Comment: I was a tyrant | Columns
I screamed at a possum the other night and felt bad later.
Well, actually, it was 3 a.m., and I was sitting on my steps drinking a cup of coffee when the opossum arrived, and I yelled at him to get the hell out of my yard.
I had already been up about half an hour and was eager to see the light of day and walked out to stand in my driveway and stare at the horizon as if that made the sun rise faster than it wasn’t used to, though I’m fully aware that my glare at anything in the past never had the intended effect, but doing it anyway because there’s no big -nothing else to do at 3am other than sleep, but I had already done a bit of that and couldn’t quite start my mower at that early hour, although I think as a ‘American, I should damned be allowed to mow my lawn whenever I want. I’m a good neighbor, though, and I realize—reluctantly, I admit—that societal norms sometimes trump God-given rights.
I wondered as I stood there, how many other old retired guys across our great country who also didn’t get much sleep were, at that exact moment, standing in their yard too, with a cup of coffee by hand and waiting for the sun to come up so they could start their mowers and concluded, statistically speaking, there were probably a few and of those few there was probably one or two who were wondering the same thing I was wondering.
A shooting star swept across a small portion of the sky then faded, then another did the same. I watched and waited more, ready with a wish, and when another shooting star appeared, I wished it was daylight so I could start mowing my lawn.
The sun didn’t rise, even after my wish, and then for no reason I started thinking about when my cousin, Ross, and I were out playing with GI Joes at his house. , and found us a box turtle, and he dared me to lick it, and I did. I remembered my sister, Jana, and I looking through the keyhole in our sister, Kim’s bedroom and laughing at her as she danced and sang into a hairbrush while Paul Revere and the Raiders were playing on his record player. I thought about my grandmother for a moment and the smell of her little kitchen, and it made me remember the smell of the inside of the Baptist church too. I remembered the orange and brown shag rug in our living room and the fact that no matter what time of year there were always a few stray dried needles from the previous year’s Christmas tree stuck inside. I thought about how mom used to make us cheese toast for breakfast and how if it was cold in the morning she would leave the oven door open so we could stand around and warm us up. I remembered how I used to climb onto the roof of our old farmhouse and sit with my back against the fireplace, reading Edgar Allan Poe or The Hardy Boys.
At the time, I was sitting on the front steps, comfortable with the night and looking in the direction of the hay field, wondering what I would remember next, when the opossum came, waddling down the road and into my yard.
I don’t think it depended on anything other than getting from place to place and using my yard in the process, and I certainly wasn’t alarmed by his sudden appearance, because the creatures are common passers-by in my suburban half-acre kingdom. . He was on a deliberate path, though, as if he had been down this path before, and I imagined he was on his way back after taking care of all the business he was obligated to take care of. I imagined him humming contentedly – satisfied with a good night’s work – as he strolled through my yard; humming a tune popular with opossums but unfamiliar and alien to humans. I also thought how cool it would be if opossums wore hats.
The opossum, I’m pretty sure, was unaware that he was being watched – had no reason to be, really, as indifferent, for the most part, as nature is to humans – and when he got within 20 feet of me, I hissed. I yelled at him from my spot in the dark.
I do not know why.
“Hey! Get out of my garden, opossum!”
The opossum froze, looked around, uncertain, as if perhaps I was talking to another opossum.
“I’m serious! Get out of my yard!
The opossum, not wanting trouble I suppose, took a few steps back, then turned and – with as much grace and dignity as possums possess – walked out of my yard, crossed the road and disappeared in the hay field.
I felt like a tyrant.
It wasn’t my proudest moment.