A Squirrel of a Time: A Stephellaneous Life through a Squirrelticular Lens (Part 1)

Wannabe Intro to My Squirrelstory (Like History, but Better)

As I sit at work today, pretending to be a productive employee while scratching my head in hopes of breaking loose a thought or three worthy of a post, I find myself pondering squirrels. And it strikes me that I just may have a particularly curious connection with squirrels in my life – at least compared to the average person. I mean, just how many squirrelly encounters have you had, dear Peoplleaneous? And I don’t mean that time your Uncle Bubba made you lick one for good luck. (Don’t worry, that totally didn’t happen to me. And if it happened to you, you’re a disgusting freak and can’t be my friend anymore.)

Y’all don’t believe me, do you? I’m telling you, homeslices. I have a weird history with squirrels. And I’m gonna tell you about it. As soon as I can figure out how to end this wannabe intro. Fuck it, consider this wannabe intro over.

That Time My Brother tried to Resurrect a Squirrel in the Bathtub (Holyfuck, that heading just spoiled the plot. Who comes up with this shit?!)

I think this one is less of a memory and more of something that has been implanted through countless retellings, because I believe I was like two when this happened. But since it’s the earliest “memory” of squirrels in my life, it must be told and it must come first.

My brother is a few years older than me, and depending on who tells the story, he was somewhere between five and eight. But given my age at the time, he had to have beenĀ at least seven. (“Why didn’t you just say seven to begin with and have done?,” is your logical query. To which I shriek, “I thought you knew me!,” and dissolve into a heap of tears.)

Anywhoodles. We’re living at my mamaw’s house, right? (She had this weird, awesome floor that you could pluck these little wooden tile thingies from. Pluck. Pluck. Slide back in like a funky puzzle piece. Pluck. Pluck. Man, I loved playing with that floor.) Well. Apparently B (Ima call him “B” for brother, aight?) had a soft spot for animals back then. (I say back then, because he sure as fuck doesn’t now. But don’t worry about it. This is a happy story.) So mamaw catches him waddling into the house, in nothing but his He-Man underwear. In his arms, he’s got this squirrel. His arms are wrapped around it, and it’s dangling down the length of B’s little body. It’s stiff and crispy – it had been burnt to a crisp when a transformer blew – and B’s sobbing and waddling into the house with the squirrel’s tail dragging between his legs.

Mamaw, naturally, freaks right the fuck out. “B! What the hell are you doing?! PUT THAT SQUIRREL BACK OUTSIDE!” B chokes out through the snotty sobs, “But Yamaw…*sniffle choke*…I have to give him a bath!” (This is why B was in his underwear. He had stripped down outside after formulating his plan to bathe the squirrel back to life.) B was dead serious, too. He really thought he could soak the squirrel in the tub and make everything right again. “Yamaw, yamaw, he needs a bath and everything will be okay!”

squirreltub

It took much pleading and coaxing to convince B to let mamaw pry the squirrel from him. (Who knows what she did with it – that’s never been included in the telling…) It took ages to calm him down and dry his tears; mamaw said it was the most pitiful thing she’d ever seen.

And no, B didn’t become a taxidermist. Or a faith healer.

Smile though Your Heart is Aching

The next memory I have is the infamous Squirrel Funeral. And no, it wasn’t even for the aforementioned crispy critter. As memory serves (mine and others’), this was a couple of years later, but it also took place at mamaw’s.

This time, my aunt found a dead squirrel in the yard. (What’s the deal with all the dead squirrels at mamaw’s? Kinda creepy, really.) And she decided that we needed to have funerary services to see the squirrel off into the afterlife. She was super serious, yo, solemn and dramatic as ever.

She and her father fashioned a coffin out of a cigar box, and we – me and my siblings – were ordered to prepare remarks and dress for the occasion. My aunt would deliver the eulogy.

This is a Google image of a squirrel funeral. No photographic evidence exists of mine.
This is a Google image of a squirrel funeral. No photographic evidence exists of mine.

We all gathered in the alley behind mamaw’s house. Just us kids. We dug a hole and set the squirrel’s box beside the dirt mound. We fashioned a cross of twigs and berries (shut up, pervert) and planted it in the ground at the end of the hole. Then we stood in a circle, holding hands. My aunt said a prayer and delivered the eulogy. I know we named the squirrel; and I swear it was something like Edward. (Y’all are right – something about me and “Ed-” names.) Each of us kids took turns saying our parting words to Edward and delivering him unto the earth. Y’all, this was some super solemn shit. And while I don’t remember things that were said, I do remember making shit up – about what a good squirrel Edward had been. How he was a good friend and playmate. Pretty sure we even made up a wife and kids that he was leaving behind. Some pretty creative and morbid shit.

