“Just smash it over the head…” reasoned my fiancé Meg as I stood over the writhing, miserable outline of an opossum wheezing under a trash bag. “Hurry!”
My gaze shifted from the opossum outline over to our dog Jasper, who watched curiously at a distance, his tail wagging madly with the tiniest hint of blood dabbed on the corner of his triumphant snout. Only an hour ago, I had made it to our new home on a farm just outside of Edmond, Oklahoma and already, I was seconds from my first mercy kill.
After fifteen years living in the competitive chaos of Los Angeles, life on a farm sounded wildly appealing. Each morning, I imagined waking up and sitting down to write. I’d look out over the bucolic rolling hills toward the little fishing hole where bass leaped after dragonflies. The dogs would play in the front yard and cardinals and chickadees would gather at the strategically placed bird feeders. Perhaps a solitary deer might wander across my periphery, offering friendly wink and a smile as inspiration poured out from my soul and onto the page. Meg would bake pies while studying for her Masters and at sunrise each morning, we’d hop on our respective steeds and ride from pasture to pasture as bluebirds dipped and weaved to the cadence of Morning Mood.
In Los Angeles, we had lived in a tiny house on a busy street. Our landlord, a high strung, but cheerful man named Massoud who managed always to have at least one visible booger and never stopped wearing gloves, lived in a shed in the backyard with his friendly but terrifying pit bull Bo-bo. While Bo-bo was nice to humans, Bobo was rather territorial so our dogs, for the two years we lived in that house, were left with a tiny piece of fenced front yard to call their own. A great space for a Chihuahua but a far cry from enough space for a German Shepherd and Jasper the little brown dog to have any kind of life. Now though, life on the farm would not only be better for Meg and I but better for the dogs as well.
The night of our arrival to Oklahoma was enchanting. A skunk skittered away as we pulled into the long driveway for the first time and as we stepped outside the car after a fifteen hundred mile drive, the silence felt as infinite as the millions of stars twinkling overhead. While our house, spare a bed and a table, was completely empty, there was an undeniable magic about returning home with a woman you love after fifteen years of delaying adulthood in sunny southern California under the guise of chasing your dreams.
Once unloaded, we moved to the back porch to take in the night and celebrate the arrival to our new life. Sandy the German Shepherd disappeared to the fence line and Jasper found himself drawn to the woodpile. Meg got up to go to the restroom and for a moment, I sat on the porch to consider how enormously my life, in the last few months had changed. I’d walked away from Hollywood and a city I’d called home for fifteen years. I’d traded in an ocean for horse pastures and for the first time in many years, had no idea what was going to happen in my life, but more so, for the first time in many years, I felt at peace. Life on a farm was going to be good.
For only a moment, I basked in this new sense of well being, when from behind the woodpile, was a horrific blend of bark, scuffle, a hiss and a half dozen thuds. I rushed around the corner to find Jasper the little brown dog now standing proudly over a not quite dead, rasping opossum. The fiendish looking critter’s beady eyes went from Jasper to me, back and forth as blood dripped from its fanged mouth, wheezing like a tea kettle. I pulled the dog back from the demon opossum. I did the only thing I knew to do…
She didn’t answer and now Jasper was lunging forward to play with his new and dying best friend.
“Meg!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed again.
Meg came running out from the bathroom as I wrestled Jasper back into the house. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Jasper just tried to kill an opossum,” I said wide-eyed.
We stood over the opossum for a couple of minutes, dumbstruck. “Maybe it will just crawl away,” I reasoned as the opossum sputtered.
Meg examined the critter as it slowly inhaled and exhaled. “It’s in pain,” she said in a manner both clinical and compassionate. Now Jasper watched, tail wagging, from the living room window and Sandy licked her chops.
“I mean, they don’t call it playing ‘opossum’ for nothing,” I said hoping the situation would just end and I could go back to imagining bluebirds and sunrises. “Its probably fine. We should just leave it.”
Meg shook her head. “You have to kill it,” she said.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Me?!?”
