(Disclaimer: There’s a pretty gross picture in this blog post — which may or may not surprise you based on the title. Nevertheless, please proceed with caution, especially my fellow vegetarians.)
2012 has been a wild ride in terms of my interactions with animals. I’ve spit up a spider, assaulted a snake, walked a cat on a leash (finally!) and been subject to Buster’s midnight howl-and-hump routine more times than I care to admit. Thus, it is only fitting that a few weeks ago, I truly topped off the year when I accidentally ran over a squirrel with the lawnmower.
It was late November…
I dread Sundays. If there were ever a day for me to inject myself with buckwheat, it would be Sunday, “The Lawn’s Day.” These are the days when my dad has “big plans” for me. The last time he had “big plans” for me, I ended up insulating the garage. Three months later he told me the materials we’d used were carcinogenic. I’d hardly call that quality bonding time.
Sure enough, when I pulled in the driveway that fateful Sunday morning, the garage door began to rise as if I’d triggered some sort of “Dependent Daughter” tracking device, one that monitors my whereabouts and notifies the local authorities when I’m carrying my mom’s debit card within 100 yards of a gas station. My dad then emerged from the garage, all but vibrating with chipperness in his signature head-to-toe denim outfit.
“You ready to mow today, Jo?”
“Meh,” I grunted, shielding my eyes from the blaze of his acid wash jeans.
“Well let’s go! I’ve got you all set up here!” Clearly. He was literally bouncing around the garage on his heels. I hadn’t seen him this excited since the last power outage. His frantic behavior and spastic movements reminded of a manic Carrie Mathison and I was tempted to see how he’d react to the words “green pen.”
Being the dutiful tenant that I am, I agreed to cut the grass in exchange for another day’s cable and shelter. Homeland was on that night, so I was in no position to risk eviction. Ten minutes into mowing, I approached a tree and heard a loud “POP!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fly out from underneath the machine. I shrugged it off as another dulled blade (one less reason for my dad to ask me to mow again), but that’s when I saw it: a squirrel thigh directly in front of the mower. A piece of tail to my right.
I screamed and shut off the ignition. Maybe it was a stick — a furry stick with paw-like growths. Maybe it was a cat toy, one that Buster had scoffed at and spitefully attempted to bury in the lawn (he doesn’t react well to inedible gifts). Feeling confident that it was all a misunderstanding, I peered over the front of the lawnmower and saw the following image:
Well, there was no denying it — I had definitely mowed over a squirrel. Its lone paw flapped in the breeze, a small reminder of the squirrel that was. I frantically searched my body for bits of squirrel debris that might have landed on exposed skin. I had a developing spray tan in the works, and I wasn’t interested in adding a fur coat to such a premature faux-glow. The thought of a botched, unintentionally tufted spray tan was just too much to handle and so I began to cry — for my tan, for the squirrel and for my soul. Sobbing, I wondered how Buster did this everyday… and then it hit me: I had just committed my first official cat act — the irreversible act that would propel me into a life of eternal Cat Ladydom. I felt like a spry young PNM again on the cusp of sorority initiation: I had no idea what I was in for, but by God, I knew it would be creepy.
There was an unfamiliar closeness to Buster brewing in my heart, as if the sacrificial squirrel had unlocked a new level of our relationship and forged a brethren of hunters. Gone were my afternoons of Real Housewives marathons and cheese quesadillas. My weekends would now consist of prowling around the backyard with Buster, stalking the slowest of squirrels and settling down for a nap within 3 feet of them (Buster’s signature hunting technique — we’re still not sure how he catches anything). We’d hunt for hours until we caught something, or until Buster’s balding forehead could take no more sun.
This is how Buster hunts. Believe it or not, he catches quite a few critters. We call it the Opossum Effect.
My dad, alarmed at the sound of my non-laboring, jerked me back to reality by yelling out the window, “What’s wrong?”
“I ran over a squirrel leg!” I yelled.
“Squirrels don’t have eggs!”
“No. I ran over a squirrel and its leg.”
“Oh,” he said.
Silence. After confessing aloud to what I’d done, the sadness and panic began to return. I had just killed a squirrel. Regardless of whatever carnivorous kinship I had suddenly formed with Buster, this had to be against my vegetarian beliefs. I began to panic and tried to focus on long, deep breaths before things got asthmatic. After a few steady breathing exercises, I realized that I was inhaling whatever molecules of squirrel still lingered in the atmosphere. Surely such fumes were toxic. If my soul wasn’t blackening by the minute, I felt positive that my lungs were.
I ran inside to escape the tainted air and to call for help. My mom would most likely call a funeral home, and I could still hear my dad cackling upstairs, so I decided the best, most reasonable option would be to call my sister.
“Hey what’s up?”
“I ran over a squirrel with the lawnmower.”
She screamed. Not the consoling reaction I was hoping for. After a minute, she said:
“There’s no way it was still alive, Jo. Remember when we used to try to catch squirrels with our lunch bags? They were so fast! There’s no way you could have hit one.”
“You’re right, I guess…”
I hung up, unsatisfied with her reasoning. No, we hadn’t ever been successful in our squirrel wrangling, but what if this one had been deaf? What if he had been sleeping? Dreaming of telephone wires and bird seed, only to wake up 5 yards from his lower limbs? I searched high and low for a tailless 3-legged squirrel, fully prepared to take him and his thigh to the nearest animal hospital.
In the end, I found nothing but bits of tail and fur, barely enough to knit Buster a modest tunic. The fact that I could find no trace of the remaining squirrel made me feel a little bit better — perhaps he had already been dead, after all. Perhaps Buster had simply forgotten to clean up after his mid-morning snack. This soothed me.
It’s been a few weeks and I’m almost back to normal. My conscience feels lighter and I’ve yet to show any signs of toxic squirrel inhalation. I’ve also been excused from all lawn-mowing, which has been nice. I was nearly to a place of peace until my dad discovered what had actually killed the squirrel. This happened a few days ago:
“Jo! I figured it out!”
“Figured what out?”
“What killed the squirrel. It was lead poisoning! Those damn squirrels have been chewing through the roof!”
I know that he meant well by this — he was trying to reassure me that I did not in fact kill the squirrel. But somehow the thought of inhaling a toxic, lead-laden squirrel did not do much to quell my concerns.