Categories
fear

10 Things That Scare Me

I just discovered a podcast in which both notable personages and lay-listeners inventory–hey, get this–10 things that scare them. Episodes are short, but their cumulative effect is powerful: everyone has fears and anxieties, and it’s hearteningly equalizing to hear the downloads of others.

Today, as I listened and nodded and laughed and squinted, I started to compile my own list. I suspect, upon reading this or tuning into the podcast, you’ll do the same.

We can’t help it. Fear unites us.

So, here. 10 things that scare me:

  1. All rodents, but especially this: when I’m reading on the deck, and the cheeky chipmunk who is the boss of our yard skitters onto my plateau and tosses me an unblinking look of, “Yeah, hi. This is my deck now” before dropping the seed it was carrying and rearing onto its back legs.
  2. Forced and enforced conviviality. Also known as “holidays.”
  3. Someone touching my children without their consent.
  4. Receiving a message that says, “We need you to come in for a meeting as soon as possible.”
  5. The way the neighbor boy treats their chickens when he thinks no one’s looking.
  6. Three hot hours on the tarmac, plane motionless, with the cabin door sealed.
  7. And no food or water in my bag.
  8. And a talkative Trumper in the seat next to me.
  9. My husband dying before we’re both 97.
  10. When the fitness trainer for the TRX class tells us to drop to the floor and put our feet in the straps.

Now. What you got?


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Categories
books fear glaucoma sight

Just Where I Am


I’m typing this while sitting atop a brick red duvet, leaning back against a bright-purple down pillow. On the tv is a re-run of the Saturday Night Live hosted by Tina Fey (blogging troubador Furiousball best described her as “one of the women I’d like to lick the make-up off of” some months back); right now, Carrie Underwood, wearing some pleated and atrocious rip-off of a 1950’s cocktail dress, is belting Idol-style and shaking her unnaturally-golden tresses.


Other times, that screen features the mug of Bawbwa Wawters and her View Crew, Craig Ferguson making me contemplate adultery, and Dinosaur King rocking the youth on Saturday Morning cartoons. Oftentimes, the images on that screen bore rather than entertain, making me glad it’s rarely on.

My gaze wanders to the wall-hung quilt my mom made for Dinko (incidentally, the Niblet has also chosen the name “Paco” for himself; to my delight, I get to holler, at dinner time, “Get yer wee rounded tush down here for edamame and eggs, Paco Dinko”).


The fabrics in this quilt are from my grandmother’s old dresses; Grandma started cutting the pieces for the quilt before she died in 1974. My mom took over her project and finished it in 2007. I think it’s a Dresden Plate pattern, and I adore that my mom can sit in front of it and tell a story of her mother wearing a dress made out of the red-and-white gingham, of her mom making dinner in the flowered calico. I look at this quilt and am reminded my mom’s enduring devotion to her own mother. I look at this quilt and am profoundly grateful that it will follow my son into his adult life (Mom made another of these for my Girl, too, so no nattering about how maligned she is).

On the stand next to my side of the bed are a couple stacks of books. On the top of one stack is my reading lamp, which is meant for a desk and casts the beam too low for bed reading. So I’ve hefted the light up to the peak of a stack of five books: a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (the kids do love hearing about The Showoff Cure), an advance reader’s copy of a book “coming in November 2006” (guess I’m running late); The Boys of My Youth, a Jo Ann Beard book gifted to me by my best reading source and finest galpal; The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser, which I’m sifting through a second time, having just read the light fiction The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (boy, did factual history not restrain that version!); and a book of poetry, Mean Time, a Carol Ann Duffy volume gifted to me last Christmas by one of my favorite blog maidens, Glamourpuss. These are the books that sustain my light. In the other stack on my nightstand, I have my active-reading pile: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral; The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, loaned to me by a highly-patient neighbor more than a year ago; and I’ll Drink to That, another advance reader’s copy–this one a story of the French peasant who brought Beaujolais to the world. All of these, plus five thousand more, are my posse.