“It’s going to die anyway!” I protested.
“But it is in pain,” she said now close to tears.
“Then you kill it!”
“No. You have to do these kinds of things.”
“I don’t kill things!”
She looked at me with grave concern. “It is the best for the opossum.”
“It’s not the best for me!” I said, thinking of the guilt I’d felt with the coot and the mockingbird. “How am I supposed to kill it anyway? It’s not like we have a gun.” Meg’s eye wandered to the woodpile the opossum once called home. I knew exactly what she was thinking.
The log felt off balance in my hand as I stood above the opossum, now mercifully covered by a trash bag. I try talk myself through it. “I wanted to live on a farm, so now I live on a farm… I’m a man, after all and I’m doing this thing a favor. Plus, opossums aren’t cute. They are devil things!”
“Make sure you hit it on the head,” Meg said, interrupting my internal pep talk. “Hard.”
“This was supposed to be a romantic, special night, you know!” I said, annoyed.
“Hard!” she reiterated.
“I know!” I said, trying to stay calm. “I got this.”
“It is for the good of the opossum,” she said.
“It’s for the good of the opossum!”
And with that, I lifted the log mightily above my head, said a small “opossum prayer” and brought down the mighty log with authority.
The once passive, feeble opossum fired to life. It hissed, casting us an evil glance and sprinted away from us as quickly as dying opossum could. While I had brought the log down with thunder, I had missed the opossum almost entirely, hitting it just enough to piss it off and send it running for safety.
“What did you do?” Meg screamed at me.
“I hit it over the head with a log!”
“You barely even dropped the log!” she fired back as the opossum moved toward the fence.
The opossum took off into the black void of the yard as my heart raced.
“I Did the best I could,” I stated weakly.
“You barely hit its tail!”
“At least I hit it!”
“You were supposed to smash it until it was dead!”
“Smash it!?!?! Like more than once?”
“Yes! Repeatedly! Until it is dead!”
Meg picked up the trash bag and took off toward the opossum now hiding in the corner of the yard.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to take care of this,” she boldly said leaving me standing there trembling like the soft city boy I had always been.
“Do you want the log?” I asked.
Thirty minutes later, we walked to the edge of the woods, the opossum now squirming wildly in the trash bag. With a few sticks, a lot of swear words and some frayed nerves, we had managed to scoop the thing up into the trash bag and decided that instead of clubbing it repeatedly over the head, that perhaps it would be better to set it free into the woods. It had been wounded but neither of us were vets. Perhaps, in a couple of days, the opossum would recover and tell his friends about the time he outsmarted a dog and a dumbass with a log. That was, at least, what I would tell myself.
As the opossum’s bustling through the woods finally settled, we stood there for a moment staring into the darkness of the forest. With a two-day drive across the country my life had changed forever. Morning would come in a few short hours and I would wake up to the quiet and calm of the country, my childhood home only twenty-five miles away. A life I’d known for fifteen years a million miles away. The lights from our new house glowed behind us. I was far from a country boy but I was now, I was certainly in the country.
“We need to get a gun,” I said finally.
“A gun?” Meg asked incredulous.
“You know, in case something like that happens again.”
“You don’t know how to shoot a gun,” Meg fired back.
“I’ve shot a pellet gun before.”
Meg turned toward the house and began to walk.
“I killed a mockingbird… And once I killed a coot with a golf ball.”
When we got back to the house, the dogs were thrilled to see us. It was like we’d been gone a lifetime. The house was empty but already we’d piled on a memory. The empty house was becoming a home. It is amazing how quickly it happens. I stepped outside and once again, the yard was quiet. Life was certainly different now. In the sky, a million stars. Meg came out beside me.
“You wouldn’t have smashed that thing either, you know,” I said, searching for some kind of validation.
“Of course not,” Meg said. “That’s why I have you.” While I had failed to kill the opossum, something about her faith put me at ease for my shortcoming.
“You think it is going to be okay?” I asked.
“It’s all gonna be good,” she said. “Let’s go to bed.”