Fat Olivia

 This was Fat Olivia. Actually, let’s talk about her in the present tense. You know, because it’s more fun and less depressing.

This is Fat Olivia.

Fat Olivia and I met on Valentine’s Day  of 2003. It was a cold, blustery day. I had mono. She did not.

At the time, I was dating a boy who liked me entirely too much. This is not to say that I was not likeable, or that I was undeserving of his affection. What I mean by this is that this boy, due to how much he liked me, took everything that trickled out of my mouth in a gravely literal way. My family, who knew better, had been through the routine (I’m pretty much a one trick pony, y’all. Not a lot of surprises here.):

“I want to be a cardio-thoracic surgeon!” And why shouldn’t you be, sweetheart?

“I have the measles!” Of course you do, darling.

“One time, I saw this clown who told me that I was pretty enough to be on TV,” I’m sure he….wait. 

They were super worried, I’m sure, until they remembered that on that particular occasion, we were at a restaurant.

CLOWN: You’re pretty enough to be on TV, darlin’!

I then proceeded to, from my booster seat, scream bloody murder, flail, and nearly kick him in the nads. And I was not as young as you’d wish I was. Moral of the story? Well, there are two, really:
  1. Don’t ever sneak up on a child while wearing a clown costume.
  2. Don’t ever wear a clown costume.
I f*cking hate clowns.

Where were we? Oh right. See? That’s what happens when my week is totally bananas and I feel like I have a cold – I become completely incoherent and have the social and conversational skills of an pre-adolescent hedgehog. If hedgehogs have an adolescent stage at all. Which they should.

Anyways, my family had learned to only take about 43.7% of what I said seriously. Which is, in case you are wondering, the exact, appropriate amount. So when all of us, family and boyfriend together, were at the pet store buying chew toys for Mr. Max and I saw the hamster tank and squealed that I wanted one because they were so squishy, my mom shook her head, my dad said, “Fuhgeddaboudit,” and my sister didn’t even look up from her Gameboy. Mr. Max, I’m sure, looked up at me and thought, “Yes, dearest. Yes. Get thee a hamster. And I shall smoosh it with my paws, Whack-A-Mole style. And it shall be my greatest work ever. *maniacal laugh*”

(Note: He did that to my sister’s hamster, Froderick. But that’s another rodent story for another day.)

But my boyfriend heard this and must have thought, “My what a romantic idea! I will get her this hamster! But I will not get it for her today. I will get it for her for the holiday of love! And then she will love me forever because this hamster shall be the token of our love and it’s foreverness.”

It’s important to remember a few things here:

  1. I was 15. Or something like that. He was young, too. So “forever” really just meant “until prom.”
  2. Once we left the pet store, I never gave it another thought.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when, on Valentine’s Day, weeks later, as my spleen was nearly rupturing from all the mononucleosis infesting my life, this boyfriend showed up with a tiny aquarium tank and a large paper sack.

Feeling to pale and wan to open the door, I blackmailed my sister into doing it. He practically bounded over to the couch where I had fallen.

BOYFRIEND: Happy Valentine’s Day, baby! Her name is Olivia!

ME: What is that?

BOYFRIEND:You said you wanted a hamster! I remembered! Here she is!

Because nothing says “romance” and “please let this relationship last through prom” quite like a hamster.

 I’ll give him this, if he was gonna buy me a rodent, he chose well.

All hamsters are a little doughy. That’s what makes them so appealing. They have their pudgy little bottoms and their fat little cheeks stuffed with seeds and they just look like little bitty balls of OMGIt’sSoFluffyI’mGonnaDie. But Olivia was not doughy. Olivia was fat. And 

I died a little inside.

This was aptly chosen on his part. Lacking concern for the state of their cardiovascular systems and tiny plaquing arteries, I have always had an affinity for cute, fat, baby animals. (Not people. Heart disease in people and adult animals is no laughing matter.) Fat baby penguins – I literally feel my ovaries seizing up in my body. Fat baby puppies – kill me now, because it’s all downhill from here.

So when I looked into those little beady eyes, set in that enormously chunky little hamster face, I absolutely fell in love. I made boyfriend go to the pet store and buy her “ accessories.” You know, because my mono had rendered me so near to death’s door. (In a purely Victorian England kind of way.)