Behind me hangs a big painting made by my kids one sun-dappled Fall afternoon almost four years ago, out on the deck. They made that painting on one of those rare afternoons when parenthood–when having young kids–felt as easy and gratifying as an episode of thirtysomething would have had us believe. Everyone was happy. Everyone wanted to be doing what we were doing. Everyone was in a groove, got off The Mommy, and painted. Even better, they painted their feet and hands and skated across the huge swath of paper I’d taped onto the deck. It was painting Olympics. It was my life as a highly-rated and -reviewed one-hour drama.

Over on Groom’s side of the bed is everything else, for he is not tidy. He gets the clock radio, as I don’t believe in keeping time or getting up in the morning. He gets the Kleenex box, as my nose shouldn’t run. He gets the stack of Presidents of the United States cards, the fleece “sleeping bag” that a stuffed animal is supposed to inhabit, the hand salve, the massage lotion, the condom wrappers, the cough drops. On the floor beneath the stand is a waterfall of Cook’s Illustrated and Gourmet magazines, fleshed out by a book of NY Times crosswords and a curious bit of non-fiction entitled American Shaolin.


All of this visual gratification inhabits one mere corner of our bedroom, one ten-by-ten foot space. Eleven feet out, there is everything else in the world: the desktop computer; the sleeping children (they of huge blue eyes and mouths that only get wiped when I notice the Oreo crumbs); staircase after staircase; uneven ground in the yard outside; cars that take us to new mundane daily tasks and big life adventures; the fifth largest body of fresh water in the world (two blocks from our house…it collects pack ice in the winter and sparkles with diamond dust in the summer); friends I haven’t met yet; traffic weaving helter-skelter across the asphalt.

It’s all out there: what I know intimately; what I have yet to encounter; the changes that will be wrought by future decades.

It’s all out there. For forty-one years, I have always negotiated the world with a certain confidence, even when I have felt a wreck. At least I’ve always been able to open the front door and take off on a restorative run, no route in mind, just winding and turning along new roads and paths, letting the alchemy of waving leaves and unexpected deer and Spring wildflowers turn my dross into gold.

But now, at the moment of writing this, I question my future as a place of easy confidence. Rather, I feel paralyzed by uneven terrain, by all the options and vagaries of the world.

Three weeks ago, my optometrist, after a series of tests, joined rank with my childhood optometrist, who noted when I was seven, “If your eyesight keeps up at this rate, you’ll be blind by thirty-three.”

Actually, the verdict three weeks ago differed a bit (she’d have to be a pretty crappy optometrist to examine this sighted forty-one-year-old and declare me a blind thirty-three-year-old); rather, her musing was, “How are you forty-one with glaucoma?”

At last year’s appointment, she’d noticed a not-completely-health optic nerve, but a follow-up test proved things were still within normal range. This year, though, she saw a notch in one of my optic nerves, even clearer in photos of my eyes then taken, backed up by a loss of peripheral vision in a visual field test.

The diagnosis was veering, rather frightfully, towards glaucoma. She wanted me to come back for a couple more tests.

In the two weeks of waiting for those tests, I put the poor Google through its paces. On the positive side, a diagnosis of glaucoma is no longer what it was 20 years ago: a sentence that one is on a steady march to blindness. In fact, there are ways to treat glaucoma these days, most often with thrice-daily eyedrops.

Of course, the eyedrops have possible side effects. Like darkened vision. Loss of libido. Depression.

So, should it prove to be glaucoma, it would seem that I can keep my vision, such as it is, so long as I’m willing to spend the rest of my life as a dried-up, flattened, stumbling husk of a gal.

During the follow-up tests two weeks later, the doc checked my eyes’ “superior ridge.” The resulting graphic print out shows a suspicious dip in that ridge. On the other hand, other parts of the testing look okay.

The bottom line is that the doc is reluctant to give me a lifetime diagnosis and start me on 50 years of meds unless everything points to glaucoma. Since only 2/3 of the results do, and since the vision decline is so glacial in pace, we’re in a holding pattern.

I’ll go back in 4 months and retest, and freak it if I can’t cram for or cheat on this one.

