When You Give a Mouse Napalm

There is a mouse in my house. I found the evidence, evidence that came in the form of extreme mouse dietary issues. I could immediately smell a dank mustiness that I associate with mice, and I immediately imagined a little gray mouse behind our microwave waiting to dash out and murder me with its tiny diseased hands. I waited for DSS to knock on the door and take the children into foster care. This was not the cute little mouse of Christmas ornament lore, no tiny Santa hat with a small block of cheese, this mouse was all fangs and Black Death. I could smell its ill intent.

I found the evidence next to one of the 12 unopened jars of barbeque sauce on the counter closest to the refrigerator. You may ask why I have 12 jars of barbeque sauce and my answer would simply be:  husband. For Trey every day is a barbeque and now that is how I picture the mouse. What if the mouse is a husband, cooking ribs for his friends on a Saturday? What if the mouse poop by the unopened sauce was a sure sign that there is a tiny gross mouse world where tiny gross mice husbands wear cargo shorts and Nike shoes, drink beer and smoke meats? I truly don’t care about this progenitor, I needed that mouse dead.

I cleaned my counters with every product in the house: Pine Sol, bathroom cleaner, Mean Green, Lysol, and vinegar spray. I have used them all until a nice cloud of chemicals rose from the counters like fog from a Stephen King novel. I was satisfied with my cleaning until I reached into a cabinet and knocked a PAM cooking spray lid over and from that lid it rained mouse poop upon my clean counters. It was at this point I developed a rage that could only be controlled by pharmaceuticals. No natural and friendly means of removing this mouse would do, only powerful poison. No catch and release traps for this murderous rage. I needed the kind of poison that made Dolly and her friends believe that Dabney Coleman had died in his office chair. We needed a poison so strong that I would be afraid for my children and animals.

I started with your basic d-Con, three wedge-shaped containers containing tiny blue pellets. According to the overly informative Wal-Mart employee, “You don’t look the type to rip down drywall (he was correct), but sometimes you find dried out mice. These poisons dry them out and make them mummies.” Well, that is exactly what I need! I don’t want to see the mouse or smell the mouse. I want it to die and wither away while I watch reruns of Veronica Mars. PETA is not an organization I will soon be joining. Sure, wanting this animal to dehydrate like mouse jerky is an asshole move, but know what is also an asshole move? This mouse plotting against me in its sleep, total asshole move.

Three mouse poison wedges didn’t seem enough. I needed something more. That more was a box of poison covered with skulls and crossbones. In fact, there are so many skulls and crossbones on the package it may have been designed by Hot Topic and sold to me by a girl with kohl eyeliner and a Dandy Warhols shirt. I picked up the new solid blue sections of poison with a paper towel and threw them behind furniture. I was like a morbid flower girl spreading cubes of death. I was Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now.”

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?

Lance: What?

Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours.

We are a week out from my finding the mouse evidence. After two days I stopped finding the droppings which had become the same blue as the poison. I assume the mouse is dead, but that hasn’t stopped my paranoia. I glimpse something moving and I jump out of my skin. If my hair touches my face I know that I have been transported to the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie finds a mouse in her bed and calls Aleksandr Petrovsky to come and save her. Aleksandr, really? He was never a good fit for Carrie even if he did help with the mouse. A shoestring is now a tail and I become Augusten Burroughs murdering a mouse in his bathroom in Magical Thinking.

I cannot deal with rodents on top of the stress of everyday life. I am ill equipped for such thing. I once had someone drive 15 miles to remove what I thought was a dead mouse from my room. It was actually just dog hair reflecting from a Playboy magazine, but I was 100% sure it was a mouse playing dead and planning an attack. Again, I am ill equipped for such things.

Tonight when I clean the kitchen I will hear “Ride of the Valkyries” playing faintly and I won’t believe that I am over reacting at all. As much as I hate that little asshole mouse he also helped me write almost 900 words. So, shout out to that hopefully dead dehydrated mouse in his tiny cargo shorts and Nikes.

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Track #9

I found out Lou Reed had died between football games, house cleaning, and pumpkin decorating. During a quick Twitter break, I noticed a press release saying that he had passed away. I am sad for reasons that I do not completely understand. I have never been a big Lou Reed fan and can only name maybe a handful of songs off the top of my head. One being “Sweet Jane” and another being “Heroin,” which is really The Velvet Underground as was explained to me.

“Heather, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground are two different things,” Trey, not so patiently, tried to tell me.

“Yes, but Lou is part of The Velvet Underground.”

