Writing Catalog

Madeline Bryan

Grade: 11

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Scott Parsons

On Rats and East Coast Fault Lines: The Parts of Myself I Have Left Behind

Personal Essay/Memoir

On Rats and East Coast Fault Lines: The Parts of Myself I Have Left Behind

"I love her," I am telling the boy who most definitely probably loves me. "We are all so fucking codependent that I don't think I could leave. I would die."

He laughs, thinking I am making a joke, and I join in, allowing him to believe the easier truth.

"I think you're being overdramatic," he tells me, "this isn't good for you. This isn't love."

I have known this boy for two months and he thinks he knows me, thinks he loves me—thinks that I am silly, in need of saving. I allow him to believe the easier truth, agree with him, smile.

I will not leave for another four months.


In the Musée Zoologique de Strasbourg, there lives (or rather resides) a rat king. The rat king is an exceptionally rare zoological phenomenon that occurs when any number between 2 and 32 rats become entangled by their tails. This entanglement can be due to a variety of substances, among them tree sap, hair, sebum, blood, dirt, or excretory products. Most scholars believe rat kings to be no more than an accident. A fluke. There are a few, however, that claim the knotting of the tails is intentional—strong and healthy rats willingly knotting themselves to weaker rats in order to build nests (Reilly).


Daisy Buchanan spent her life pretending to be a man's idea of a woman. This was a lie. Beautiful in addition to clever, Daisy knew that it was easier to bear the challenges of the world if one were a fool. So a fool is exactly what she became, plying herself under the male gaze until she was nothing short of utterly desirable. Daisy fell in love with Jay Gatsby at the age of 20, young and not yet jaded. By the time she met Tom Buchanan, Daisy was no longer the optimistic girl she had been before. Daisy had loved and lost, and, perhaps, still in love, lost herself.


"I don't know how to explain it to you," I finally force out. "I know you're right, I guess, in a way. But it just feels like giving up. When I love them all so much."

"This isn't a movie," the boy tells me, "you know that right?"

I don't answer because I am gone, spun up in the mess that is all of us.

Kennedy with her whip crack laugh, smile slowly dawning. Kennedy for whom, I am sure, I would kill a man if need be. Kennedy, who is everything I was before it all went wrong.

Mike, who calls me "trouble". Mike, who is right. Mike—talking to people that none of us can see, murmured secrets that we will never be worthy of being told.

Patrick, whom I have not seen for years and fear is dead. Patrick, with the boat he loved almost as much as the sea. Almost as much as the cat that refused to sleep anywhere except for his arms.

Chris, who lent me books and printed out articles. Brought cookies and chocolate to share. Told the stories of every one of her bad tattoos.

Kris whom I loved in a way that hurt. Kris, who believed that one day she would make me into everything she wasn't. Bitter Kris, with her slowly festering heart.


Rat kings have been known to survive intact for surprising amounts of time. Though the creatures are swiftly killed by humans at discovery, many of the rats that compose the kings are often alive prior to this point. In X-Rays, evidence of callus formations have been seen at the points where the rats' tails were fractured, indicating survival in this state for an extended amount of time. In this state, struggling only pulls the knot tighter, restricting the rats to an even further extent. Separation is possible, but unthinkable without serious damage to the rats themselves. Truly desperate rats gnaw off their own tails in hope of freedom (Reilly).


Daisy Fay put on her perfect face and married Tom Buchanan, because really, what else was she to do. And by the time Jay Gatbsy re-entered her life—though she loved him, though she was in love with him, Daisy was buried too deep in the persona she had been forcing herself into for years to ever give it up. Daisy Buchanan was no longer the woman that Gatsby had fallen in love with— was incapable of being that woman ever again. The young Daisy Fay had died on her wedding night, drowned in tears and alcohol.


"She made me," I am telling the boy that loves me, for I know he does. "I pause after every word that comes out of my mouth, wondering if it is my own, or if I am simply repeating something she once told me. I'm her creature, through and through. I don't know how to be anything else."

"That's not healthy," he says, and it is at this point I realize he is not really paying attention.

The sickness isn't the question, the obvious answer. The sickness is a fact that sits deep in my gut, the disorder of the lot of us. The question is what parts of myself I am willing to leave behind. How much I am physically able to bear in the agony of extraction. The answer is something that I refuse to let myself think about.

"She told everyone she was taking me all the way to the Olympics," I say, knowing just how pathetic it sounds as the words leave my mouth. "How wasn't I supposed to love someone who let me believe I could one day touch the stars?"


Tom Buchanan is a cheater. A liar. A brute. Tom Buchanan was in love with Myrtle Wilson, and a Chicago-Myrtle before that, and perhaps a whole train of them prior to her. Tom Buchanan is in love with his wife, Daisy. These facts are irreconcilable, though they sit, side by side. Tom loves Myrtle, though he loves Daisy, who loves Gatsby, who loves the idea of Daisy. Myrtle is dead. Myrtle leaves Tom as he is in love with her. Daisy leaves Gatsby as he is realizing that love is not the same thing as infatuation. Nick leaves Jordan half in love. Nick leaves the East Coast fractured. Daisy and Tom will never leave each other, not truly.


There are no documented cases of rats surviving intact in the "king" formation once discovered. While some of the rats that compose the rat king may already be deceased, those poor individuals unlucky enough to happen upon one of these creatures have not been known to leave them alive. Through the centuries, rat kings were recorded to have been "dumped in the privy," "pickled in alcohol," "euthanized by a cascade of boiling water," "thrown onto a dungheap," "scorched," and "killed with a stick" (Reilly). The only hope of a full life for these rats rests in the violent act of removal from the king.


It is four months later. The boy does not talk to me anymore, upset that I refuse to love him in the way that he would like me to. I want to call him up and tell him that I discovered just how much it hurts. That though he was wrong about so many things, he was right about leaving. I abandoned some physical measure of myself when I left, and though I will miss it, there is something triumphant in how much lighter I feel. That part of my life is over. I am going to begin living.


Thousands of rats currently survive in the wild without tails. They are easily susceptible to predators, suffer poor balance, struggle to regulate their body temperature, and have difficulty navigating many spaces that may have previously been familiar to them (Davies). But they are alive.

Works Cited

Davies, Tom. "Is a Rat's Tail Essential for Their Survival?" Truly Nolen Canada, 25 Sept. 2019, https://www.trulynolen.ca/is-a-rats-tail-essential-for-their-survival/.

Reilly, Lucas. "An (Almost) Comprehensive History of Rat Kings." Mental Floss, 24 Oct. 2017, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/506504/almost-comprehensive-history-rat-kings.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 2018.