When I was a kid, I had guinea pigs. Bubble and Squeak, to be exact. Besides being ridiculously cute, they also served a brilliant purpose. I was never very good at talking about my problems. I’m still not and struggle to really open up, even more so if people assume I’ll tell them without prompting. It’s not good to bottle things up, of course, but it’s rarely that easy to just talk.

Anyhow, guinea pigs. The handy thing with guinea pigs is they’re wonderfully happy creatures and in no way judgemental. Sit and watch them go about their business and they won’t question anything you say to them or get bored. More importantly, you don’t feel like they’re silently questioning your logic. They just accept it and chatter happily to you. So, as a kid, I talked about my problems to them. Not just them. I had wonderfully supportive parents while growing up (I still do, albeit just my Mum now), all too happy to listen, but sometimes it’s nice to have a one sided chat.

It was great and almost certainly helped me open up to people too.

Pan forward many years to when my Dad died. My Mum and I would look in pet shops at guinea pigs. It was fun and oddly calming at a time when we were just finding ways of getting away from the house and the memories. When my birthday came around, the first household birthday without my Dad, my Mum gave me a homemade voucher. A voucher for two guinea pigs. Thanks to an inexplicable shortage of guinea pigs in the area on that day, it took us all day to find two. But we did.

They became Scruffy and Toffee. A small beacon of light during a terrible time. And, again, I found it helpful to just watch them or chat to them to relax. The room they lived in became an escape place of sorts, a haven away from the difficulties of my life. Over these recent years, I’ve only really managed to accrue three true escape places, places where I can be truly myself and feel comfortable.

Then, this weekend, Scruffy turned very ill, very suddenly. And we had to put her to sleep on Saturday. A truly heartbreaking decision to make. Luckily, Toffee, although clearly confused and lost wandering around her home, is still eating and drinking, so I’m hopeful she’ll be ok alone. My escape place is gone, though. I know I’ll always go into their room and know that something, adorable Scruffy, is missing. It already feels like I have enough missing in my life and around the house. More is just horrible.

Elsewhere, and in the same time frame, I’ve lost ready access to another of my escape places, somewhere where I can be truly myself. I’m down to just the one, and it’s a pretty weak solution.

I’m approaching the time of year where I need escape places all the more than usual. It’s all pretty rough, really.

Escape Places