With all of that finished up, we lowered his tiny King Edward cigar coffin (holyfuck, THAT’S why we named him Edward!) into the leaf-strewn ground and buried him. As soon as the dirt mound had filled the hole, the others went about their business. And I don’t remember many specifics, but I do remember lingering behind by myself. Crying. I cried for Edward the squirrel. And, in what was perhaps one of the earliest instances, I remember contemplating life and death and the finite-ness of our corporeal existence.

Depressing, no? Don’t worry, it’s not all like that. (It totally kind of is, though.)

Know Thyself, and Know Thy Enemy, or Devil, Thy Name is Squirrel

Another tale from mamaw’s house (years later, same mamaw, different house). In this neighborhood, the squirrels were vicious. A warring faction emerged, overthrowing the peaceful nut hoarders and challenging the humans for dominion. At least, that’s how Mr. Smith saw things.

Mr. Smith was a neighbor of mamaw’s, and while his wife was perfectly sane, Mr. Smith was in the throes of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and who knows what else. And for some reason, perfectly docile Mr. Smith one day became the archenemy of the neighborhood squirrels: specifically the ones who dared trespass into his beloved tree.

Mr. Smith adamantly argued that the squirrels started it. That they stood atop the branches of his trees and taunted him with their racket and turned acorns into weapons, hurling the tiny projectiles at lightening speed toward his shiny pate. This was the squirrel of Mr. Smith’s waking nightmares:

Behold the tiny assassin, armed to the teeth, preparing to shoot an eye out and steal your wife.
Behold the tiny assassin, armed to the teeth, preparing to shoot an eye out and steal your wife.

Naturally, Mr. Smith launched a series of counterattacks. His two weapons of choice? The waterhose (affixed with a jet spray nozzle and the force of a firehose) and a wheelbarrow of bricks. Mr. Smith could (and did) spend countless hours outside, launching brick after brick into his beloved tree and spraying them with the waterhose of doom. And this otherwise godfearing man, hurled vicious swearwords up to those “NO GOOD BASTARD MOTHERFUCKERS! I’LL KILL YOU! GET OUTTA MY TREE!”

And while his poor wife was forever lamenting this new side of Mr. Smith, some of us who witnessed it were delighted. I was old enough to be aware that I was witnessing the cognitive decline of a human being. So while I was torn between sorrow and amusement, I’m ashamed to admit that Mr. Smith’s War on Squirrels has provided many hours of laughter in my life.

But I swear, y’all. Perhaps the years have colored my memories a bit too much. But I swear sometimes those squirrels really did mock him with their loud squirrel gibberish and the occasional rain of acorns pelting the poor bastard. (And, by the way, I was Team Squirrel all the fucking way. I know. I’m a terrible person.)

Sometimes Mr. Smith would finish gathering all of his bricks back into the wheelbarrow and start toward the house when one of those little fuckers would let fly a squirrelfanity, causing Mr. Smith to slam on the brakes, wheel around and launch another brick.

He never did catch one. For all his effort, his aims never found purchase. And one day, well. One day he just stopped coming outside.

I said this was a happier tale. Damn y’all, what’d you go and make me cry for?

~

I have more squirrel tales to tell, so I’m going to end this here, as Part 1. I have at least three more mini-tales to go, but this is already quite lengthy so I’m breaking it into two parts. I’ll have the rest ready for you tomorrow!

Letters from a Happy Asshole

Dear Mom,

Did you know it was you who taught me? I bet you don’t know that, even though I told you so. You taught me so much:

  • how to smile through abuse
  • how to laugh in spite of pain
  • how to remain gentle in stormy seas

You sent me out into the world believing that it was worth enduring misfortune and pain, poverty and abuse. And so I smiled. I was such a happy child, even when my heart was heavy and I was stricken with fear and doubt. I had such a gentle and giving spirit, a ready smile for anyone. Everyone. You remember, don’t you? How I had such a hard time steering clear of strangers? It took me a little while to learn that people don’t mean well after all.

But wait, you didn’t teach me any of that, did you? When did you smile? When did any smile ever reach your eyes? When were you ever playful or joyful or ebullient? You weren’t, were you? And I forever battled your demons because you wouldn’t. No, you gave up ages ago. Before you even had us, I suspect. You know what you taught me?

  • how to keep it all in
  • how to withdraw from the world
  • how to lose faith
  • how to criticize myself and everyone else
  • how to hide my ideas, my mind
  • how to deny myself
  • how to submit
  • how to give up

Why are you so damn happy all the time?