Trust me, between now and then, and for every day thereafter, well into my audio-book-rich dotage, I’ll treasure even the smallest glimpse of the fakey Carrie Underwood, the assiduously-maintained Barbara Walters, the loving quilt on the wall, the grins on the kids’ faces, the compost bin in the backyard, the puddles in the alley, the cheese melting on my enchilada, the birch trees flanking the trail, the toilet paper as it swirls down the hole.

I am suddenly and profoundly less casual about it all.

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cabins Colorado fear ferrets Honda wolves

Hep Me. Hep. Me.

 

You know how, every night when you’re asleep, there’s the possibility that a mouse will crawl down your throat and suck the very breaf out of your body?

Now imagine a critter that’s 23 times as big as a mouse, one that doesn’t restrict itself to the obvious throatal orifice.

Picture Big Evil with Fangs and a Plan and a Collar, roaming loose in your house, eyeing every one of your inviting orifii and salivating.

For me, there’s no imagination required. I lived with it for five months when I was 24.

No, Chachi. It was not Anne Rice.

It was a ferret. And it was skank on wee paws; it was malignant fur that slunk through the shadows like Jack the Ripper playing Ghost in the Graveyard.

When I agreed to live with two gals in a cabin outside of Boulder, Colorado, part of the deal was that the ferret would have a cage. In my mind, that cage would be a welded thing, soldered of krypton and tooth enamel and diamonds. It would be built without an exit. It would be indestructible, and my personal safety and happiness would remain intact, unmolested.

Naturally, though, the ferret’s owner proved to be unreliable, lacking follow-through. Or, as some of her closest friends described her with a loving chuckle, she was a raving bitch-whore of a psychotic git.

Plus, sometimes, even in icy conditions, she exceeded the speed limit.

So there was no cage. The other roomie and I tried to build one when I first moved in; with great vigor, we stacked some boards, found hammers, and stretched out chicken wire. But then the ferret sat down near the nails, giving us no choice but to go out for enchiladas.

As a result, my months in that house were spent in constant mid-alert terror. I took to new heights the cliché about women going to the bathroom together, as I clung to the side of Nice Roomie, mirroring her every move. Damn, but we were jiggy when she did her step aerobics videotape. Bathtime wasn’t bad, either.

Nice Roomie served as the physical barrier between me and the Slinking Evil. If It crept near, she’d pick It up and hurl It towards the loft or lock It in the bathroom (where, surely, it sucked on our toothbrushes). As well, she’d warn me when I was about to step, unwittingly, into one of its pretzel-shaped fecal deposits—calling cards left randomly ‘round the house.

But then one day.

I came home from one of my jobs (nanny of two; taker of phone orders for personalized mail labels; administrative assistant at the National Center for Atmospheric Research), and no one else was home.

I didn’t realize this at first, but then the theme from Jaws spontaneously started playing on the stereo. Treading cautiously, afraid of trodding on an ire-filled shark in the living room, I looked around for Roy Scheider.

When neither he nor the ferret appeared, I relaxed and greeted Lakota, the wolf that also shared the cabin with us (species factoids: while wolves are terrific at killing household mice and leaving their body parts strewn around the kitchen, they are even more adept at biting in half 12 hummingbirds in one hour, should your avian-loving self hang up bird feeders on the side of the house; even better, if you let a semi-domesticated wolf out to roam the mountainside for a few hours, he just might come back from his hunt with a greasy skillet clamped in his jaws).

Ferret free and feeling modern and English, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, humming the chorus from “I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You.” Of course, I knew the ferret was out there somewhere, and although denial can create a force field around one’s mind, it can’t actually create one around a bedroom.

Don’t I know it.

In addition to the mental force field, I also created a physical defense that night, since my bedroom had no door, by stacking a heap of furniture in the doorway. There, hunkered down in my bunker, I was secure in the knowledge that no members of the polecat family, such as a fer—

HEY. WHAT THE FREAK? WHOSE LITTLE BEADY EYES, TEEMING WITH BLOODLUST, WERE PEEKING AT ME OVER TOP OF THE FUTON CHAIR THAT CAPPED THE SUMMIT OF THE PROTECTIVE FURNITURE?

I made that half-strangled noise that women make when all air exits the bosom, kind of like Pamela Anderson did when she got her implants removed. Before she had them put back in.

