Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nuts to a good year

Two Thursdays ago I almost stepped on a baby mouse in the free lot. This was one of those warm days (almost 70 degrees) that got sandwiched between the cold snap and the slush blizzard. I was stashing my laptop and travel mug in my car after work so I wouldn't have to lug them to English 672. When I closed the passenger door and turned to walk back to campus, I happened to look down and see a tiny mouse convulsing next to my boot. The little guy startled me. I had almost crushed it, and it just stayed put. I stomped the blacktop next to the mouse hoping it would scamper away. Instead, the thing nuzzled itself against the sole of my boot and kept shaking. I bent down and noticed that this mouse's eyes hadn't opened yet. This baby mouse was all alone, abandoned.

I thought about picking it up and releasing it into the grass parkway near my car. I didn't really have the time, and I kept hearing my mom's voice saying, don't touch it, it's probably diseased. So I went to class and tried to forget about it. But I couldn't. The second I walked away I felt like shit. That baby mouse was going to get stepped on or run over. I couldn't help but think about the mice we'd catch at my mom's house in winter. We've used every method and type of trap you can find at the hardware store. Glue traps, live-catch, bait snaps, poison--every one we've used has worked. And I thought about those glue traps and how the mice didn't always eat the poison that's supposed to kill them.

There have been too many times where a mouse has gotten a leg or tail stuck, and while struggling to free itself the rest of its body gets trapped. Then it starves. I have seen a mouse get stuck in a glue trap and try to gnaw its own leg off. I was told that some of my former roommates used paper plates slathered in super glue to catch mice in their basement. When they'd catch one, they'd place a dry paper plate over the mouse and smash it with a hammer.

I hadn't gotten much sleep over the past nights, weeks, months. I had been going through a real rough patch in my personal life--my dad's prostate scare, the relationship I had fucked up, snapping at my sister when she tried to talk to me about her unstable marriage, my grandma's failing heart. I had a paper to write for contemporary prose that was due the next day and a story to finish for the following Tuesday. But while I was in class, trying not to pass out, I kept thinking about that fucking mouse. I thought about how one time, in a futile attempt at showing mercy to a dying mouse stuck to a glue trap, I shot the thing point-blank with a pellet gun. It didn't die. Not after two shots, not even after six. When it finally stopped breathing and I had thrown it in trash outside, I felt sick. I felt like a monster.

That Thursday, Candace did a better job at showing mercy than I had with the mouse when she let out our 672 class early. I was twenty yards away from my car when I thought I spotted the baby mouse quivering in the shadow of a Dodge Neon parked in the next spot over. When I got to the Neon, I saw that I had been right. The mouse crawled on its belly and wedged itself between the Goodyear tire and the blacktop. I didn't want it to get squished, so I tried to pull it out of there. It stood its ground, and I was apprehensive because I didn't want to accidentally squeeze it to death. I heard footsteps behind me, then a voice.

"Something wrong?" this guy said. It was his car, and I probably looked like a creep, like I was letting the air out of his tires, or something. I showed him the baby mouse, told him I didn't want to see it get run over. I went to my car and got the only receptacle I could find--the travel mug. I told this guy the mouse had been abandoned, that it wouldn't survive if I let it go free in the parkway. I was going to take it home and nurse it back to health. He said, "Okay."

When I got home, I transfered the baby mouse into a Gladware container. Its eyes were still closed, it continued to shake. I scrubbed my hands a whole bunch because I kept thinking about my mom and how she'd say the mouse is probably diseased. I got on the internet and found some information about nursing orphaned mice. After a trip to PetCo for supplies--a critter keeper, appropriate food for when the time came, bedding, a food dish, a water bottle, and an exercise wheel--I kept a close eye on the baby mouse. Every two hours, the website said, the mouse needs to be fed milk twice diluted with water using an eyedropper. I didn't have an eyedropper. So I cradled the mouse in my palm and dabbed a drop of diluted milk to its mouth with my pinky. And it worked. The mouse ate, then curled into a ball, digging its muzzle into my fingers.

Since I had to do this every two hours, I wasn't able to really get going on that paper or work on my story. Also, I was washing my hands a bit too frequently--to the point that the back of my hands dried and my knuckles bled. I pulled an all-nighter, stayed up for 34 hours to write the paper (one that I'd say isn't fit to have my worst enemy use as toilet paper) and nursed Goodyear--the mouse I found wedged under a tire in the free lot.

The first few days I had Goodyear, he (I'm assuming it was a he) had to be held in order to be fed. The website said that in order to create a bond with the mouse, it needs to be held multiple times each day. But when his eyes opened a few days later and he was able to eat from his dish, I picked him up less often. Then I became more focused on school work, reading, doing my taxes. I was only picking him up to clean his cage. It got to the point where he was borrowing under the cage bedding, hiding from me, scared for his life. He was trying to use his exercise wheel to climb and free himself from the critter keeper, testing the structural integrity of the moveable device. He wanted out.