Mom?

Stop smiling so much. There’s nothing to smile about.

But we’re alive, aren’t we?

Who cares if we’re alive? Everything hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt.

At least you have feet. (I meant it so sincerely when I said things like that to you. But you you hated it. You said it was cruel. That I was being intentionally cruel. That it’s useless to try cheering you up. Remember?)

Whatever. I’m sick to death of cleaning up after you people. I sacrifice Everything, and Nobody cares.

I care.

Whatever. Leave me alone. I’m going to bed.

whatever

I followed you to bed, putting my sister on my lap. I’m a ventriloquist now, and she’s my dummy. I used your eyeliner and lipstick to draw on her face to make her look the part.

We put on a show for you. I’m in full form now, laughing, cutting up, being a smartass. Telling jokes and making faces.

You’re laughing! It’s working! You’re crying… Oh no, now you’re crying again.

You’re so sweet. You were always so sweet. And funny. How’d you get to be so funny?
Leave me alone now. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.

You better not have ruined my makeup. And wash your sister’s face.
(Rolling over in bed now, facing the wall.) Goodnight.

I hugged you and kissed you, anyway. And I begged you to be okay. Please cheer up, mom. We love you. Doesn’t that matter more than anything?

I’m sorry.
But I did tell you to leave me alone.
Wash your sister’s face.
Goodnight.

How many days and nights did we repeat some variation of this until I gave up? I couldn’t fight your demons alone. I needed your help. How many times did you watch me sobbing for you, begging you to talk to me. Play with me. Read with me. You said I’d be better off just forgetting about you. How could you say that?

And how dare you for getting angry when I did give up trying to fix you. And how dare you for abandoning me. Yes, you taught me much.

I was such a happy little asshole. That’s what I was to you, wasn’t it? The little asshole thorn in your side who just wouldn’t quit fucking smiling no matter what life threw at her. Did you ever stop to think that I smiled for you? It doesn’t matter anymore. I was always the happy little asshole to you. The one who had the nerve to smile in the face of adversity. The one who dared ask you to be a mother.

Just do me a favor, would ya? Don’t come back. Don’t. I can’t do it again.

~

Dear Classmates,

To the little girl that broke my heart and my nerve: do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve to approach you? You looked so lonely and sad. And I was so shy. But we were both alone at recess, and I wanted to help you. I needed to make you smile.

Do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve? How difficult it was? How my heart lodged in my throat as I approached you? How much courage it took for me to ask five little words of you in the softest voice? Will you be my friend?

Do you know what it did to me when you replied,

No.

and walked away?

My little soul was crushed. I cried so very much. Do you want to know something else?

That was the last time I ever approached anyone. That was the last time I ever made the first move.

I know, now, that you were probably hurting at least as much as I was, if not more. But my little heart couldn’t see past the pain then.

To Marshall: I’m sorry I never worked up the nerve to approach you. To tell you that I knew it was you. I recognized your handwriting. On the Secret Admirer card. But I had already lost trust and faith in people. I thought it was a joke, you see. A scam. I learned later that I hurt your feelings, ignoring your gesture.

To the boy at the dance: I didn’t even want to be there. I had been forced to go. People were starting to worry…at my lack of friends and growing social anxiety. I had been made fun of far too much by now, and I couldn’t. I wanted to trust you, when you asked me to dance. But I couldn’t. I just knew it was a joke. So I went inside and stuffed my face until the party was over. That’s the first time I remember medicating with food.

~

Dear Marie,

Why did you ask me why I smile? Every day, at least once a day? You were a grownass woman in her forties. Why do you feel a need to rob a teenager of her smile?

Every day I smiled and greeted you with a happy countenance and hope for a good day. And every day, you shot me down. Confronting me in angry tones,

Why are you so happy?
I mean, really. Look at you. What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?

I woke up this morning.

Ugh.

Would you rather I told you, “This is my mask, and it helps me get through the day”? I suspect you would have liked that, to know that I shared a fraction of your misery. But no, I was too busy trying.

if_someone_is_too-48490

It took me a couple of years, but I finally stopped. Smiling at you. You didn’t deserve my smiles. But then, one day, I started smiling at you again. Out of spite. Because fuck you, that’s why.

And again, I was the Happy Asshole.

Thanks, Marie. For reminding me of her.

~

Dear James and Everyone Else I hurt in Jr. High & High School,

You told me one day, later on in high school, that I had been a bitch to you. I’m sorry. I really am.