A beat later, full-monty-shrieks erupted, as I scanned the room for an exit. Ferret had Door. I had, ummmmm, I had…

No. Option. There I was, trapped on my bed, in full banshee mode. I threw a hairbrush at It. I hucked a pillow at It. Desperate, I whaled the clock radio at It.

What a suck of a time to throw like a girl.

Foul Fur just stood on top of the furniture, unruffled, staring at me. Slowly, though—

Slowly—

It focused on my rapidly-beating heart…and It began the descent, moving on tiny claws towards me, traversing the 9 feet between us…

Frantically, looking around for one last missile to lob, I tried unscrewing my head from my body. Although it remained attached, I gave myself one hell of a free spinal adjustment (bonus!).

Ever closer, the demon edged closer…

Until it stopped, squatted, and made a perfectly-symmetrical pretzel on the carpet, right next to my copy of Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses.

I may be phobic, but I’m not entirely without wits. Two seconds of pretzel-making were long enough for me to hurdle the Evacuating Beast, dash down the stairs, and jettison out of the cabin, where I secreted my well-aligned body in the backseat of my Honda Accord and locked the doors against further assault. (As part of the ruse they perpetuate on humanity, ferrets like to pretend they can’t handle keys with their little feet)

In the car, crumpled and wan, I slept until 3 a.m., at which time I was jarred to wakefulness by the bewildered faces of my drunken roommates staring at me through the hatchback.

Woefully, that’s my last memory of those two ladies. After assuring me the coast was clear, they went in the house, cranked some aspirin and Vitamin B, tussled into some jammies, and hit their beds.

Whereupon the ferret crawled down their throats and stole the very breaf from their bodies.

Me? I went and got an oil change at the all-night Lift ‘N Lube.

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bears bicycles daunted fear Marilyn Manson Terry Gross

Jocelyn Buttstrong

 

By mistake, I went on a 14-mile bike ride the other day.

It’s not like I was transferring the sheets from washer to dryer, only to suddenly look down and note with a surprised “How the hell did this happen?” that I’d been spinning along on a bike for more than an hour.

That’s improbable on several fronts, the least of which is that I suddenly found myself aboard a two-wheeler. In truth, the greater improbability is that I’d actually be washing sheets. That would imply I’d stripped a bed. And if it ain’t March, and the buds aren’t burgeoning on the trees, and the children haven’t just been cut out of the long underwear I sewed them into last November, then the beds ain’t been stripped.

However, I did, knowingly and willingly, lead my unsuspecting bicycle out of the garage last week, set it on an uphill course, and throw my leg over the seat. Yes, I was in complete possession of my faculties.

Or so it seemed for the first 45 minutes. My route took me along the outer edge of town, up a road named Unrelentingly Upwards Avenue. As I churned along, I played around with the gears, cursed my jumping derailleur every now and then, coughed loudly and frequently to let the black bears know I was around (the next day was garbage pick-up day in the ruralish neighborhood, which meant it was Bear Buffet Night at the trash cans), made up NPR stories that I might have heard, had I worn my headphones (for awhile, I pretended Terry Gross was interviewing Marilyn Manson, but then he shifted from seeming surprisingly informed and intelligent and just got creepy and annoying when he started to make the case for his 38-year-old married self having an affair with a 19-year-old). As the wheels spun ’round and ’round, I was definitely getting a healthy dose of Fresh Air.

But then darkness fell with a heavy thud. Out there, feeling quite alone–except for the ginormous 4 x 4 trucks that would speed by every few minutes, blasting me to the shoulder–I started to feel a little quivery. In addition to pedaling and coughing, I burst out occasionally with quick, audible pep talks: “Just 4 million more cranks of the legs, girl, and you’ll be at the stop sign, turn left, pedal another mile, hit the next stop sign, turn downhill, and head towards the park. You can do it! And then you’ll be home for eggs and bread and chocolate and a lovely White Russian.”

It was really dark, though. All efforts at pep talks fell flat. I almost stopped caring about Russians of any color. Except the Red ones. Them, I still felt for.

Then not only my hands fell asleep, as is their wont when I bike, but my vajayjay got that bad tingle. And yes, there are bad vajajay tingles. The journey to crotch numbness begins with a single spoke, turning endlessly in the night.

