The Squirrel

I came home on the first Friday after a full week teaching with a few expectations.

We, my wife and I, had an hour before we had to pick up the kids. So I figured we could enjoy that rare down time together.

It had been a busy week, and even busier day. That Friday was an early dismissal in advance of Labor Day weekend and I scrambled—classes, emails, grading, planning—to wrap up everything on time. After school ended, I finished an article on the opioid epidemic that, unfinished for months, had been gnawing away at my resolve.

So, I was feeling pretty good.

Yep. One hour of down time with the wife, family dinner, football game with my boy that night. The day had lived up to my control-freak standards until I came through the door and heard my wife on the phone in our bedroom.

“Yes, okay,” she said. “Well can you refer me to someone who can handle it?”

I entered the room. Distress is an easy expression to identify, easier when it is worn by the mother of your children. My imagination swirled with an assortment of fucked up scenarios: our daughter in the emergency room—she is the reckless type. Maybe our son fell off a picnic table and swallowed his front teeth. Maybe a pipe burst and the basement flooded.

She ended the call.

“This is awful,” she said.

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a squirrel in the road. It’s half conscious. Someone’s going to run it over any minute if we don’t do something.”

“What are you suggesting we do?” I said, in a manner that did not reflect her urgency.

“Go get it! Take it somewhere. See if we can save it.”

“Save the squirrel?”

“Animal Control wasn’t helpful at all,” she said. “A lady literally laughed at me.”

I showed restraint by not laughing myself.

Next, she called a wildlife rescue thirty minutes away and found someone to take the squirrel in. She was ecstatic. I, however, had not adjusted my expectations for an hour of time together—time not spent rescuing a borderline rodent. I hadn’t even changed out of my work clothes yet. She was nearly out of the door before I could take off my shoes.

“Aren’t you coming?” She asked from the other room.

“What exactly is your plan?”

“Get the squirrel off the road and to the experts.”

“I doubt that squirrel will survive long no matter what you do. They’ll probably just put it down anyway.”

“You don’t know that. Plus, people will think it’s dead already and run over it. Not cool.”

I’m tempted to say that a car tire over squirrel skull has a good chance of being as quick and painless as whatever the experts do to put it down, but I don’t. My cold reason rarely registers with my wife.

Instead, I picked up a book of poems and lay on the bed: Kevin Young’s Book of Hours. I hoped Young could salvage my blunted expectations with his sporadic staccato of verse.

“You’re really not coming?” she said. I hear the alarm system indicate the side door is open. “Fine,” she said. The door closed.


I have bagged a blue bird whacked by a truck for my wife. I’ve personally euthanized the many mice we’ve caught in the house after the humane traps failed to work. I’ve released crickets outside instead of flushing them down the toilet. I’ve also heard the story of how a cat on the side of the road became my in-law’s burden for a decade. When these situations arise, I handle them carefully. And in this case, coldly.


She wasn’t gone a minute before I heard the leaves rustle in the tree outside our bedroom window.

A squirrel falls, barrel rolls—or so it sounds—on our window well cover, and leaps back up. It makes a chattering sound, like laughter on helium. It stared at me from outside our window. Our dog barked at it and hurried to the radiator under the window, growling.

What sort of sign is this? I ask myself and God.

The squirrel jumped down and scuttled through the bushes. The coincidence was too heavy.

Squirrels, while everywhere in our neighborhood, never give you that sort of close encounter. Or was it just that I was hypersensitive to any squirrel experience because I left my wife, shoebox in hand, alone to handle her squirrel rescue?

I had to walk outside to find out.

The squirrel clawed up our oak tree and sat on a knot, staring at me.

It was then my wife returned with the shoebox.

“Let’s go!” she said, unlocking her car with the urgency that a paramedic uses to open the back doors of an ambulance.

 

I was careful with my words on that drive.

Meaning I didn’t use them. The squirrel that eyed me down from our oak tree was branded into my brain tissue, diverting all sarcasm, all disapproval of this mission, away from my mouth.

I did manage to ask her for the plan once more as she drove and I tended to a half-conscious squirrel in a shoebox.

“Give him over to the experts,” she said.

“What do you think they’re going to do?”

“Probably just put him down. But at least he won’t suffer. At least he can have a respectful death.”

The helium laughter of the squirrel outside my window sounded in my imagination, overtaking everything I wanted to say concerning a squirrel’s death rights.

I tried something else. “Maybe he’s old and this is nature just taking its course.”

“He still deserves to die in peace.”

“I think some people run over them on purpose because of overpopulation,” I said by accident.

