We’d lived in the closet for about two years now, no ventilation, unless you count the fan over the stove that allowed leaves and spiders inside. I taped a plastic bag inside the cover to prevent further surprises while I was cooking. But the windows were all painted closed. Having windows at all wasn’t significant in a basement house where seeing out of them meant standing on tippy toes to view the feet of someone else outside. Using a cane, as I was at the time, hardly made this worth the effort.
The house, shaped like a comma with a hole cut in the center, the pointy part the tiny living room flowing into the kitchen, clothes laundry and storage walkway, restroom, Nikki's and my bedroom, followed up by Cameron’s room. All of the rooms big enough that two people could pass each other, but no more than that. Home. Most of all, this place was not large enough for guests, much less another roommate or pet. At least, that was the consensus.
I should point out before I continue that some people with Asperger’s Syndrome have acute senses. Not always positive or negative. For me, it’s my sense of smell and my hearing. I will wake up in the night when I hear a gnat in the adjoining county fart. On the same token, if more than a few sounds or voices go at a time, they all blend into one boisterous cacophony, and nothing can be distinguished. This situation explains our lack of interactive functions such as parades, etc. and explains why I was so exhausted at the end of each day on our dream vacation five years before. Even eating out, I have to lean over the table and read lips to have a conversation with the person across from me.
I’m not the best lip-reader and have found eating at home easier. This situation should express my unconformability of many public functions. But I force myself to attend activities at my kids' schools. I have to.
The valuable addition the last paragraph creates is I have a phenomal sense of hearing. In the night, I woke up to the scritch-scratching in the front room. Cautious of burglars, don’t ask me why, I tiptoed into the living room, but found it empty of any human predators.
I paused, cocked my head and waited, listening carefully.
I could hear electricity pulsing behind the ticking of our clock.
The noise of tiny claws in the living room walls intermittently scraped the wood, and I immediately understood we were in as much trouble as if it had been a human. At least, humans could have been dealt with in a one-time battle. My head reeled in memory of the movie Mouse Hunt with Nathan Lane. Remember how horrible that mouse was to those below-average-thinking victims? Terror entered my mind, and I tried to return to sleep until morning.
Yeah, Asperger’s and OCD aren’t good at allowing sleep when anything annoying is going on, especially due to my inactivity. I should be doing something—anything to stop the disaster, but the kids were asleep.
The next morning, I checked around the house and found a hole in the wall behind our television stand drilled for cable. We didn't have cable, but the people before us probably did. A professional installer did not create the hole. Someone with more important things to tend to, clearly, drilled a hole the size of a half dollar in the wall for the ¼” cable to feed through—plenty big enough for a mouse. Oh, and look! Tiny little duplicated brown grains of rice leading from the hole around the edges of the walls.
Wait a minute! Those aren’t grains of rice. Those are mouse droppings. I’m too late to stop the infiltration of our infestation!
Trying to keep the poisons out of the area, yet not wanting messy cleanup of those sticky traps, I purchased the snappy traps that slam across their tiny bodies killing them on impact. I wanted to be compassionate about it. They can’t help that they’re vermin. But even after carefully setting the traps and warning my son, too late, about touching them, I could hear the same thing the following few nights.
Not long after, our box of cereal in the pantry had been chewed into, and I could hear them moving across the ceiling above me during the day. Chills of anxiety raged through my body with the vibration of heebie-jeebies. Typing in a quiet room, except for the keys of my computer and the clock, the scrambling superseded all other noise.
I found that when I knocked on the location of the sound with my cane, the noise would temporarily cease. But as soon as silence returned so did the scratching. I was relating to Nathan Lane's crisis quite well.
Finally, noise going full board while the kids watched a movie and I worked at the computer, my daughter squealed emphatically. “It’s a mouse! It’s a mouse!” Nikki jumped up on the couch with two feet.
My six-year-old was the girl known to scream bloody murder from the bathroom because a huge spider lurked from behind the door. After closer inspection, I relieved her of stress by identifying the perpetrator as a tangle of hair that had escaped the hairbrush. But this time, a mouse is quite a bit larger than a hair knot or a spider. I grabbed my cane and hobbled over to see what she was making such a big deal about something the fraction of her size. Besides, it isn't as if she's a piece of cheese.
My son beat me. Pointing to the floor a couple of feet in front of him was the cutest little round brown mouse. Its velvety ears laid back and its teensy-weensy tail was lying gingerly behind it.