Now I know people who are real bike riders find 14 miles to be nothing. Doing a hundred miles in a day is realistically very doable for even a slightly-above average Joe.

However, I’m not gifted, physically, and I grew up in a family where we didn’t leave the house much. Sure, there was the mail checking and all, but because retrieving OPERA MONTHLY from the mailbox is the closest I ever got to summer camp, I still have a pretty steep learning curve with this outdoorsy physical stuff.

Let’s put it this way: I went kayaking this summer (for the 5th time in my life), and I had to cry a little bit. The paddle just didn’t do what it was supposed to. And the kayak didn’t move right. So I got frustrated and boo-hooey.

The good news about me and out-of-doors tears is that I pretty much just need to let them blow through, and after the catharsis, I can gird my loins, or spray skirt, and get back down to business. Then, when it’s all over, I want to go again. And, yea, when I go again, I’ll most likely cry some more. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

So there I was, in the pitch black, pedaling and pedaling, getting really tired and realizing I still had a long ways to go. Or at least I thought I did; I hadn’t ever actually biked this route before and was working from some half-digested directions given to me by my Groomeo back at the house as I snapped on my helmet and double-knotted my shoes. A little uncertain of where I was, and craving a large order of French fries, I started to feel like it might be time for a few tears, simply as a kind of on-the-road therapy. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t tap into any tears. How strange. It was almost as if nothing felt quite right, and I really wanted it to be over, but, hell, what could I do about all that? Just keep pedaling, really.

Even when I came to a junction and, in the inky blackness, felt my way off the paved road, onto the gravel road that was supposed to signify the downhill turn towards home…and I realized I couldn’t see the trees around me on the even-more-remote unpaved road and that I was constantly weebling into the ditch without knowing it until I would experience a thump and the ground falling away, again and again…and that I would have to turn around and retrace my route, back on the paved roads, thus lengthening my “fun exercise time” by an extra 40 minutes–even after all that, I still didn’t cry.

It was starting to look like I might just knuckle down and do this thing, sans the requisite two-minutes of weeping. How odd, indeed. As a gal who’s generally well in touch with her own drama, I’m not at all accustomed to pragmatic matter-of-factness.

So there were no tears, even though I was a reewy, reewy wong way fwom home, aww awone, twying not to hit the hungry bearsies.

Instead, I sang. Much like Avril Lavigne, though lacking a pair of Converse high-tops and heavy eye liner, I used singing to vent my angst. As long as I was belting out the tunes, I didn’t have to wipe my eyes with my sleeve.

So I sang. What surprised me was my source material. Certainly, I didn’t sing any Avril Lavigne. In case you didn’t know, she’s a talentless idiot who sucks. Nor was it the work of Beverly Sills that gave me heart that night, despite my upbringing; rather, it was the work of Alison Moyet during her Yaz (Yazoo to you in the UK) years.

Indeed, ’80s pop saved the night. As an ode to the darkness, I sang “Midnight.” As a tribute to my beloved Groom, whom I might never, ever see again–what with it being 8 p.m. on a Sunday and me 4 miles from home on a fully-functioning bicycle–I sang “Only You.” Goodness, but I wasn’t out in the country, all alone, cold, tired, bonky and a little sore. Nae! I was transported back to my dorm room in college, watching the old LP spin around the turntable, having just cooked up 9 cents’ worth of Ramen noodles in the illegal hot pot on my desk. It was just me, my back-combed bangs, my shoulder pads, and my Yaz.

Sadly, due to all the diet pop I drink, my brain is riddled with Nutrasweet holes, so pretty quickly I ran out of lyrics.

Thus, by the time I reached the homestretch back in town–the last two miles home–I was a little hoarse, repeating the same eight lines over and over, alternating huffed croaking with wild hand shaking, as I tried to restore blood flow to my paws. Over the sound of my stomach growling and my crotch protesting (she’s a screamer, that one!), I realized that my attempts at fitness had rendered me just the teensiest bit pathetic.

Not even Marilyn Manson would have dated me at that moment.