“Yes, but they are different. It is like saying “Crazy Train” is a Sabbath song. It is an Ozzy song. The two things are very different.”

I enjoy Neil Diamond, Everclear, Johnny Cash, and Kanye West equally. There are bands that I had never really enjoyed that I became a fan of through listening with Trey, and I have high hopes that one day I will get Elvis Costello. I have no musical identity and I am married to a man who prides himself on his. This has led to the occasional argument and the occasional musical discovery. When we drive anywhere and have the radio on he says, “What is this? I have never heard this in my life.” This leads me to say, “Of course not, it was released after 1994.” He doesn’t find that joke at all funny.

In the 90s I was a fan of The Doors. It would be safe to thank Oliver Stone for this particular stage of my musical heritage. I fancied myself a poet at the time and Jim Morrison had fancied himself the same thing. I was 16 and full of hormones. Morrison was charismatic and had very tight pants and beautiful hair; he had also been dead for 20 years. It was love. I bought all the albums (on tape of course) and listened to them on the boom box that was seat belted into my yellow Cavalier. With the window down and my left foot propped up on the dashboard, I would drive to work feeling alive. After work I would change into one of my many Jim Morrison tees, shirts that were purchased in a hole in the wall shop next to a bowling alley. I bought poetry books by Jim Morrison and made a necklace of red and white beads to match one I had seen him photographed in. In the absence of my own identity, I decided to wear Jim Morrison’s instead. At some point I moved on from The Doors, but I never again felt so connected to a group and their music.

Maybe that is why I am sad for Lou, his family, and his fans. They lost something that connected them. Some spark that made them feel a certain way at a certain moment. Maybe they remember the freedom of driving with their feet propped up, warm sun on their arms as they hummed away to “Sweet Jane.” For me Lou Reed (and The Velvet Underground) will remind me of my parents and our Florida vacation when I made them play my The Doors soundtrack, and track number 9 was “Heroin.”

“Cause when the smack begins to flow
Then I really don’t care anymore
Ah, when the heroin is in my blood
And that blood is in my head
Then thank God that I’m as good as dead
Then thank your God that I’m not aware
And thank God that I just don’t care
And I guess I just don’t know
And I guess I just don’t know”

Today I thank Oliver Stone for leading me to The Doors and I thank The Doors for leading me to The Velvet Underground and I thank The Velvet Underground for reminding me of a long car trip with my family. I may not have much of a musical identity, but I feel for those who have lost a part of theirs.

Two Years

It has now been two years since Mom died. Not passed away or no longer with us. She is dead. And it hurts to the point that I feel like my body cannot contain this grief. It spills out of my mouth when I am angry. I want to look at people and say, “Fuck you my mom is dead.” It spills out of my eyes in a current of tears while I’m driving. The grief is balled up in my clenched fists. It escapes through the nervous tapping of my feet. She is gone and at times that feels unbearable. Even with the grief though, I feel lucky. I am lucky to have had her for 36 years. I am lucky that I got to shave her legs.

Before she left for Arkamecca I shaved her legs. We sat in a cold and dark hospital and I washed her hair with dry hair shampoo. I wrapped her shoulders with towels so that her gown wouldn’t get wet. I filled up a puke bucket with warm water and soaped down her back. Her stomach was swollen with fluid but her back was so thin. I remember being shocked that I could see her bones so clearly and I remember telling myself to not react. We soaped her underarms and chest and dried them with soft pats. I refilled the bucket and soaped up her legs. I scrapped the razor up her legs removing the little black hairs. She told me over and over that I shouldn’t be doing this for her. I said that she would do the same for me. She said that this was different and I said, “No, Momma it isn’t.”

I left the hospital that night not knowing that it would be the last time I would see her alive. Kara was able to see her the next day before she flew to Arkansas. That afternoon I called Mom and she asked when I thought Dad would get to the hospital. I told her that it would be a few hours. She said, “He needs to hurry. I have to pee.” This was the very essence of Mom; she didn’t want to bother anyone at the hospital. She never wanted to be a bother. I told her that I loved her and she asked me to check on Kara because “she seemed upset.” This happened on a Monday; on Friday she was gone. She was gone but at least her legs were somewhat smooth. Even as sick as she was, she remained just a little vain and I not so secretly think that her last words were, “root lifter.” She loved her hair product and her Oil of Olay. I know she was pleased when the funeral director said she had great bone structure. Her vanity wasn’t off-putting, it wasn’t the “I’m better then you” variety. This vanity was pride in neatness and her home. Her vanity was really a pride that comes from growing up poor, and wanting to take care of your things when you are older.

