Metaphorical Possum

A metaphorical possum came into our house last night. I mean, it was an ACTUAL possum. It just ended up being the kind of possum situation that was ultimately full of metaphors. You know.

The possum came on the heels of a very tough week. I spent the majority of the week at the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, which I am sure was fun for all the normal people who went. But I am not a normal person. In college, I never had a drink. I wasn’t even around drinks. On Friday nights I heard about “parties” and “ragers” (which I think are the same thing — it’s a matter of gradation, right?), and then I’d promptly forget about them. I spent almost every Friday night on the top floor of the library; I’d spread weird, skinny poetry anthologies out on the floor around and stay up until 11 p.m. (so late!) reading them, before going back to my room to watch Gilmore Girls and sleep. I honestly don’t remember going to a single party. I couldn’t imagine what about a party could possibly be fun.

The comedy festival, like all good comedy festivals, was like normal Friday night at college. You stayed up late and drank and yelled about funny stuff with other funny people, and tried to get laid. I was a total failure at this. I couldn’t believe we were all still supposed to be “having fun” at 1 a.m. I couldn’t believe how easy it looked for everyone else. Someone even said to me, “Hey, you could at least PRETEND to look like you’re having fun.” But I couldn’t. 

I ended up having too many PBRs, eating too much greasy food, and getting very little sleep. On top of that, ennui-bordering-on-nihilism started to set in. I decided that was Orlando’s fault. It was too much of a strip mall to inspire any hope in me. I decided our species was doomed, and that everybody should just stop trying. I took the Megabus home, unable to shake my dismal attitude, and promptly came down with the flu.

If there’s anything that can turn early-onset symptoms of nihilism into a full-blown case, it’s the flu. Nothing sounds good when you have the flu. Things that are normally AMAZING sound terrible. Bread? Terrible. Sex? Terrible. A doughnut? Terrible. You think to yourself, “How will I find the will to live?” Then you watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and sleep for ninety hours.

This wasn’t one of those twenty-four-hour numbers, either. It just hung around, developing new layers with each passing day. Stabbing throat pain isn’t enough for you? That’s cool, this flu had more tricks up its sleeve. Oh you want MORE than a fist-sized ball of phlegm in your chest that won’t move even with those gigantic drugstore mucus-depleting pills? No problem. Let’s also throw in a few hundred-degree fevers and a nose like a faucet. This flu just went on and on and on. Frankly, it’s amazing to me that I survived it, emotionally.

The flu was still hanging on on Friday night. I had decided to take a bath and read Glamour magazine. I was also planning on shaving my legs. I was just delusional enough to think that maybe just MAYBE the flu bug was living IN MY LEG HAIR. 

I’d shaved one leg (and learned thirty ways to dress down a little black dress), when I heard my roommate Hannah scream: “OH MY GOD THE POSSUM GOT IN THE HOUSE AND IT’S EATING AN AVOCADO.”

Two things you should know: First, we have a cat door in our house, so the cats can come and go as they please. This isn’t the first time a possum has gotten into the house via the cat door. Things smell good in here, and the possums don’t really know any better. We have tons of possums in our yard because we have awesome compost. Possums are all about that. Second, my roommate Hannah, who is perhaps the bravest person I know — she is truly my role-model and one of my deepest life loves — is VERY AFRAID of possums. This is uncharacteristic of Hannah. She doesn’t flinch, really, at cockroaches or lizards or moths or any other creepy thing that finds its way into the house. She’s not FOND of rats and mice, but she reacts to them with what can best be described as disappointment; never terror. She is TERRIFIED of possums. 

I asked Hannah why she was afraid of possums. She took a deep, somber breath and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because they’re marsupials, or because they move really slowly, or if it’s because they always look scared.” This answer is totally unsatisfactory. The only other marsupial I know about is a koala — objectively the MOST ADORABLE ANIMAL ON THE WHOLE EARTH. Slow-moving animals are far less scary than fast-moving animals. Try running away from a slow-moving animal. It’s easy. You can do it in a pinch. Within moments, the slow-moving animal won’t even be in your line of sight. Always looking scared is likewise completely unintimidating. Would I rather be around a person who looked scared at me or who looked like they wanted to eat me? Obviously the former. In this one department, Hannah, love of my life, has very twisted logic. We are going to have to excuse her for that.

So there I was, mid-shave, when I heard Hannah panic in the kitchen. I knew that the rest of the bath was just going to have to wait. This was an emergency. A really cute-sounding emergency.

By the time I’d thrown on a towel and ambled into the kitchen, the avocado had been abandoned on the floor and the possum was nowhere to be seen. “It’s behind the island counter,” whispered Hannah, clearly still panicked. I looked behind the island counter. The possum looked back at me. It was pretty cute.

Apparently, the possum didn’t think that I looked cute, though. After staring at me unblinkingly for a few moments, it sauntered past the black spice shelf and behind the refrigerator. As you can probably imagine, behind the refrigerator is the LEAST CONVENIENT place to try to get a possum out from. At least in a kitchen. A deep hole in the ground would probably be more difficult, I guess. 

Here’s what we SHOULD have done: we SHOULD have decided to leave the possum alone. The possum would find its way out of the house on its own. The possum didn’t want to live in the house. Everything would be OK. But we had it in our head that we needed to trap this possum and transport it across town. I think Hannah was invested in this for practical reasons. I felt like grabbing the possum by the tail would make a great Instagram picture.