Last night I cleaned his cage, placed Goodyear in the Gladware container. He jumped at the rim, and I thought about how I'm going to need to get something else to put him in next time I do this. He was getting bigger--twice the size from when I first found him. His cage was all set up--fresh bedding, food and water, a new toilet paper tube to run through, the exercise wheel in place. I curled my fingers and laid them in front of him because he doesn't like to be picked up from the sides. Goodyear responded running into my palm, halfway up my arm, and leaping to the floor in his best Superman imitation. The second he landed he took off. I had him pinned against the trim behind the bedroom door but he wiggled free. He ran into the hall and I chased him into the office where, again, I had him pressed against the trim. The little shit squeezed free and ran underneath the door. I swung it open only to notice he had disappeared.

To say I tore apart the place would probably be quite accurate. But I was unable to find him. I couldn't stop worrying about two things: 1. Goodyear's safety, and 2. the fact that I had just released a mouse into my apartment. I didn't want to be the reason this place had a mouse problem. What if Goodyear creeps down into one of my neighbor's units? What if they freak out and call the landlords? What if they find out it was me? How much trouble would I get into? Would they kick me out? Would they kill Goodyear when they found him? What if he finds a female mouse and they have babies? What if Goodyear is a she and finds a male mouse and they have a bunch of Goodyears together?

After searching for a couple of hours, I didn't know what I should do. So I began cleaning the apartment. I figured I might find him while organizing the closet. Or the pine scent from the Swiffer pads might draw him out into the open where I'd be able to catch him. No luck. This whole situation seemed to reaffirm my belief that I'd make a horrible father. In an attempt to care for a child--to feed, clothe, change, and protect a baby--I'd likely end up dropping the kid during a diaper change. Noticing the window of opportunity, the kid would probably find a way to squeeze itself under the door and remain hidden from me until it was safe to make a run for it. I'm not cut out to care for anyone or anything, and at times I don't think I'm even cut out to take care of myself.

It angered me, though. More than anything else, I was angry. I saved this fucking mouse from the weight of a Dodge Neon crushing its back. And I thought I had a handle on the situation, too. Out of everything that was out of my control, or that I had let slip out of my control, I thought that I could manage to take care of this mouse.

After I finished cleaning most of the apartment and putting things back in order (around 2am), I set out Goodyear’s food dish on the floor next to his cage thinking he might get hungry or homesick. I tried to go to sleep since I had to be to work in six hours. I was restless and had trouble falling asleep. I got up a few times to check the food dish, to move the dressers away from the walls again, to check the cabinets, to move the fridge. Still no Goodyear. I decided that I’d invest in some live-catch mouse traps after work and school the next day. That because this mouse has been so dependent on me and everything I’ve provided for him, he’s bound to come back. I didn’t know I had fallen asleep until my alarm went off.

While I drank coffee this morning and watched the weather channel, I thought about how young and clumsy Goodyear is. Often times when running on his exercise wheel, he’d forget to jump off when he stopped. The force of the spinning wheel would turn him upside-down and, literally, scare the shit out of him. I was hoping to find him last night, but didn’t. I sat there this morning thinking that he’ll come back since I’m not messy and don’t leave food or even crumbs lying around. I’ve caught up on my school work, and I can really spend a lot of time making things right tonight and this weekend. As I was thinking this, sipping my coffee, Goodyear ran across the living room, taking long and proud strides. He looked scared, but free. When he reached the edge of the room where the carpet meets the kitchen linoleum, he tripped, did a barrel roll, recovered and shimmied himself under the stove.


Anonymous said...

First of all, disgusting!!! I can't believe you'd cross over and start being nice to mice, they're gross!!!
Secondly, in food sanitation they always taught us that mice don't see well, so they tend to stick to perimeters of rooms, if you see what look like chocolate sprinkles on the edges of your countertops, Goodyear has been there.
Third, you're awesome at taking care of me! You're pretty much the only person I can always count on, and you'd make a great dad! Don't let a stupid mouse make you think anything less!


Diana said...

This was amazingly written, a beautiful and weird essay. I really love this.

Big Perm said...

I am in love with this story. I feel giddy and want to say things like: You're terrific! This story is radiant! Goodyear is some mouse!

Joseph said...

Goodyear rules. He wants his freedom but he knows that he is dependent on you. Now he sort of has the best of both worlds.

Bryan said...

I'd like to echo Diana's comment about this essay. Well done, sir. And from the pictures above...Goodyear's cute.