I am sure you didn’t know this, but Mom was convinced she created racquetball. She grew up on a farm she was born to leave. Many hours of her childhood were spent bouncing a ball off the side of the house, catching and batting at it. She joined every school organization she could just for extra time in town. She rotated her dolls out so that no one doll was ever jealous of the others. She was quirky and interesting. As she got sicker, she and I talked one Sunday afternoon. She cried and told me she wanted to go home to see her parents. Her parents had been dead for years. She said that she no longer cared about her things and that she would miss us, but that she wanted her Mom. I was blunt with her and told her the truth. “Momma, you are dying. We are going to send you to Arkansas and they are going to do things that make you sicker, but then they will fix you and you won’t be dying anymore.” While we had the conversation I tried not to react, thinking, “Do not cry. Do not cry.” The hot grief built up in my throat and tasted of bile. Arkansas didn’t have time to fix her, her heart and body were too broken for them to fix. She died with Dad next to her.

This time of year everything is secondary to the grief. I couldn’t give a damn about the news, the house, work, or school. This time of year my panic attacks get a little worse and I want to hurt myself a little because physical pain is so much better than emotional. I will think about tattoos and how the hot scrape will make me feel better. How I will wear my tattoos as a shield. They will protect me from the outside hurt. I will wait for May to end. Kara, Dad, and I will laugh about Mom and then we will cry. May will end and the cycle will start over again.

The Little Gray Accountant

My life is monotonous at best. I imagine my routine as a tiny accountant dressed in gray, following behind me reciting the same numbers in a pattern: 17, 19, 25, 29, 36. His ill-fitting suit clings to his chubby torso, round with too many Hostess cupcakes. That tiny accountant is a reminder of a life I am not brave enough to live. I blame my monotony on the fact that I hate the taste of coffee.

Cameron Crowe released the movie Singles in 1992, a romantic comedy about twenty-somethings living in Seattle, wearing Doc Marten 8 eyed boots, flannel shirts, and all the while drinking ample amounts of coffee. This is the life I wanted. A life where my friends and I sat around discussing things like evolution and politics while people buzzed about us, oblivious to just how astute we really were. At the time Starbucks either did not exist in its current form or was just not available in Paducah, but our mall did have a Tennessee Coffee Company, and Kara and I set out to become part of the cool kids. We had plans to sit around and drink a latte while discussing evolution and the Scopes monkey trial. (I live in some weird world where people who are smarter and cooler than me discuss nothing but evolution and Elvis Costello. I have no idea why.) We ordered our lattes and carried the steaming cups to our table. We were ready to drink and be cool. After the first sip our eyes locked and we silently had a conversation.

“This is the taste of hell.”

“It is like drinking hot dirt.”

“Let’s leave and just dump it.”

“You go first.”

We left the shop and quickly dumped our coffee out of sight of the barista. I could not wipe the taste of burnt dirt off my tongue fast enough. I also could not wipe away my shame. I knew that I wasn’t going to a normal four year college. While my friends had been picking out colleges, I was shoving wads of toilet paper into my bra to keep breast milk from leaking on my shirt in Social Studies. I questioned my intelligence, and my drive was sex related only. If given a choice between planning for my future and being in the midst of an orgasm, I would pick the orgasm every damn time. However, this choice may have led to a life of financial difficulty and mediocrity. If I couldn’t be the cool person drinking coffee, who was I going to be? From what I could tell I had no discernible talents. I can’t sing, dance, draw, or sculpt. I liked to write, but bad poetry about sex and chubby fingers adorned with gold did not seem to be the thing that would make my mark. My fear was, and is, that I have no mark to make.

Kara and I went with Kiaya to New York on her senior trip. It was a trip meant to be taken by Kara, Kiaya, and Mom. I was on my mom’s trip. Her bucket list all rolled into a five day adventure. We buried her just a couple of days before we left and Kara and I started every conversation with, “You know our Mom just died.” The flight attendants would just give us weird looks and ask if we wanted a soda. We needed to explain to the world that our mother all but demanded we take the trip before she died – we were not callous and just taking a quick vacation. I would love to think that Mom had some sort of grand plan, that this trip would forever bind Kara and me together and help us to deal with a devastating loss. It did bind us together, but the real truth is that Mom was incredibly thrifty (i.e. cheap) and even death would not let her waste the money she had paid on the trip. New York was many things for me. It was both an exhausting and exhilarating trip: I got to ride a subway and see the Statue of Liberty. I watched a woman with exposed nipples stand next to a bodega, her strange breasts vulnerable like it was normal and not a scene out of National Geographic. I loved being in a city that was always busy. This fantastic busy city also made me aware that I had not lived up to my potential. There was no reason that I couldn’t have lived in a tiny apartment in a borough of New York or any other city for that matter. I am smart and dedicated and now it was time to apply those attributes. When we returned home, reality smacked us in the face and we each settled into a nice long depression. With the guidance of two friends and $50 from another, I registered for school and started the long voyage to a master’s degree. At age 36 I (finally) picked the future of my family over the orgasm.