We put some peanut butter on the avocado, and added a rotten strawberry to the mix to lure it. Surely the possum would come out now. We waited. We waited AN HOUR. At first we talked to each other, and then we were silent. At some point, our cat Coltrane came in through the cat door and started eating the avocado. (Who knew that cats had such diverse taste palates?) The possum didn’t seem to be moving at all. We were going to have to be a little more forceful.

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I put on garden gloves. We moved the black spice rack into the middle of the kitchen so I could get a good view behind the refrigerator. I wedged myself against the wall near the refrigerator and held my breath as I looked into the crevice between the wall and the fridge. No possum. The possum was not there.

Where was the possum? How could this have happened? We had listened SO CAREFULLY. We searched the whole kitchen — all the nooks and crannies and crevices. Then I noticed something: the back part of the refrigerator had fallen off at the bottom, and the part of the refrigerator where the fan and the gears and the electrical wiring nested was exposed. And amidst the dusty black wires and propeller fan, I could see a little shot of gray fur.

For the next hour, I shined a flashlight into the space between the wall and the refrigerator and poked the possum with a stick. It hissed. It played dead. I poked it with the stick from every angle. I was so sure that at some point, it was going to stop tolerating being poked by the stick, and it would crawl out of that space. It didn’t. It just pushed itself deeper inside the fridge. I noticed that its tail had gotten caught on the fan, and little bits of fur were flying off.

We unplugged the fridge. It was time for drastic measures. Hannah helped me move the fridge away from the wall, and I lay on my stomach and peered down into the space where the possum had wedged itself. It wasn’t pretty. All that stick-poking had provoked the possum to pee and poop kind of a lot. Now that the fridge was turned off, the possum had coiled its tail tightly around the fan. I stared at the possum. It was covered in its own excrement. “Hey,” I said. (Yes, I actually said this. Out loud. To a possum.) “I’m a friend. I like you. I think you’re strong and good and capable, and I want to make your life better.” The possum opened its mouth wide and curled its snout back into a snarl. It seemed to tighten its grip on the black wires it was intermingled with.

I spent the next two hours sweating behind the fridge, trying everything I could to get that possum out. The more I couldn’t get it out, the more I wanted to. I wedged my fingers every which way. I put them under the possum. I poked the possum’s stomach. I touched the possum’s eyes. I put my fingers in the possum’s mouth. I tried to uncoil the possum’s little hands from the wires. I pulled on its tail. I kept thinking, “If I just WANT this bad enough, I will be able to get this possum out of here.” How could I communicate to the possum that I wanted to help it?

It was almost midnight when I gave up. My hands were covered in poop; sweat ran down my face. I collapsed on the couch and cried for a little while. At this point, I really cared about this possum. I wanted it to be OK. I wanted to save it, and I wanted it to look into my eyes and see the face of its savior. Instead, it looked into my eyes and thought, “Holy shit; tonight I’m gonna die for SURE.”

Hannah and I sat on the couch for a while, defeated. Then, finally, Hannah said, “You know, that possum is like… everything right now.”

And that was true. For the past few months, things have felt stuck. I don’t always know what I’m supposed to do or where I’m supposed to move next. I see my choices in front of me, and they all seem right, or they all seem wrong. There’s no way to know which scary, giant lights to move towards; or which ones really will eat me alive. 

In that way, I felt like the possum: cornered against the back of the fridge, terrified, not sure how to move forward in my life. 

It was also true that my possum-ridding method seemed right in line with the way I’ve been trying solve problems lately.

When problems turn up in my life, my impulse is to want to fix them immediately. I hate the discomfort so much that I overcompensate. I send a million e-mails. (“Hey, are you mad at me? I’m soooo sorry. I’m sure I really fucked up. What can I do? I will do ANYTHING to make this better.”) I make decisions not because they will be right in the longterm, but because they fix a short-term problem. (“Yes I will take that job that I am not really trained to do and that I won’t like very much. I really, really need the money.”) 

Years ago, I hung a long pole on closet brackets on my wall to hold my clothes, since I didn’t have a closet in my room. I put the brackets into the drywall, so about once a month, my makeshift closet would crash to the ground, bringing all my clothes down with it. I’d put the brackets right up again, into the same drywall. I just wanted to fix the problem fast. At some point, after this constant ordeal became ridiculous, my roommates said, “Hey Sophie; let’s take an afternoon and find the studs in the wall. Then your closet won’t fall down anymore.”

The possum needed to be left alone. It needed to breathe. It needed to close its mouth, uncurl its feet on its own, and walk out the cat door. It needed time. It needed space. So many of our problems do. 

And also, the possum was gonna be OK. That’s the bottom line. Even if the possum HAD stayed in the fridge and cut up its tail on the fan a little more — so what? So its tail got cut. It would have survived it. Sometimes, the universe just takes care of us. Like when the universe puts a huge fleshy monster with a stick in front of you. Sometimes you’ve gotta just let go and trust that things are going to work out. Somehow.

The only thing is, in a non-metaphorical way, I feel like I really traumatized that possum. Like, if I see it in the garden some other night of the week, it’s gonna be really embarrassing for both of us.