Life Through the Eyes of a Lab Rat: Part Two
After staying so long with Helen, it was hard for me to be alone in the pound again. The first days after her departure were the worst, but eventually I just accepted it. Helen was finally happy and, as a good friend, I should be happy for her as well.
It was then that I met my other best friend: a green Ruki with a name equally impossible to pronounce that had just been abandoned there. He spent his first day there shivering, huddled in the corner. He wouldn't look anyone in the eye. He only started to eat again after being there for two and a half days. It was his despair more than anything else that caught my attention. The guy was not okay.
"Are you all right, buddy?" I asked him at a certain night. There was no apparent emotion in my voice.
"Uh, su-sure," the Ruki stammered.
"Oh, I see," I said sarcastically.
"I just don't know what to do," he whispered. "To do about this, you know?"
"About this situation?" I frowned. "Look, buddy, I know it's hard to be left behind, but you eventually get used to it and you will start to see it all from a different perspective, you know? And maybe, if you're lucky enough, you will not have to get used to it because you will be adopted soon. You just have to have... Ugh, hope."
The Ruki giggled. "Yes, this whole situation is indeed difficult. But, what I meant is that I don't know what to do... with it."
"W-What?" That time I was the one who stammered.
He then handed me a picture: it was a picture of him along with other neopets, all smiling during the Christmas eve celebrations.
"They... they were my family. All of them. I was a lab rat but I loved my home. Until... things happened, my owner could no longer have four neopets... He had to leave me behind. And now I don't know what to do with it."
I decided not to reply. I smiled, patted him on the back, wished him good night and then went to sleep. I had nothing to say to him, I had no advice to give, I had nothing. I never really had a family, I had a shelter for a while that I shared with other neopets. They never really liked me there. They never considered me more than a lab rat. And when it became impossible to keep me as such, I was left aside. The Meerca was not interesting, the Xweetok was. I could not say anything about what he was going through because I never experienced anything like that.
By the way, if my time in the pound was useful for something, it was for me to allow me, finally, to find out who I really was. By the time I lived in my first house I've always lived in the shadow of a personality in which I had been expected to fit in. While there I never had the chance to discover, for example, that I like to read. The personality they made for me hated intellectual activities of any sort and I finally began to find out that such activities make me pleased. I also learned how to paint. I found that I like to play Cheat! after some neopets decided to teach me how to play. I got really good in it in some rounds.
Still, living there was increasingly stifling. I wanted to be free, I wanted to be able to leave at any time and I wanted to come back when I desired, I wanted to have a home with people who cared about me. I wanted it all more than anything.
I chatted a lot with my new friend, the green Ruki, on the weeks that followed our first contact. His nickname was Luke. He told me of his house and about his own experience as lab rat (happier than mine). He told me of his longing for getting back to the Lost Desert.
"I dream about the desert, you know?" he confessed. "I dream about the desert often. I got out of there while I was so young and being able able to go back there is probably my biggest dream. Rukis are children of the desert. We miss it so much when we are not there. We feel 'saudades' of it, which means a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia. Maybe one day they will stop taking us away from the desert so frequently.."
He dreamed of helping others Rukis to return to the desert, but right now, his main concern was to get himself out of the pound. I hoped that one day he would be able to do it all.
After about seven months living in the pound, on a certain rainy morning, my name was called. Someone there had just adopted me and I should quickly gather my belongings and leave.
I was astonished. I was there for so long, I didn't know how it was to live somewhere else anymore. That day seemed something so distant and, above all, something in which was so painful to think while living in that cold place. I stop functioning for a moment, I couldn't get myself to start wrapping my few belongings and go.
Luckily, Luke helped me. Seeing how I was in shock, he quickly got my stuff together: a hair comb, a copy of my favorite book and the music box that Helen had given me before she went away. He then put everything in my small cloth bag and handed it to me .
"Go." Luke rushed me. "I hope that, wherever you're going to, you find happiness."
