Unlike the overpriced aeries of many other cliff-dwelling New Yorkers of my acquaintance, my small one-bedroom apartment in a non-luxury building had been blissfully free of bugs and other wildlife for most of the sixteen-or-so year I lived here. However, in 2004 when the housing market reached new heights, a lot of my neighbors were renovating what they had instead of buying up. Ripping out walls and such tends to stir things up in the bowels of a building...and soon I found myself with a very messy mouse for a roommate.
For awhile I thought I was going crazy because I heard things, but I had no evidence. Then I found my proof: sickening mounds of it, in and around my oven and under the toaster. Immediately I did a Lady MacBeth on the kitchen, cleaning everything with bleach, feeling nauseated and out of control of my life. How was I going to get rid of this beast I had never even seen, that I didn't especially want to see? I called my super; he said, "Not my job." I called the management company; they said, oh, yes, terrible, we can't wait for the exterminator, we'll talk to the super. Weeks later, no action had been taken. And while my cat, Amanda, was amused by and interested in our uninvited guest, she was no mouser. Meanwhile, every morning I would lie awake at night listening to this critter squeak and chew and scamper in the walls, and every morning I would clean up his messes.
I got my first glimpse of the little guy (first mistake: thinking of him as a "little guy" instead of a pest) late one night as he zoomed across the kitchen floor to get away from me. My cat used to hack up hairballs larger than this critter; he was minute. I had been obsessing over the tiniest thing...something as wee and innocent and yet all-consuming as...well, an obsessive thought. And my thoughts had been:
*There should not be a mouse in my apartment. (But of course there should be. There is!)
*Amanda should eat him. (Not my business.)
*I should not have to deal with this. (Well, no one else wants to...)
*Mice should not use my stove as a toilet. (Just as dogs should not bark, thieves should not steal, murderers should not murder, and terrorists should not terrorize, this is hopeless.)
*I don't want to dispatch the mouse. (And yet I don't want to share my living quarters with him so what's the use of thinking this way?)
Finally I went out and bought some sticky-traps, which I baited with the thing the mouse loved most: toast. And I dreaded checking the traps each day because I discovered I didn't want the mouse to die or suffer; I just wanted him to leave.
Some of my animal-loving friends got mad at me because of the traps. They wanted me to get the kind of cruelty-free contraption where you are left with a live mouse…which you then have to dispose of…meaning I could trap the little fellow and set it free, releasing it to find yet another apartment in which to spread its excrement.
Second mistake: naming my vermin. I began referring to the mouse as "Mickey." Sometimes I even thought of him fondly, he who besmirched my kitchen and tracked germs into my home. Truth be told, I was getting attached to him. Had he not been so destructive, if he had been tame and lived in a terrarium that someone else would clean, I might even have called it "love." I mean, I've had human relationships similar to this, such as messy boyfriends with apartments of their own; it's doable.
On a metaphysical note, the situation made me think of how we name and objectify everything, which is the beginning of separation from the totality of what is and, therefore, the origin of suffering. Not to mention what a waste of time and energy it is to expect anything or anyone will change just because that's what we want.
But I did have some responsibility to others in my building, who would not have appreciated being the beneficiaries of Mickey's long and healthy life (and probably offspring). Eventually I purchased one of those cruelty-free traps...although the mice I trapped tended to have heart attacks and die when I opened the lid, so I’m not sure about the cruelty-free part.
What if I had learned to co-exist with the Mickster? What if I had just treated him like a beloved husband with poor bathroom aim who always leaves his smelly socks on the bedroom floor...or a cherished child who won't wipe her feet before coming in the house, and insists on dribbling Cheerios all over the living room? Could it be that in my zeal to have my way, in my insistence on ownership of my apartment, that I missed out on The Perfect Love?
Yes, and…I notice I don't love undomesticated mice yet.
©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.