“Well, if this one squirrel can be saved from that fate, it’s worth it.”

I thought about my overpopulation remark, wishing I could take it back. Then I thought about how humans kill one species or another because of overpopulation while the most dangerous overpopulation on the planet are humans themselves. But I don’t say any of this. And I blamed the squirrel who barrel-rolled under my window for making me think such bizarre thoughts.

 

After dropping off the shoebox, my wife got back in the car, explaining she loved it in the rescue so much that she hopes to volunteer there soon.

They called her in the car before we got back home.

“You did the right thing,” said the voice over the phone’s speaker. “We are going to put him down. But we’ll be gentle. You did a good thing for him.”

I watched my wife listen to the call and imagined how it feels to have a heart so big that not even a squirrel can escape it.

14 Responses to “The Squirrel

  • Your wife is my kind of person, her compassion is outstanding, being able to feel for any living thing that is in pain shows wonderful empathy. She gets my person of the year award🙂

    • Doesn’t she though? You watch. She will actually volunteer this summer. She really does have a heart so big that it makes me realize I can be, like, a grinch.

  • You sir, have a modicum of grace and self-control that I do not possess. Not saying I can’t, someday, possess it. But as of yet…nope.

    I have a big heart also. My fiancé and I recently saved a tiny kitten from a garbage pile and took it in as animal number 5. But at some point, I have to say “we can take in no more animals.” There has to be an element of pragmatism somewhere.

    And I get it. You have to exercise diplomacy in relationships. Sometimes, a squirrel in the road is just not a hill worth dying on (there has to be a joke in there somewhere).

    But, but. Yeah, grace. Self-control. Winning.

    • The squirrel on the hill came tumbling after. The joke could end like that, but I don’t have a beginning.

      I admire the big hearted. I wish my heart were bigger, truly. Like I could care passionately about more stuff. I have a pretty cold reason streak in me.

      The self-control thing is something g I keep working on. I was glad I didn’t say anything on this one. It was Friday and I wasn’t trying to make it a tough weekend. Those are the worst.

  • This actually choked me up! So sweet! And I sure understand your thoughts and feelings.

    • Thanks HD!

      Hey! A big congrats to you on the engagement of our daughter! How cool man. Can’t imagine what that’s like.

      • Mark: as soon as I posted it I knew that my “posse” friends, who don’t know my kids, would misunderstand! That’s not my daughter! Lol. That’s my best friend’s daughter and a girl I’ve known since she was born. We are essentially surrogate parents for their kids, and vice versa. So I appreciate the thoughts but…as far as I know my real daughters are not getting married anytime soon!

  • Thank goodness she has someone like you Mark that can see it and appreciate it.

    great pair 🙂

    • Thanks Michelle. Sometimes I’m definitely better at recognizing it than others.

      Sometimes, it takes a mystic squirrel to speak to me in its chatter chatter.

  • Then I thought about how humans kill one species or another because of overpopulation while the most dangerous overpopulation on the planet are humans themselves.

    Man, I just had this conversation with a climate denier after a meeting the other night. He told me that God had created the world for us and went on to say that we think so highly of ourselves that we think we are creating climate change. I was stunned by the circular nature of those thoughts. Then I told him that I believe we are the greatest virus the world has ever seen.

    You’re wife is an amazingly gentle person and you are a good man for holding your tongue and driving to the rescue with her.

    • Thanks D.

      That conversation you described is a mess of bad logic. I’d ask how people get to thinking so flawed, but I know I’ve suffered from some majorly faulty thinking about myself esp. with drugs and alcohol and all that.

      That conversation though, it’s like getting poisoned by the cure. It actually may summarize much of our modern ideological problems. Or maybe it’s just the squirrel talking to me again.

      Um. Dude, where you celebrating?

  • I am with you on this one, Mark. And as someone mentioned, you are a better man than I because I wouldn’t have been so kind in making that trip. Or at least I would have, but been snarky about it. Your wife does have a good heart, and while it’s not something I would do, I wouldn’t say no to having more people like her on this planet.

    Stupid squirrels.

    • Stupid squirrels is right. Except for the one that gone in my head. That one, somehow, had a mystical intelligence beyond my comprehension.

      Kind of you to say about her, and I’ll pass that on. I’m glad I wasn’t alone on that. Most people who commented were with my wife. Which I understand. But, you know, it’s good to know there are more of “us” out there. I was snarky in silence. Whatever that’s called. Maybe just passive aggressive?

      Have a great week, Paul! I hope, today being Sunday, your work week started on a good foot.

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