While he was out, I coerced my dad into bringing up the 50 gallon aquarium tank which had sat empty in our basement for 3 years. (Yes, it had once held fish. But one of the angel fish went all Hannibal Lector and ate all the other fish and so we kinda forgot to feed him because he was so mean.) My girl, renamed Fat Olivia, was going to have an amazing home, worthy of going on whatever is the rodent equivalent to MTV’s Cribs. I lined it with the wood shavings. I hung the water bottle from the side.

Max cursed me in his head for putting the hamster so far out of his reach.

Boyfriend returned with a pink, plastic rodent castle and a wheel. Squee. We got her all set up and I screeched with delight when she climbed into the wheel. But did she run?

Tank Not Drawn to Scale. As you might have noticed. (Note: there’s no wheel in the picture because every time I tried to draw it, it looked like she was trapped inside of a giant, purple inner-tube. I’m blaming my tablet stylus.)
Pshaw. Fat hamsters don’t run. In fact, fat hamsters don’t use their wheels for anything remotely resembling their original purpose. Fat hamsters sit in their wheels, looking out at the world, with one of their hind feet in their mouth. For hours.

Her days were spent sitting on her wheel, watching the sights in my bedroom; her nights spent in her pink, plastic castle, Duchess of all she surveyed. 

Mr. Max circled prissily on the floor, waiting patiently.

But he never got his chance. Fat Oliva kept getting fatter and fatter and fatter. I called my vet, put her on the fat hamster food, tried to walk her on a tiny leash and harness that I crocheted. All to no avail.

I had grown accustomed to waking up in the morning and seeing Fat Olivia already in her wheel, dressed, pressed, and ready to face the day. But one day that summer, I woke up and Fat Olivia was nowhere to be found. Maybe she slept in, too? I lifted up her castle and there she was, curled up in the position in which she always slept: legs tucked carefully under her body, head tucked carefully and completely under as well. I poked her. She didn’t move. I knew then.

I told myself that her poor little heart just couldn’t do it anymore. But what is more likely, according to my vet, is that she asphyxiated from her body weight on top of her head, which sounds an awful lot like a really terrible idea for a Law and Order: CI episode, if you ask me.

We wrapped her in a running sock and buried her in a Little Debbie Swiss Rolls box in the front yard.

After her death, when cleaning out her tank, it was discovered that Fat Olivia was a bit of an apocalyptic hoarder. I was an idiot. I thought hamsters were like babies and dogs in that they would let you know when they were hungry and you should feed them. So, I kept Olivia’s hamster food stocked. Under her shavings in the plastic castle, we found at least 3 cups of food.

So yes, I fed my hamster to death. And there are, as with all of my stories, lessons:

  1. Hamsters, like humans, need to be sure to get regular physical activity and eat a low fat/low carb/high fiber diet.
  2. Hamsters, even doughy and adorable ones, do not make good Valentine’s Day presents.
  3. If you get your girlfriend/boyfriend a hamster for a holiday, you will effectively take any hope that that person’s father/mother will ever like you and throw it out the window.
  4. Mr. Max had bloodlust when it came to hamsters and, I think, fantasized about spicing his kibble with hamster flesh. (Yes. Gross. I know.)
  5. I called Fat Olivia “Fat Olivia” so that those twig-bitch mice in my sister’s room couldn’t call her that behind her back.
  6. It is impossible to walk a hamster on a leash. It functions in much the same way that walking a cat on a leash does in that when you say “walk” you mean “drag for ten or so feet before giving up.”

How does this story end for everyone else?

My dad went on to forbid the purchase of yet another hamster, two cats, and two more dogs. The other hamster’s name was Froderick, the cats Fred and Ethel, and the dogs Rigby and Lola. He’s still forbidding them to this day.

Boyfriend and I did go to prom together. But I think we broke up right before. Or right after. I can’t remember. But he’s married and has a lovely daughter. And I’m married and have a Viking Labradoodle. So it all worked out in the end.

Mr. Max went onto those happy hunting grounds in the sky. I’m still not really ready to write about that. I’m not sure I ever will be. I didn’t have the vocabulary when he was alive, and so, to reach back in time and bring him forward now with words seems all the more difficult. So I’m going to leave that be. But just know, that wherever he is, he is happy and likely has a mole or a hamster in his mouth. He’s also probably flipping you off. 