He hugged me quickly, put something into my bag, smiled and walked away. I didn't think much, I didn't even had time to do it so. I walked out of the adoption room, then out of the pound.
There was someone waiting for me outside. He introduced himself quickly and I introduced myself as well, still embarrassed. I didn't know him, I have never seen him in life so far and now I would live with them.
As we walked toward what I believed that would be my home at least for a while, I decided to find out what Luke had put in my bag before our farewell. To my surprise, what I found there with my belongings was a photo. That same photo that made him tremble for days at the pound. He seemed to have found a destination for that memory at the end and thinking about made me need a lot of self-control to not start shaking right there.
Luke was a good friend and so was Helen. They were very important at the time of my life where I was most vulnerable. I will never forget them, but at that moment there were more urgent things for me to focus on, like the fact that, in a few minutes, I would be arriving in what could be my permanent home, or at least, my temporary one. It didn't matter much at first. Just the fact that I would have a home was already a remarkable evolution compared to my previous state. I was a bit scared but mostly happy. That could really work out. I had a chance to make it work.
My new owner was a odd person, that's for sure. His house was bizarre and all his other neopets were all weird in their own way. There was a white Draik who would only dress herself like a doll, a mutant jetsam who was alone, strange, and a usukigirl Usul that seemed to be going through a emo phase. Seeing them instantly made me fell embarrassed, as I was just a basic and simple Meerca. I was not painted in expensive colours or crazy accessories. And that all changed when, two days after my arrival, I was offered a special drink. The drink had an odd color and taste and, minutes after drinking it, I felt strange like in that afternoon when I became a Meerca. I changed species again. I was now a red Hissi.
The first thing I wanted to do was to scream. I had no legs, I had a tail. I was bizarre. When I first saw my reflection in the mirror what I wanted to was cry, and I cried, even if later, even if hidden. That was not what I wanted for myself. And to make matters worse, apparently, that was not what they wanted for me as well. My new owner was ambitious and he wanted something fancier, more spectacular. He wanted an ice Hissi that looked like the Snowager, and since there was no paint brush in Neopia that could paint me ice, he would appeal to the only possible way: the laboratory.
The first time I was took to the laboratory I recognized the path while we were still in the middle of the course and groaned. I've spent all that time at the pound, desperately longing for the day that would be able to leave that place, only to return to my old routine; my daily torture.
The mad scientist smiled when he saw me and commented, merciless: "You always come back to me, don't you?"
There was no response and within seconds, the laboratory's ray was fired at me, blinding me like months ago. When I could see again I felt stronger and I soon noticed that, yes: I'd gained stats. Unlike my previous owner, who didn't care much about it, my new owner smiled. Soon, I was told, I would be ready for fighting at the Battledome, and the simple thought of it made me nervous. To see that mad scientist every day was already pretty bad. Having to fight him and neopets like him was simply terrifying.
Day after day I visited the lab and nothing so special would happen to me there. Some of my status increased and some not. Occasional gender changes, but nothing that was not reversed a few days later. I didn't feel as frustrated as before, perhaps because that environment was way more welcoming and less demanding, perhaps because a few months in the pound can undoubtedly make one neopet stronger. I'm not sure.
What I know say for sure is that, even though the secret laboratory was still sinister and to have the mad scientist's ray fired at you day after day was still not exactly the most pleasant thing that could happen with a neopet, I was far from fearing the old scientist as I feared him before.
After seven months dealing with someone that much reminded me of Dr. Death day after day, I ended up starting to see him more like a grumpy and mad neopet rather than a dangerous one. Those visits were inconvenient; his ray was terrible, but, unlike before, I didn't feel terror of being there and to notice that fact made me smile one certain evening. If I was doomed to that kind of life, a lab rat life, for at least another part of my life, at least I was now brave enough to face it with my head up. More than friends, the pound gave me some courage I never thought I would have.
To be continued...