In fact, it’s probably made of the same stuff.
A couple years ago, it struck me quite definitively that Flaco Paco had brought nothing but joy into the world, and he did so in abundant quantities. Paired with this (obvious but still profound) realization was the knowledge that, someday, Flaco Paco would be gone. And so every morning that his bright, sonorous voice and bucking, haywire fluff greeted me, I was warmed not only by the overwhelming sweetness of this audio visual experience but also by the knowledge that he was still vitally present. If there is anything that softens the sting of his passing, it is knowing that he was not taken for granted. We were, quite happily, his attentive slaves all five years of his life.
It’s challenging to articulate the goodness Flaco Paco embodied. It was not a self-sacrificing, saintly goodness; his very self was the source. It was not the goodness of innocence; it increased with age and experience. It resembled a gentle, artistic goodness – a healthy curiosity towards all things and beings coupled with the talent and willingness to put forth rich, personal expressions of his experience. Even in the face of aggression (guinea pigs are generally sweet and passive, but there is still a pecking order that gets enforced), Flaco brought a positive, egalitarian spirit. He was not one to meekly withdraw from conflict, but he never sought victory for himself, alone.
A full appreciation of Flaco Paco required an experience of sound and motion at the very least, though a photo, like a painting that depicts energy and vectors of movement, can give one a sense of the incredible, unpredictable energy harnessed in that little creature. Flaco was rarely not in motion, and that motion was rarely linear. Sudden changes in direction and speed were to be expected. Wild, twisting, yelping popcorns were not uncommon. And with the majority of movement came song: rhythmic chutting, exuberant glisses, mumbling pure tones and the occasional ecstatic wheeking accompanied by an impossibly stretched out neck and upturned head, the combination of which was aptly known as Howling at the Moon.
Not that there weren’t moments of stillness and silence. Now and then, one would find Flaco in a meditative pose, slightly hunched, eyes cast downwards, resembling a majestic bison. And, just as his waking life was infused with presence, his sleeping life was one hundred percent sacked out slumber. One could mistake a sleeping Flaco Paco for a hand puppet minus the hand.
As with the passing of all of our little guys, we have compiled a list of Flaco’s fundamental qualities, accomplishments, memorable moments and impossible quirks. The list is long and still nowhere near exhaustive. I only want to mention a couple, here, to try to at least obliquely get at the goodness he so deeply embedded within us.
Flaco’s passion seemed to be in the area where sculpture and architecture intersect. Much time in a guinea pig’s life is spent in tunnels and pigloos and soft little sacks known as cuddle cups. While the former are fairly unmaleable to a creature with a guinea pig’s means, a cuddle cup, when well-made, is an excellent combination of stiff and flexible, perfect for shaping to one’s whim. The potential was not wasted on Flaco. He would enter a cuddle cup with enormous vocal fanfare and twist his body while vigorously hammering out curves and corners with his head until he would achieve Escher-like arches that, by themselves, were miraculous, but were rocketed to the sublime when he placed himself, hair flaring incalculably high, in the most perfect position inside the artwork, both complementing and complicating the already unfathomable form he created.
Later in Flaco’s life, we introduced a large, twisted strand of packing paper into his cage that became known as Paper Estates. Of course, this puzzling set of rolling hills was perfect material for Flaco’s foray into landscape architecture. He set about crashing through folds of paper, his vocalisations now compounded by industrious rustling, until there appeared an unforeseen logical sense to the landscape. And, as with the cuddle cups, the final touch would be placing himself at what could only be identified in retrospect as the perfect location on the property.
Like many great artists, Flaco turned deeply introspective in his final period. After a lifetime of bold, decorous curves, he turned to flatness. He also left out external materials and dealt primarily with his own body. One would still hear the vocal fanfare that accompanied all of Flaco’s art making, but this time the fanfare was soundtrack to a saunter across the cage, ending in a definitive flop that would render his geometrically intricate body as flat as it could possibly be.
But there may have been one more, secretive, final work by Flaco. He suddenly became ill (listless and disinterested in food) late last Monday. We took him to the vet and hand fed him for a couple days, in addition to purchasing every vegetable the guy was known to enjoy. He maintained an interest in certain vegetables and still showed signs of curiosity and excitement, but by Thursday it seemed that his lethargy had increased. We took him back to the vet, who, among other things, gave him an X-Ray. The X-Ray revealed that Flaco had somehow reversed the order of his stomach and intestines and moved them to the opposite side of his body. It was never clear that this was the cause of his illness, as other factors, like a gall bladder three times its normal size and a compromised liver, were revealed later that day, but it would turn out to be his last work. He died among many admirers that afternoon.
Up until his last moments, Flaco continued to develop and express new ideas. For instance, over the past two months, he embarked on a new set of explorations. Since his recent partner, Mooncake, and he turned out to be tolerant of each other but not exactly soul mates, and since the sweet-faced Mooncake also turned out to be quite a tough, opinionated lady, we would make sure to give Flaco some alone time outside the cage. Usually, this involved a small dish of special food (sprinkled with oatmeal, which was as close to crack for him as a food could get) set up on a soft pad on the wood floor in our main room. It’s pretty normal for guinea pigs to stick to a soft pad when the alternative is a hard, slippery floor, but Flaco had been around long enough that he clearly wanted to see what lay beyond the safe, soft borders. So, we let him explore.
Now, we live in a loft-style apartment with an open floor plan and high ceilings. It’s a somewhat big, imposing space. To see this little, brown, fluffy guy amble curiously through this environment, head looking side to side, even-paced like a seasoned tourist, toes gently clacking on the floor – this image had to be one of only a few potential images that purely conveyed this elusive sense of goodness. A harmless herbivore, gentle even relative to his own species, ticking comfortably through a world too cold and too big to truly deserve him, just to know it a bit better, to get a deeper picture before his time was up; not oblivious but not garishly courageous – just wholly present, wholly expressive – this was almost too powerful to bear.
I tried to listen to Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 yesterday, but found the first prelude to be too painful. The quiet, C major chords, so delicate and yet so enduring, written by a composer emotionally crushed by his environment, persistently evoked the image of Flaco traversing our wide floor, looking as content as I’ve ever seen him, a small but powerful representative of the love we inject into the indifferent universe in order to make living in it bearable, even beautiful. That representative is sorely missed in this household.