But I like to think Terry Gross, admiring my fortitude, empathizing with my crotchiness, might have.

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Categories
bats fear irrationality rodents

Squeak

“Squeak”

(the only good mouse has a single testicle)

When I was in college, I sometimes had to miss class, and not always because I was hung over or because Hart to Hart was on tv (I loved the way Max the butler said, “When dey met, it was moida” in the opening credits).

Sometimes, I had to miss class because, while tripping along to the English building, musing about how Milton was a genius of a poet (or, more accurately, about how Chuck Woolery was a genius of a gameshow host), I would encounter a squirrel along the pathway.

And if there was a squirrel on the path, Milton and Chuck be damned. I was going no further. In fact, my body would switch directions fairly dramatically, as I hastened back to the dorm, away from Nut-Cheeked, Fluffy-Tailed Evil.

I have this little borderline phobia, you see. It involves all rodents and even a few members of the polecat family (watch this space for an upcoming post about my life with a ferret).

For me, this phobia works not only as a personal shriek-inducer but also as a general character-tester. Some people learn that I have this deep-seated and profound fear, and they think it’s funny—a chance to put me in situations where I come face-to-face with the thing that petrifies me most: “Hey, look, Joce, here in this shoebox full of fossils; it’s a mouse skeleton. Come hold the skull!”

Such people have no place in my life, and, due to their willful cruelty, I make certain my dense and chewy molasses cookies never cross their lips.

Then there are those who understand that fear is not a thing to be mocked, that fear does not have to be rational to be real, and that they don’t need to be the instrument of my gradual desensitization: “Hey, look, Joce, here in the kitchen. I’ve just let loose a mole for our mutual fun. Now, you try to catch it with this colander, and if you do, you’ll have faced your fear, thereby diffusing it, which means you’ll never again have to avoid the hamster section of the pet store!”

Rather, the Wise Samaritans accept that a very specific fear is a part of who I am; they become my benign enablers, and they are amply rewarded with molasses cookies AND butter-rich chocolate-chip scones for their tolerance. In my worldview, fear, whether legitimate or irrational, deserves respect. Those compassionate enough to get that a magazine photo of a gerbil elicits in me weak knees, shortened breath, and choked screams, well, they get their laundry folded for life.

Don’t get me wrong—I hate to feel crippled by anything, fear especially. My intellectual mind is well aware that a mouse or bat won’t really crawl down my throat while I sleep, and a rat won’t actually swim up through the toilet hole while I’m, em, evacuating, but, as it turns out, my intellectual mind is very rarely at the helm.

In my better moments, those rare seconds when intellect has grabbed hold of the wheel, I have tried to get to the roots of this thing, to see if I can figure out why I’m petrified by small, timid furballs.

Well

I remember when I was five, while my mom watched General Hospital in the background, seeing a fuzzy blur (“It’s a bumble bee,” I yelled) whip into a mousetrap that we had set in our house. The trap caught Stuart Little but didn’t kill him immediately, as it only snapped onto his leg, and for some moments afterward, I stood, rapt, as that mouse dragged the trap around behind him until finally petering out, tortured beyond any interpretation of the Geneva Convention, even an interpretation with the breadth and convenience of George W. Bush’s. Moreover, to this day, I can never hear the surname “Quartermaine” without needing to whimper a bit with rodential anxiety (and I don’t mean just because the actor who plays Alan Quartermaine is a total weasel).


As well

I remember when I first started reading the Little House on the Prairie books, and I encountered the scene where Pa woke up in the middle of the night with a mouse gnawing at his hair, ostensibly gathering material for a nest (in actuality, this minion was planting an early pioneer version of a mouse GPS device into Pa’s scalp, so the Mouse King could track Pa’s every movement as he plowed; with such technology, the mouse kingdom would know the second the corn harvest was in, by Jehosephat). In the book, Pa roused from sleep and grabbed the busy mouse from his head and tossed it into the wall, where they found it, dead, the next morning. As Pa casually tossed the corpse out into a field, the Mouse King despaired of ever again finding such an easy target for his machinations. But then that simple Grace Ingalls came of age, and she was all new fodder for the Mouse King’s evil plots (well chronicled in the tome These Happy Mousey Years).

