Only the Good (Guinea Pigs) Die Young

That gruesome adolescent heartbreak you go through again and again and again and then evolves into real heartbreak, the kind you can’t just shrug off as kid feelings. It starts here.

Only the Good (Guinea Pigs) Die Young
Photo by Yuhan Du / Unsplash

by Sara Siepker

It was the first and last time I’d ever been to a guinea pig funeral.

We were 6th graders in my friend Amy’s basement, with a makeshift pulpit made from a cart with books stacked on top and a black cloak thrown over the whole thing. There were pictures taped against the wood-paneled walls--printed off in over-saturated black and white--of said guinea pig whose name I do not remember. The carpet down there was a hard, stubby purple and had crumbs deep in the spaces between each layer, the kind you could feel against your bare feet. A dusty PS2 connected to a box TV saw the whole thing, a perpendicular witness to our seating arrangement where an audience of about ten sat on a loveseat fit only for 2, while people at various shifts would walk up to the “pulpit” and deliver sermons. There was a thematic playing of Hallelujah on an out of tune Walmart brand acoustic guitar. Food sat in bowls on the coffee table and in plastic containers bought from Fareway down the street. The lighting was fluorescent and ugly as basements from our childhood should be. Everytime I made a joke, someone was always there to shut me up.

I was prone to a lot of sadness in middle school. By eighth grade I was wearing oversized sweatshirts full time and racking up a tally sheet on my wrist, but there, in that basement, I remembered why I didn’t hang out with Amy’s friends anymore. The ultimate sadness. Between the guinea pig dying and seven years prior we’d become friends in preschool where it was easy enough to fall deeply in love with someone just because your names rhymed. Over the years this wasn’t enough, which translated in a 6th-grade-mindset to: I wasn’t enough. It’s too easy to place blame on my brain and heart for being in the throes of puberty, but I wasn’t ready to admit a lot of things about myself that later in life would become the focal point of other pains. Instead I lashed out in bouts of anger and jealousy. I was prone to sadness, but relinquised vulnerability for fury. Feelings I didn’t have the vocabulary for were a foreign language in my heart and head. Instead of learning how to speak it, I told it to be quiet.

So in that basement I sat and sometimes I talked and sometimes I just thought about how not fun this was, sitting with people that didn’t like me while my best friend became best friends with them instead of me. I didn’t memorize the context of the arguments or why I gave into them, but I can recall the pound of it against my chest and the sensation of blood rising to my cheeks as I succumbed to a kind of pathetic pettiness that I hope none of these girls remember years later. Retrospect offers me the wisdom that none of these girls were evil, even if that would’ve been hard to convince me of at the time. Where I sit now around ten years later, I can see the awkward bend and twist of these interactions as they happened, like an elbow being wrenched behind the back. They were in pain too.

I can still feel the hard carpet beneath my feet as socks curled down into it and the sound of my own self-worth being flushed down the creepy ass toilet nearby that I never liked using because basement bathrooms are always a nightmare. These were moments that had passed in angry, aching heartbeats. I’ve never been any good at staying angry, but becoming it wasn’t a problem. When you feel so hardily that everyone is out to get you, it’s no wonder that the fuse burns closer to the bone when it’s lit. I left in a huff and felt the whispers and gossip make the hairs on my neck stand up as I went. I called my mom and waited for her to come pick me up. This was before I could decide if I wanted to be seen or not. When I could choose whether my mom was allowed to be present for the implosion or if I’d rather drive myself home in tears.

I stood in Amy’s driveway for the long minutes it took my mom to get there because it hurt too much to go back inside. There was a sense of otherness that came over me in the moments before I left, standing with my arms crossed and tears burning behind my eyes, feeling ultimately betrayed and heartbroken for reasons I couldn’t yet discern. That gruesome adolescent heartbreak you go through again and again and again and then evolves into real heartbreak, the kind you can’t just shrug off as kid feelings. It starts here. It starts in a driveway waiting to be picked up.

The sky was a blue getting ready to fall asleep. The house sat, quiet and solemn behind me and from within I heard laughing come from Amy and her friends. The otherness which made my stomach turn hadn’t thought to send me a warning before making a home in my life. And it did. It nestled deep into somewhere I didn’t conceive alone, yet still managed to abandon me within it, stuck with myself. But there was still the world outside of that basement lulling me into calmness, and my mom, headlights flashing, driving up the street to comfort me with loving arms and soft words. There was still the future. There was still time.

Sara Siepker is a writer living in Iowa City who is trying to get over her fear of wasps. She hopes you enjoy this story as much as she enjoyed writing it.