23 1 / 2012
Dear readers, I am once again horrendously late writing this post, but I have an excellent tried-and-true excuse: I’ve been suffering from an existential crisis. For those of you who may not have been on a college campus recently, the existential crisis is as common among undergrads as Mono. Sartre seminars spread the malady like shared Solo cups at an environmentally-friendly Frat party. As with most things other than developing ulcers and a penchant for hard candies, I am a late-bloomer, so perhaps, this is why I have been struck with a case of existentialism almost a year after graduating.
I think it’s just that there were always concrete worries and legitimate concerns to occupy my thoughts in college-like how was I going to fulfill my natural science distribution requirement or find a burrito place open past 3 am. Now, though, I get more regular sleep hours, and I sit at a desk in a generally calm workspace with ample time to let my mind drift. While my blood pressure and bowels have gratefully improved, my emotional health has hit the skids.
With more time to ponder and smell the daisies, I’ve wracked my brains with worries about life that are pretty much impossible to answer: How do I lead a fulfilling life? Where do I find my happiness? Is George Clooney starting to get on my nerves and am I emotionally ready to admit that to myself?
Moreover, I am starting to worry that the baby steps towards independence that I made in the stark wilderness of dorm life are escaping me. Doing my own laundry, procuring my own alcohol, and (infrequently) remembering to pick up rolls of toilet paper from the mailroom all built the miniscule amount of practical self-reliance expected from an Ivy League graduate.
And just as I’ve learned how to hang a curtain rod, I’ve lost my sea legs on the ship of life. I am grappling with the fact that when the chips are down, I am absolutely futile. Not only futile, but as absolutely weak and useless as a seven year-old. And no, not the crazy cool seven year olds that climb Mount Everest or Kiernan Shipka (my role model), but the super annoying, helpless kind, the ones that cry when you drop them off at Hebrew school and still struggle not to wet their pants. And yes, in case you had a single second of doubt, I was of the latter category.
Lo and behold, I am regressing! The cushy life of living at home with people who make you tea when you’re sick, fill your drawers with plenty of clean underwear, and are always eager for a drinking buddy to take to expensive sports events and/or Dead concerts (hi, Daddy) have led to my sorry state of cotton candy fortitude.
In the cruelest twist of irony known to mankind or Alanis Morissette, what set off this brutal self-realization was actually a critter attack in my own home… the very kind of vermin infestation for which I had criticized New York City in my last post. Let me tell you, nothing confirms your worst fears about your immaturity and mental instability like surrendering your house to a creature based solely on a screeching noise.
Wait, dear reader, I am getting ahead of myself without properly setting the scene. It was a serene Sunday morning as my brothers and I were gathered on our couch in our pajamas. We were like a Saturday Evening Post cover if Norman Rockwell had included Chris Berman’s head glowing on a 60-inch screen TV and everyone wore bar mitzvah sweatpants.
I must admit that I was feeling a particularly strong surge of sisterly authority. My mother was out visiting our elderly grandfather in the hospital, and our father was engaged in the equally noble act of a paddle tennis match. I was left in charge and became Erma Bombeck for half an hour. I made fresh French Toast and omelettes, I sort of loaded the dishwasher, and then I began on the one task my mother actually asked of me: getting my brother Ethan to do his homework. I felt like Ali, ready to step into the ring, which is the kind of delusional self-confidence needed when interacting with Ethan.
I got up in front of my brothers and launched into a Brady Bunch speech about the importance of doing homework. The blank stares in response led the speech to go increasingly in the way of The Sopranos. After spewing premium cable-level profanity and banging my shoe against our coffee table I went to my last option. In a move that some might call daring, others suicidal, I turned off the television.
At that first moment of silence I heard it. The squeaky screech, then a squaw. Never has a more terrifying sound been heard in the Shire, except the chandelier-breaking shriek I then unleashed. In my state of blind terror, I screamed, my brothers claim, “Did you see that?!!!!!” rather than “Did you hear that?!!!!!!!” I stress this because no, I never actually saw this creature, but that’s a good thing because considering how I reacted to the sound of it, the sight would have sent me into an irreversible catatonic state.
Apparently my stress-induced loss of cognitive capabilities was highly contagious. As I screamed and ran up the stairs as fast as I could, my brother Matt sprinted up shortly behind me deciding to take a laptop on 1% battery, but neglecting the charger right next to him. Ethan one-upped him by deciding to eschew his two older siblings and run out the door barefoot. BTW, it was less than 20 degrees outside. I did not notice any of this though until I slammed the door of my parents’ bedroom and realized I was missing: a cell phone, a phonebook, a working laptop, and a little brother.