As for Fat Olivia? We buried her under the flower bed in the front yard. Maybe it’s just me, but the flowers always seem to be a little more vibrant over that place. I took science – I know it’s just the abundance of organic material that’s there now. But I think that’s OK. After all, I want to be a hydrangea bush when I die.

Even though she was such a small life, she was a life nonetheless, and the first for which I was completely responsible. Will I buy my children hamsters? Yes, if for no other reason than letting go of a hamster prepares you for letting go of bigger things. Learning to say goodbye to goldfish and hamsters and mice gives a person the tools to say goodbye to dogs and grandparents and everyone else we love. It also teaches us to look for the vibrant patches that those lives leave behind.

Because isn’t that what we all want – to leave a piece of the world, no matter how small, a little brighter in our wake? 

Happy Thursday, y’all. 

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  1. We laughed! We cried! Epic story.

    I could live Olivia’s life– hoard food and sit on my butt.

  2. Thank you so much for that. I love lesson 5. 😉 I know not everyone will get that.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss! Fat Olivia sounds like a lovely companion.

    My mother also thought it would be a good idea to get us pets so we could learn about grief when we were kids. We got two kittens when I was 9. One got outside and got hit by a car when I was 19. It was like losing a member of the family and was traumatic for the entire family. The other is still alive today – I’m almost 28. Mom grew up on a farm where you’d have the same cat around for *maybe* 2 years. Maybe she should’ve gotten us obese hamsters instead…

  4. my brother and I had hamsters. the lived in the same cage. then one day, there were more than 2 hamsters. there were a million!* Momma hamster got herself knocked up and went ballistic on pappa hamster, so he had to be put in a different cage. Then this girl came over and touched a baby, and the Momma ate it.

    What this taught me is that once you have babies, you go ape shit on the baby daddy, and will kill if anyone touches dem babies. (not the baby, but the person who touches them. because I’m sure Momma hamster wanted to kill Zara, not her baby, but the baby had Zara’s scent on it, so she got confused)

    *not a million

    • My sisters mice did the same thing. And then Mr. Max perpetrated The Great Baby Mouse Massacre of 2003.

      But I think this is helpful – I can see myself going ape shit on Carter for not anticipating that I need ice cream and don’t want to change the baby’s diaper because I’ve already done it 1,000 times today. And I won’t let people who look remotely phlegmy touch de babies.

  5. Oh how I hate those twig-bitch mice!! RIP Fat Olivia. I know youre in rodent heaven playing with my guinea pig Starr, that my brother accidentally killed.

  6. lovely story, lovely artwork. fat olivia lives on in our minds now

  7. Beautiful story and beautiful artwork!
    And you’re so right about how letting go of beloved pets prepares us. I never could understand the parents that hid the death of a pet (or relative) from children. (They’re STILL on vacation? But it’s been three flippin’ years!)

    • Thanks, Chris! I’m trying this new drawing software – these were my first attempts!

      I’ve never gotten that whole “Fluffy went to a farm” thing either. It teaches NOTHING!

      Although, to be fair, if a child reaches adolescence and still hasn’t caught on that Fluffy ain’t on no farm, they are probably raising an idiot and therefore have bigger problems. 🙂

  8. Such a sweet story. Love your artwork of her! Your story made me think of Stephanie Plumb from Janet Evanovich’s Series. She has a hamster named Max and as a busy “bounty hunter” Max is the perfect pet for her. Always cracks me up when I read them and her droopping a piece of food for him to eat (about all she can handle…” Sorry for your loss, but think of all the great memories you have.

  9. Save this for your kids, one day.

    Did you really crochet a leash? Because that, darlin’, is crazy.

    I lurve your illustrations and want a crash course, please.

    I want to come back as a redbud.

  10. I LOVE your illustrations–and I love how you ended this post. This is my favorite part about blogs. You can ramble and rant and laugh and rant some more, but at the end a nugget of truth is left. This is perfect. (And I think Sonic the Hedgehog is a pre-adolescent hedgehog, so you’re in the clear.)

  11. I loved this story. You are a really good story-teller.

    I giggled at the “Pitch Perfect” reference.

  12. Wonderful and emotional story indeed. I love this blog. I loved the illustrations as well!!

  13. Sweet illustrations! I love the story as well.


  1. […] Those of you who have been around here for a while will remember my dearly departed hamster, Fat Olivia. […]

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