I was afraid of you. I didn’t trust you. I never did. And I still didn’t. Hell, I still wouldn’t. Even now. I had been bitten so many times by then, that I used meanness as a defense mechanism. To keep people as far away from me as possible.

But at least I started smiling again. Greeting you. Refusing to take my pain and inner turmoil out on you and everyone else.

Thank you, for being so honest with me that day. I needed that dose of awareness. It hurt to know that I’d been hurtful. I’ll never forget it.

~

Dear You,

Please allow me – and anyone else – the right to be down sometimes. Please don’t beat me with your happy stick and try to force your idea of happiness on me.

You see, I’m fighting really hard. No, I mean it. Really fucking hard. To lift myself out of this funk. It’s a daily battle, and a tough one. And while I’m thankful for words of encouragement and positivity, it hurts when you’re dismissive. As though I don’t have the right to be down because it offends you.

I understand now, why it hurt my mother for me to say things like, “well, at least you have legs!” But I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was dismissive of her pain. I thought I was being encouraging, but all she heard was “your pain isn’t valid.”

So be encouraging of each other. Be positive. But try not to be so fucking militant about it. Just as my depression isn’t an attack on you, your positivity shouldn’t be an attack on me.

Live and let live and Kumbaya, and all that.

~

Dear Me,

You’re at risk of no longer being the Happy Asshole, but instead just an asshole. And if that happens, they win. Is that what you want?

So keep smiling at work. Keep saying goodmorning to the world and all its inhabitants. Keep telling off-color jokes and being a raging smartass. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, and it cheers you up to do it.

Don’t let them destroy the last remaining vestiges of you.

Cling to life. Cling to joy, even if you can only find scraps of moments here and there. Those scraps count. Those scraps matter. Those scraps are what keep you coming back for more.

You matter. You probably won’t think so in the morning. Or even an hour from writing this.

So keep reminding yourself. And try to believe people when they say nice things about you.

Don’t be an asshole. It’s no fun without the happy.

~

Signed,
The Happy Asshole

How’s this for a Headline: Today Sucks Ass.

Today sucks ass. Seriously. In other news, it also blows.

I have a headache from hell. And I’ve also crashed hard from whatever high I was on last week. I’m back to hating the world and, more specifically, myself.

It’s a combination of things, I’m sure. For once, I felt dread building as the weekend drew to a close. That’s simultaneously a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it means I was dreading the right thing – work – instead of how I usually dread being alone with myself on the weekends. Bad because there’s nothing I can do about it. At least not so long as I need to work in hell. I mean Corporate America.

But it’s not only work. I can also feel the onset of holiday blues. Like what seems to be the majority of people, this used to be my favorite time of year.

Not so anymore. No.

What used to be my favorite holiday and day of the year – Thanksgiving – is now a day to dread. Spending Thanksgiving alone is not something to envy, peoplleaneous. No matter how hectic or stressful your holiday with family and friends may be, please…I implore you…please never tell one of us who spends it alone that we’re lucky. Please don’t do that. Because the last thing in the world that it feels like is a stroke of good fortune.

Last year, I cooked. For the first time in a while, I did it up. Big ass turkey, cornbread dressing, pecan pies…the works. It was a great diversion while the preparations lasted, which I managed to drag out for a few days. But it was bittersweet, of course. Things like that are meant to be shared. And though I have much to be thankful for, it’s difficult to dredge those reasons up during the ultimate season of family and togetherness.

Christmas was never great for me. It was usually a time spent in stark reminder of our poverty, as children. Mother’s palpable depression and feelings of failure, vociferously lamented. Sister whining and begging for things. Brother stealing any things he wanted but didn’t receive. Me in the middle trying to soothe broken spirits and remind them of what the holiday is supposed to be about. It never worked. I can only remember two Christmases that weren’t like that, but it was still there. In the background. Until everyone just say fuckitall and stopped getting together.

And now. Years later. They’re getting together, alright. Only…I’m no longer invited. In fact, I was informed that I’m specifically uninvited. Because I won’t can’t seem to forgive him. The one I’m supposed to call father.

November has arrived, and it’s all anyone wants to talk about today. At the office. November. Thanksgiving preparations. Gift buying. Black Friday plans. Pinterest recipes.

Yeah. It’s official. I’m back on the downswing, and I’m sad. I mean, really fucking sad. Wishing I hadn’t woken up this morning sad. Angry and Anxious and Depressed and Aching from arthritis and fibro (I mean what the fuck is that, anyway). Woo. I need to shut the fuck up with this whining and find something to do.

I’m gonna write about anime later, I think. Because it’s slow at work, and my brain desperately needs diversion.