I was up a you-know-what creek without a paddle…and as my fellow Troop 1972 Girl Scouts can attest, I can’t hold my own in a canoe even with the best oar.
In a time like this, I decided to call the one number engrained in me since I was in nursery school, 9-1-1. At the same time, I chose to actively ignore Ethan’s cries to open the door, which had locked behind him. Yes, I know this is the point of the story when I am officially disqualified from the Sister of the Year award, but you know what? In these stressful times, it is every man for himself. Blood may be thicker than water but it’s no match for irrational fear.
Besides, in my defense, I banged on our window to try to get Ethan’s attention and let him know that I was too afraid to open the door and to give up hope … for a sister with a backbone, for a house that doesn’t resemble the Bronx Zoo, etc.
Before you get your panties in a bunch, my brother Matt completely manned up and got Ethan while I was on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator. That conversation was a real gem as I spiraled from fake calm into pull-out-all-the-stops desperate pleas, which the assuring 9-1-1 operator ignored.
Nothing kills your faith in civic government like speaking to a 9-1-1 operator. It’s not fair to blame them-don’t shoot the messenger. But damn it all to hell, speaking to this fool made me wonder where my/my parents’ tax dollars were going. Here’s the rundown:
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: Hello, this is 9-1-1.
ME (frantic but pretending to be calm): Hello, Sir, I have a slight problem. I heard an animal in my fireplace, and I am very nervous and taking care of my two brothers.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: Well, I’m sorry, Miss, but there’s nothing we can do.
ME (phase one of losing my shit): Wait, what? I could really use Animal Control or someone to come help us out.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: I’m sorry, but we only send Animal Control when it involves a dog.
ME (a glass case of emotions): Who said it wasn’t a dog? Please, sir, I am very, VERY scared and need help.
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: I can give you the name of an animal trapper. He probably won’t pick up, but leave a message, and he usually calls back pretty quickly.
ME (pulling my best Fatal Attraction Glenn Close “I will not be ignored”): Sir, our parents are gone, and we are three children, left alone and terrified! Please, I don’t know what to do!
INCOMPETENT, HEART-OF-STONE OPERATOR: The trapper’s number is 428-3178.
Click. Not even a “goodbye.”
Now, reader, you may have some fair bones to pick with your trusty narrator, such as “Emily, a 22 year old fails to count as a child, and neither does the 18 year old college freshman. The 14 year old offensive lineman is pushing it, too.” To that I say, a) desperate times call for desperate measures-did you not read the part about my leaving my brother outside to rot barefoot in freezing temperatures? and b) at that moment, I honestly felt like a child. Sitting in a room, cut off from helpful technology and left to my own resources, I could do didley squat.
What kind of adult was I? I could not deal with a woodland critter, and I could not protect my family. If I was so inept when dealing with a mouse/mole/mutant Brooklyn rat (heaven forbid), how would I hold my head in the world and deal with a robber, a landlord, or IRS agent (in that order of scariness)?
As my brothers and I insulated ourselves in our parents’ bedroom, I kept thinking how is this any different from the way we would have reacted ten years ago? I probably had slightly better phone skills and we couldn’t all fit on my parents’ bed this time around, but that was it; the bottom line was that we, ultimately, bolted ourselves up as we waited for our parents to come home, just as we would have a decade earlier.
Ethan blocked the door with chairs and heavy frames, assuming the critter was at least four feet tall and had opposable thumbs, and I had no idea what to do next. I stood there in my PJs feeling absolutely and utterly pathetic.
I take comfort knowing that a lot of mature, fine, and completely functional adults would not react well to domestic vermin, but they also would probably know when to grow a pair and not surrender their entire house to a rodent. This isn’t France, for goodness’ sake!
It was not until my father VERY begrudgingly came home that I braved returning to the scene of the critter’s crime. As I sit now writing this, I wonder why his presence made it okay. Yes, part of it was that his total lack of fear was reassuring. However, even more, I realize how much of a sense of protection I feel when I am around him and my mom. Even after being at school and traveling abroad alone, it’s taken just a few months to soften the weak backbone I grew.
I know this may sound overly dramatic, and I am projecting a lot of my own fears. I’ve often said my mother and I can be a little Grey Gardens-ish, and I would be lying if my inability to successfully cope with this rodent didn’t raise some of those anxieties (in regards to both attachment issues and the crazy amounts of cats and critters living in their house).
I used to want to move out of my parents’ house to have my own space and freedom. As I have grown more accustomed to the comforts of living at home, I think moving out may be a necessity, a kick in the butt to drive my independence into high gear. At the very least, it would certainly give me practice with dealing with rodents.