“Oh, it’s a baby!” I said, considering how many more there must be running wildly about, eating our food and laying small mouse cables throughout our place.
“A baby?” Nikki stood on the couch and strained her neck to peer past me. “You can’t kill it if it’s a tiny defenseless baby!”
“Yeah,” Cameron chimed in, “We need to let it eat our food and grow up to have babies of its own before we can kill the pest.” He passed a rolling eye expression onto his sister.
Still, leaning in for a better view, little names reeled through my mind like a bank ticker. Nikki read my mind. “We can call him Mickey!”
“What if it’s a female?” Cameron added, “and has more babies?”
“Cameron, get me a shoebox out of the closet.” When he left, I turned to Nikki. “We need to get something to put it in permanently. It’ll chew right through the box.”
“There’s a pet store down the road, and they have cages!”
“We don’t have money for a $20 cage to keep a pest,” I explained. "We don't even really have room to keep it, but it's pretty small and will probably eat about anything."
“Can we keep it in one of your plastic storage bins you got when you became a substitute teacher? It won’t be able to chew through that, and you don't use it.” She was right. When I became a substitute, they charge $100 for background checks and give a list of do's and don't's of being a reliable substitute teacher. Games, worksheets for each grade, extra-curricular activities, etc. just in case. But I've never used any of it. Money wasted.
Cameron came back with a shoebox. “Nobody move,” I instructed them. “I can’t move very fast at all, so we need to be careful to make the first time count.”
My cane was quite a bit heavier than most canes. My brother helped me make it. The original one I had to save up and buy from eBay. It was cool. I figured if I needed to use a cane, I didn’t want to use one old people used. I wanted to look sort of hip. So I found with a glass sphere on top with dragons surrounding it with their wings. Although the cane could endure human weight, it was hollow and unscrewed at the top to hold the user’s “medication,” etc. Whatever. If that's what they call it, I suppose it makes it legal.
At the grocery store, I would have my son set my cane on the bottom rack of the cart and use the cart to hold my weight up while we caroused the store.
One day, somehow the bottom of the cane unscrewed and fell off the rack. We searched the parking lot but couldn’t find it. My brother, John, found a piece of metal tubing that perfectly fit, so I cement-glued it in and then spray painted a texture to match the handle. It looked fairly decent, but it was a lot heavier and harder to use.
I set my cane against the wall and took the box from Cameron. I heard the familiar sound of my cane scraping the wall as it slid sideways. I didn’t think much of it as I used the arm of my recliner for leverage to lower myself. That was when tragedy struck, or rather the cane.
The bulb of glass and metal handle came down and landed directly on Mickey Mouse. I couldn’t believe it! My daughter couldn't either as she squealed in horror, but my son was jabbing his fist in the air. “Got it!” he shouted.
I removed the cane, with the shoebox at the ready in case the mouse was faking(?), and pulled it aside. The little mouse lay on his side; blood gushed from its mouth in bursting bubbles, and its stomach heaved exhausted breaths. Its eyes blankly stared ahead.
“Give it mouth-to-mouth,” my daughter hollered at me.
“That would be mouth-to-mouse,” my son corrected her.
“It’s going to die,” I told Nikki, and then to Cameron, “That isn’t funny.” I secretly thought it was clever, but as a mom, I can't encourage the insensitivity.
We scraped the limp little body up into the shoebox and had a ceremony for my animal-loving daughter before I snuck outside and threw it into the garbage can.
Later that day Nikki heard movement from within the wall and her eyes lit up. “Oh, there’s another one!” She was too damned excited. “Maybe we can catch it!”
“Maybe,” I replied. I went into the bedroom and called the landlord to tell him about the mouse problem. He had a professional come and dealt with it. Load off my mind.
The reason I’m relaying this particular story is to show how something disgusting and awful can be transformed potentially into something positive—the way this vermin almost became a favorable experience as a pet before my cane squashed it. Initially, my daughter was afraid and leaped up on the couch, soon literally looking for another rodent to claim as a pet.
Always step back from whatever your crisis is to consider if a positive experience can arise. I couldn’t have babies for the longest time, and it turns out to have been valuable. I can’t imagine what I would have been like as a mother with a malfunctioning brain, but I wouldn’t have my children with me today. Anything that happens to you has a lesson in it somewhere to be learned.