Even further

I remember being around age ten and wearing a pair of sassy bamboo flip-flops when I stepped out the back door of my friend Carol Darnielle’s house, right onto flattened mouse remnants that the cat had been playing with.

Oh, and to answer your question: YES, mouse husk does stick, quite determinedly, to the bottom of a flip-flop, even when you hop around on that flip-flop, screaming, for a few minutes before trying to rub the mouse off the bottom by scraping the flip-flop against the edge of a concrete step. When, at frigging last, the mouse jelly releases its grip, it is not, even in a famine, something you want to spread on your sandwich for lunch.

But wait

I remember our neighbor Randy Rupert bringing his two guinea pigs outside one day in their cage and leaving them on the sidelines in the blistering August sun as we all played cops ‘n robbers. Some hours later, we discovered they’d gotten horribly sunburned—not pink, but red, piggies going “ouch, ouch, ouch” all the way home. And they did go Home, to the big guinea pig cage in the sky, later that night, when they died from their neglectful roasting.

You need more?

I remember taking on the flattering burden of hamster-sitting my next-door neighbor and great pal Lisa Mackin’s two fluffballs, while her family took off for a long weekend in Vegas. I did not love the hamsters, but I was still at a point where I could be in a room with them, if they were caged. And I was willing, for the friendship, to go to her house every day in her absence and throw food into their habitat. Much more than friendship was required, however, when I went over the third day, only to discover Big Hamster sitting and smirking inside the carcass of Smaller Hamster, wiping its bloody chops.

Seriously.

I’d never been gladder to have a big brother than that day, when mine did the clean-up for me, as I dry-heaved in our bathroom back home.

When Lisa came back from Vegas and tried to gift me with a stuffed animal from Circus, Circus (mercifully, not a hamster), I had to refuse, on the grounds that I was a Pet Killer and deserved no swag.

Honestly, this litany could go on and on. I could take you on a trip down my memory’s Rodent Avenue and tell you tales of two white mice living in the wall by my waterbed when I was a teen…of me hovering under a dining room table, screaming with my cousins while my uncles shoeboxed a bat against the wall…of my dorm room freshman year (imagine me there, having skipped class, tuning in to Chuck Woolery on Love Connection in an effort to decrease my elevated “squirrel on path” heart rate), where my reverie was disrupted by a mouse in the garbage can…and I could take you back through this already-recounted story of calling the police when a bat flew into my house and started trying on outfits for the prom…I could take you to my aunt’s house in South Dakota where mice run in the walls and perch on the edge of the bathtub…and I will take you, in a future post, into our kitchen, where a rat set up shop for some weeks, leaving feces in the drawer under the stove and developing an affection for bananas…

Summarized, though, my point is this: people have called this fear “irrational” or have acted dismissively towards it, and I get that, logically, a rodent ain’t gonna kill me. But I would argue, dear Judge and Jury, that there is clear, comprehensive evidence that I am entitled to yelp, even cringe, when I see the cover of a Littles children book.


I have earned my fear.

And before I leave you to fret about every little rustling in your cupboards, let me tack on this post-script: I started writing this post more than a month ago, but never got back to finishing it or posting it. There was a reason–a new agitation yet to come.

Four days ago, it actually stopped raining, Praise Noah, for a brief period. So I jumped out onto the deck, eager to set up shop at the lovely glass table there. I would blog; I would sip a frosty beverage; I would lounge, at least for seven minutes until the next downpour. In full tra-la-la mode, I noted that the sun was actually shining and so ducked my head and torso up inside the closed patio umbrella, which is what it takes to open the huge thing. Wreathed inside it, in the darkness, I pushed on the innards, and the umbrella popped open.

It also took all of two seconds for my ennervated heart to pop open. There, on the table, having narrowly missed landing in my hair (becoming entwined there for all of eternity, gradually gnawing away at my scalp), was a bat. At first it crawled along the tabletop dopily, drowsy and bewildered, muttering, “Duh? Where umbrella haven go?”

Then Satan appeared in its eyes, and it gained focus and purpose

as it climbed into my open, screaming maw

and slowly crawled down my esophagus.

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