It’s funny, the things that finally set you off.
Like, I’ve always presumed that I was a relatively hinged person, but here I am, utterly unhinged. For some of you, this will be unsurprising. Some of you will be thinking, “Geraldine, YOU WERE NEVER HINGED. YOU HAVE FEWER HINGES THAN A SLIDING DOOR.” And I hear you, friends. I understand that I am very good at giving the impression of being *waves hands around in a fluttering fashion to suggest madness* but that is just theatrics. For the most part, in my everyday life, I am calm! And reasonable! And I do not cry while watching movie trailers!
I handle all sorts of things without turning into a fire hydrant of feelings. Death threats in my Twitter feed? No problem! Weird health issues that result in my menstrual cycle seeming resembling a risque, one-woman staging of Carrie? Fine! (Also, someone please make this.) So much career malaise that I’ve literally forgotten how to write words? FLARP.
And so I want to be clear that I did not cry this week because we have an infestation of mice somewhere in our home. The mice are simply a metaphor. A metaphor for the fact that my life is infested. With mice. AND ALSO OTHER THINGS.
I am not particularly skittish when it comes to small scurrying creatures, thanks to a handful of formative years spent in Florida. An overzealous science teacher taught us that in order to escape a gator, we needed to run in a zig-zag line. Years later this information remains indelible in mind, the sort of knowledge that you will almost certainly never need, but your brain holds on to it, just in case.
Growing up in a swampland that was constantly trying to kill me, I became very, very accustomed to all manner of horrifying creatures. I learned that some cockroaches can fly (but only if they truly believe in themselves). That 3-foot long snakes can slip into the narrow crack beneath your front door and patiently wait in the middle of your living room for you to come home. That you can seal a bag of cereal tightly, shove it into a zip-loc bag, and still find a cluster of tiny insects have taken up residents there (you will only notice them when they start drowning in a bowl of milk).
Nothing that Washington had to offer could faze me in that regard. The bugs were smaller and less aggressive (except for the house spiders, which were the size of my palm, and kept trying to get me to fund their startups). Most of the animals that we encountered didn’t want to eat us. Sure, the crows in my neighborhood are assholes, but in their defense, so am I.
I found the mouse last week. I thought it was dead. I have a bucket which I keep downstairs for soaking laundry. The bucket was empty, a towel draped over it. I picked up the towel, and inside the bucket saw the mouse, and roughly a dozen tiny mouse turds. I thought that it had slowly died of dehydration in my laundry bucket. Convinced I had inflicted a painful death upon it, I, a reasonable woman of nearly 40 years of age, walked up two flights of stairs from the basement to our bedroom, sobbing incoherently.
Rand is very good at understanding me when I am gasping for air and have snot dribbling from my nose perilously close to my upper lip.
“I KILLED IT,” I sobbed. He gently pulled me onto his lap.
“Do you want me to throw the mouse away?” he asked.
I nodded with the quiet gravitas of a pouting first-grader.
I followed him downstairs, and he dutifully picked up the bucket and paused, looking inside.
“Geraldine, this mouse is very much alive.”
“It is?” I sniffled.
“Yes. It’s fat and happy and sitting in its own crap, waiting for me to set it free.”
“We are so alike,” I whispered.
Rand released it and I wiped tears from my face.
And then I frantically cleaned everything. Even places where the mouse had most certainly not been. I bleached the counters three times over. I spent the day cleaning up tiny poops that resembled dark grains of rice. I’ve washed numerous articles of clothing twice. I bought humane mouse traps and I went through an entire bottle of spray bleach. My basement smells amazing.
As I frantically cleaned, I realized something: I cannot handle mice. Few things cause my anxiety to spike more than knowing something has invaded my home, quietly chewing on my wiring and shitting everywhere. The mouse was inside the crawlspace of my house, and the anxiety was inside my marrow, and I didn’t know how to get rid of either.
“Where did you release the mouse?” a friend asked Rand.
“It was definitely hundreds of … inches from the house.”
And we all laughed, because that mouse was most certainly coming back.
Sure enough, the day after Rand released the mouse – into our driveway – it came back, presumably using the exact same hidden entrance it had before. (Rand’s defense: “I did not know I needed to relocate the mouse. I thought I simply needed to get it outside.”)
My anxiety, momentarily paused, came back, too. And that’s just something I have to deal with. This little gnawing thing, ready to chew me up. I try to guard myself against it. I try to seal up all the weak spots so it can’t get in. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Most of the time I’m on edge even when it’s working because oh god what if it stops working?
I pack steel wool into a tiny hole I find in the basement, on the advice of an expert (mice won’t chew through it, he tells me). I grab my spray bottle, and then I put it back down. I breathe. The mouse might come back. The anxiety definitely will. And when it does, I tell myself, I will handle it. I always do.