For 37 years I have lived my life with no direction and a great deal of self-doubt. I started back to college to prove to myself that I am smart and can be focused. The outcome has been overall positive and I am glad that my friends helped me to make that jump. If not for being an “adult learner,” I wouldn’t have met a teacher who gave me such positive feedback it made me think that writing isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. I owe him an apology because I publically mocked his pleated trousers. Each post feels like a little victory, but the self-doubt lingers and eats at me.

The little man is behind me as I write this essay. He repeats the numbers and walks with quick steps. I know he is there, following behind me. His presence the constant reminder that my life may be too monotonous to be of interest to anyone but me. He whispers in my ear that soon I will run out of things to say. He whispers that the only people interested in me are those that know me and I will never have readers on a larger scale. He whispers what a waste of time this is for me. He whispers, “17, 19, 25, 29, 36.”

Grief and Tattoos

I want to feel whole and I haven’t since my mother died. I want to tattoo my arms with words that make me feel solid. Words like here, now, loved, enough, healed, whole. They don’t need to be large just big enough for me to see when I have my glasses off and I am lying down. It is at night before I fall asleep that I need to feel whole the most. When the stress of the day weighs heavy on me and I feel the filmy edge of sleep and panic trying to creep in. I stare at the tattoo on my wrist, words that my mother left Kiaya, and remind myself how much she loved us.

One of the many problems with my tattoo obsession is that if Amyloidosis hadn’t killed mom, my desire for tattoos would have. Mom was very proper and I loved that about her. We once took her to see Bon Jovi and she wore jeans, a navy turtleneck, navy pumps, and a vest that had dolls embroidered on it. We walked past the security guard and he tilted his head at mom and said, “She with you?” “Yeah.” I said and ushered her to the seats. The people in front of us rolled a joint and my mother, in not quite a whisper said, “What’s that? Why are they licking the paper?” She had a great comedic timing but had no idea that she was funny.

I want to wear the tattoos as armor to keep out the feeling that I am alone. I want my skin etched with words that remind me that I am solid and here. They would guard me against the feeling of hopelessness that I sometimes feel at night. When my day has gone bad and I want my mom to tell me it’s going to be okay. I could look down and see the word loved and know that although death put a chink in my armor I was loved to my very core.

My ability to cuss is legendary. I can weave a cuss word into a conversation like a blue ribbon through a lace edged slip. This skill of delicately interweaving the word “fuck” into a conversation was horrifying to mom. “Heather Renee, how could you say that?” I did it to watch her reaction, while horrified; I secretly think she was proud of my ballsy manner. I found this to be true at a Neil Diamond concert. The women behind us had passed the point of intoxication. Slurring their words one of the ladies told the entire arena that she had found Billy Joel tickets in her pocket from three years prior. The entire concert they talked in our ears about every song being their favorite and randomly yelling “Woo Hoo” at the top of their lungs. I just knew a “play me some Skynyrd” was coming. Or at the very least, they would throw a pair of off-brand Victoria’s Secret panties on the stage. I finally had enough and yelled at them. I just knew that prim and proper mom was dying that I had publicly yelled at someone, but she just looked at me and said, “About time.” I think she approved of my occasional brashness.

The tattoos would anchor me.

Here. I have to be here, in the present. Retreating to my room to watch old episodes of Sex and the City is not an option. My life needs to continue even if it hurts and feels empty.

Now. Now is the time that I stand up and do what I have always been scared to do. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

Loved: She loved us. She loved us fiercely.

Enough: I am enough. I do enough and do not need to prove myself to others. I have merit.

Healed: Mom is whole and does not hurt.

Whole: Although my heart is broken because I do not talk to her every day; she is always with me. Shaking her head at the newest weird thing I’ve said. I am whole and not broken.

She loved us fiercely.