When my first husband moved out, it was rats that came to call. First, there were some dying under the house and raising a stink. Because we still had young children together, I had no compunction about calling him to come deal with it.
A few months later, when the kids were in bed and I was on the phone with a friend, I heard skittering across the rafters in the basement. I ignored it.
Then I heard a heavy thump in the bathroom wall. Something had fallen between the drywall in the bathroom and the plywood in the laundry room. I definitely ignored it, though I couldn’t ignore the frantic scratching and squeaks which emanated from there in the coming days no matter how hard I tried.
I called a neighbor, a tough old bird, a master gardener, who’d been living on her own forever so I figured she’d know what to do. She brought a very large mousetrap, filled it with poison, and dropped it down the same hole the creature had fallen down.
A week or so later when the squeaks had abated completely, and I couldn’t hear it scratching, even in my sleep, I called my rat of an ex-husband and told him to come take care of it. He sawed a hole in the drywall to pull the trap and the poor creature out, then sealed it back up after sanitizing the area. Good riddance.
Now, 27 years later, as my second husband is moving out, it’s not rats coming to call. Instead, it’s a poor little juvenile raccoon.
This morning, I absentmindedly left the front door wide open so the cats could go out while I went into the kitchen to get breakfast. I never went back to close the door so it was still startlingly wide open when I returned from work this afternoon. Thankfully I realized it was my mistake so, after calling loudly to see if anyone was in the house, I closed the door and felt thankful for the fresh air and my good fortune that no one had taken advantage of my mistake — though I did wish for a moment that they’d come in and hauled away the pile of junk my departing husband left for me to deliver to Goodwill.
I spent the day in the studio, a building not attached to my house, then went inside to cook a fancy dinner, the first lovely meal of my new single life. I was excited about the recipe and was concentrating mightily when my cat began meowing. I fed him.
He continued meowing. I ignored him as I had nothing else to offer.
Then I heard my other cat coughing up a hairball. For a really long time. Surprisingly loudly. I went into the dining room to investigate and so I could clean up the puke. Ugh, he used to do all that yucky stuff.
Instead of the cat, I saw a smallish raccoon lying on its side by the leg of the dining room table, eyes open but not alert. Startled, I hurried over to open the door to the deck so it could escape. It didn’t move. I wondered about rabies — weren’t animals wild and crazy when they had rabies? And foaming at the mouth? Wouldn’t they attack anything they saw? What was up with this one?
I rushed around the house closing every door I could think of so the raccoon couldn’t get into a bedroom or the kitchen where the cats were and wreak havoc. House secured, I grabbed a broom and a window cleaning squeegee to try to shove him out the door.
Cautiously I approached the animal, but now its eyes were closed. I poked it tentatively. When it didn’t move at all, I retreated to the kitchen, adrenaline pumping. What to do??
If my second husband had been here still, I would have freaked out momentarily and then figured out what to do. He was always a willing helper, but a slow thinker — a very slow thinker — so usually, in a situation like this, I would be done acting before he grasped the problem. That means it probably wouldn’t actually have been an advantage having him here, but I did feel his absence acutely. Who wants to deal with such a mess alone?
Frustrated and a bit melancholy, I turned away from my relationship meanderings and hatched a plan. I called Animal Control, but couldn’t get through. I called the non-emergency number for the police. They contacted Animal Control and said they would be in touch.
As done as I could be for the moment, I continued cooking the dinner I was still feeling excited about despite the possibility of a rabid raccoon in my dining room which could possibly have infected my cats during the 8-12 hours it had been in the house with them.
I called my best friend who’s my super-huge support system during this separation and told her what had happened. I was surprised when she laughed, no, chortled at me, full throttle. She had no sympathy whatsoever that I could detect. Just pure merriment. Not derision, but she certainly wasn’t worried about me like I thought she should be.
She told me to get a shovel and scoop it out of the house.
“And if it’s rabid? You want me to get rabies now on top of everything else going on in my life right now?” I asked.
She laughed more then turned away from the phone to tell her husband the story so he could laugh too.
It felt outrageous but also really good to hear them laugh. It helped me laugh at the absurdity of the situation and discharge my distress about that poor little raccoon who must be scared out of his wits. I told her if I didn’t hear from Animal Control soon, she could come use the damn shovel herself then hung up and went back to making my dinner.
A few minutes later, since I didn’t know when or if Animal Control would call, I went back into the dining room and peeked at the creature who hadn’t moved a hair. Was he dead?
Then I saw his leg twitch. His eyes opened. I grabbed the squeegee and broom and opened the deck door again then circled around him and told him to leave in as nice a tone as I could muster, “Come on, sweet thing. Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. I’m as scared of you as you are of me. Let’s just get you outside now.”
I pushed him a bit to show him the way to the door, then practically scooped him up with the long thin blade of the squeegee while cornering him with the broom with my other arm. We made it the eight feet to the door then I foisted him over the door lintel and outside. He looked confused and disoriented. I closed the door and locked it tight.
I returned to making dinner because what else was I supposed to do? I wanted my lamb chops and orecchiette.
The pan was heating up so I could sear the lamb chops sizzling when the doorbell rang. A tall, large man carrying a cage and a catchpole said he heard I had a raccoon in the house. Oops! Should I have called? I told him I’d gotten the raccoon out — I’d thought they’d call before coming and I would have told him then not to bother. The gentleman didn’t seem at all concerned. I asked if I should tell him about it so he could determine if the creature had rabies or not.
I took him into the dining room and described what had happened, including that it was totally my fault because I’d left the door wide open all morning, giving the raccoon free access to the house. Mr. Kindness Personified nodded gently and said it sounded like the raccoon had distemper. When an animal is that sluggish and disoriented, acting drunk, it’s usually distemper — a much less awful disease than rabies.
We went out onto the deck to see if the raccoon was still there. Poor thing was cowering behind the sofa but didn’t even startle when Mr. Kindness shone the flashlight into his eyes. I asked if he would take him with him or just leave him for Nature to take its course. He explained that the city wouldn’t spend hundreds of dollars to rehabilitate the creature. Instead, they’d end his suffering. Mr. Kindness was gentle as he put his loop around the little thing and squeezed tight so he could place him in the cage.
I was moved by the tenderness of the action, by Mr. Kindness’s clear regard for living creatures and their plight.
We went back through the house to the sound of a smoke alarm blaring and the smell of burnt oil in the hot pan. I opened the door for him and thanked him so much for coming then went back to preparing my now less tender meal, grateful for the support of a laughing friend and a kind man.
Second time around, as love gives up the ghost, it’s not rats, it’s a sluggish immobile raccoon personifying my former partner. It’s not the rat who left his wife and small children using poison and doing the dirty work, it’s a dear friend and a gentle giant helping me out with riotous laughter and tenderness. Perhaps that’s as much progress as the world can offer, for now.