, polishing their muscles, waiting for someone to rescue. They talked about trajectories and strategies and action plans. I offered that someone could put the ladder they had brought down into the bin. Then that person could climb down, pick up Otay and climb back out.
I was told to keep quiet and let the professionals do their job. Twenty minutes later one of the men put his ladder down into the bin. He then climbed down, picked up Otay and then climbed back out. The team left Hi-5’ing each other and talking about God’s grace in the face of such adversity.
It was a good summer for Otay. We did not know it would be his last. He rode with me on bicycles, went to the beach and the river, and ate everything his mouth touched. He spent more and more time on the bodies of other friends. My roommate learned the hard way about his computer key habit, three times.
We went to New Mexico in the winter for our first trip to the little round trailer I have since lived in twice a year. The folks in La Madera had never heard of a pet rat, and wanted to hurl when they saw how he drank. So Otay stayed in the trailer and ate avocados and drank water with Osha in it to fix up what seemed like a urinary tract infection. This was the only time Otay was ever sick. When he was healthy we went back north to our glass nest.
These final months he had a more active social life than myself. We would go to a party and people I had never met would stick their hands in my shirt to flirt with him and coo about some recent adventure they had shared. These people would regard me about as much as the chair a friend is sitting in gets regarded.
Otay was a man about town. He had many more girlfriends than me.
One day we went to Elma to see the horse that had recently become the newest member of our family. Otay stayed in the van because when he rode on me during manual labor, my neck would look like a scratching post afterwards.
He had never escaped from a car. After work we got back in the van and drove the 40 miles home at 65 miles per hour. I did not see Otay but there was any number of places I figured he was hiding.
When we got home there was still no sign of him. We searched and searched. I called his name 1000 times. We called Elma so they could check their own driveway.
Eventually we all sat crying on the porch, wondering if he had escaped or if he had gotten into the engine somehow and fell off on the highway. I had a strong feeling that he was alive but in danger. We went back to the van. My friend checked the back again. I sat in the drivers seat and closed my eyes. I called his name and spoke our secret clicking language and then I listened, hard.
Then suddenly, a sneeze!!!!! Halleluiah! From inside the dashboard. Behind the steering wheel, so many sneezes then. 16 screws, a lot of prayers and a dashboard removal later he was free. As near as we could figure, Otay had crawled through the gas pedal hole up to a tiny platform in the dashboard where he had clung on for dear life, surviving high speeds and bone rattling pop music.
In spring a trip to California brought Otays first stay in a five star hotel. On our way back north we were stopped at a friends place and I put a watermelon rind in his cage. In the morning he was scratching like wild at his bars. I looked and it was like a horror movie, everything in the cage was covered in ants so thick it was all you could see. There were two lines marching out of the wall right into the cage with no sign of stopping. Otay was rescued in the nick of time.
In retrospect this was the closest he ever came to being eaten.
In Portland we met a rat named Augustine Octavius who was being called Cointel-pro, living a lonely life in a basement. He was not older than Otay but he was bigger and paralyzed from the waste down. He was supposedly a biter.
We learned that Oggy (as we called him) was a sweet flower waiting to blossom with love and avocados. We adopted him as a pet for Otay who had been lonely in his cage when I found steady work.
They were quick cuddle buddies. Oggy was the only rat Otay had ever liked. Oggy thrived in Olympia. Otay on the other hand began to wither. It was too much time in his cage and not enough on my body. Even with Oggy as a pet, I believe his heart was broken.
Two weeks later he got sick. It came on fast, a matter of a day or two. By the time I noticed he was not well he was hardly moving and not eating or drinking by himself.
For two days we sat watching him. I fed him nettle tea in an eyedropper. I had seen nettle tea bring goats back from the gates of death. I also fed him pedialyte and at one point he ate applesauce and we thought he would recover.
It was not so. He passed away, cuddled between our greatest friend and me. It was the early morning of June the 8th. We wrapped him in lace like the sweetheart of Mel Gibson in Brave Heart. We had a public viewing for the entire day and then he was buried by a parade of children who loved him, in a bed of flowers and stories and a boat made of flute melodies created for his journey.
In a world where complacency can take us over so quickly Otay was a living and constant reminder of lifes’ magic. Though he may be sitting on a golden throne eating dog dick in rat heaven, we are hear missing him and forever listening for his sneeze.