the rabid squirrel

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When I was 22, I woke up one Sunday morning in my small twin bed, in my sparsely furnished apartment in Boise, Idaho, and found a quarter-sized spider bite on my forearm. I remember looking at it closely, wondering why it wasn’t painful. A bite like that should be painful. It was deep red around the edges, and raised and puffy in the middle, with two soft red lines that must have been the teeth marks, like a tiny vampire bite.

I poked at the bite a bit, sitting up in bed, and wondered if it was dangerous. It was sizable. As a university student, I had a mediocre health care plan, meaning the only coverage I had was if I visited the doctor on campus. There was an off-campus plan, but it cost a much higher co-pay, whereas the campus doctor was completely covered. I looked at the medical flyer I had on my desk from the clinic and realized they were completely closed on Sundays.

I looked at the clock, 6 am, I should call my mom for advice, but she would still be sleeping. I had church in three hours, and I was supposed to teach a lesson in Sunday School on the parables of Jesus. Was I in any danger, with the bite this size? I looked down at the floor in my room and, with a small shudder, wondered where the spider was, and how big it was.

I moved over to my desk and grabbed the phonebook, wondering if any medical clinics outside the emergency room were open this early. Then I noticed, right there on the front page, an ad for a call-a-nurse line at the local hospital to discuss medical concerns, free of charge.

I grabbed my cell phone and called up the number. After a two-minute hold, a woman answered. She had a vapid, drawling tone to her voice, and I pictured her painting her nails while she held the phone on her ear, disinterested.

“Hello, thank you for calling the nurse line. My name is Leslie. How can I help you?”

“Hi, good morning. I’m Chad. I woke up this morning with a spider bite on my arm. It–”

“Can you describe the bite for me?”

“Yes, I was just about to.”

“Go ahead then.”

“Well, it’s about the size of a quarter. It is red around the edges, and a lighter color in the center. It’s raised a bit and I think there is a liquid in it.”

“And it was a spider that bit you?”

“I think so.”

“Did you see the spider?”

“No, ma’am. I was asleep.”

“Then how do you know it was a spider?”

“I–I’m assuming it is a spider. I don’t know it was a spider.”

She didn’t change the tone of her voice at all, but I heard her sit up and grab something off a shelf. It hit her desk or table with a small thump.

“Okay, hang on, I’m turning to the bites section. Is it painful?”

“No, it doesn’t hurt at all.”

“Hang on, hang on. Burns, here we go, bites. You said you think it was a spider?”

“Yes.”

“Could you have been bit by a dog?” I heard her turn a page.

“No, it definitely wasn’t a dog.”

“A cat?”

“No! It wasn’t a cat!”

“Could it have been a bat, or a squirrel?”

I sat down in my chair with a mighty roll of my eyes. “A squirrel? You think a rabid squirrel snuck into my room while I was sleeping and bit my arm?”

Her voice took on a tone of impatience. “Look, sir, I’m trying to help you here. There is no need for sarcasm.”

I hesitated for a moment, thinking of arguments. If I stayed on the phone, I had no doubt she would continue running down her list of animals, wondering perhaps if I had been bitten by a snake, a giant mosquito, or a monkey perhaps.

Instead, I hung up the phone and called my mom, who was already awake. She gave me advice to keep an eye on the bite and call her later. Sound, reasonable, and nothing about bats or squirrels.

A few hours later, I was teaching a group of college students in my Mormon congregation about the Good Samaratin parable, and was sharing with them a poem I had written about the scripture. They were all looking down at their papers when I moved my arm just wrong against the desk and felt a puncture. I saw the contents of my spider bite shoot across the desk a few feet, like a tiny water balloon had just exploded. The liquid was completely clear, like water or saline, and had a faint odor.

As the students finished the poem, they looked up to see me gently wiping the desk with a Kleenex, none the wiser.

Fifteen years later, I still have a faint scar on my forearm from that morning’s bite.It isn’t their fault, but I blame the squirrels.

taking note

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I used to make a lot of lists in high school. I would sit int he back of the classroom and divide my attention, able to listen to the lecture and still make my lists. I would write out all of my family member’s names (and I have a lot of family members), arranging them in order of age, then in order of appearance in the alphabet. I would write them in print, then in cursive. There was something about filling the page up with blue or black ink that was intensely satisfying to me.

And when I was finished, I would crumple the paper up into a tight wad and deposit it into the trash. Or sometimes I would carefully fold the paper in half, then tear it into two pieces, then four, then eight, arrange them in a little stack and throw them away. It was all rather OCD, but not the result of any disorder. I just don’t sit still well. My friends got accustomed to the sounds of swift tears of a sheet of paper, three times per page.

Sometimes I would write out all fifty states, in alphabetical order, singing the little songs I learned in grade school that helped me memorize the order, but I would always forget one or two without fail, then have to wrack my brain in order to remember the forgotten one.

Sometimes I would come up with an animal for every letter of the alphabet, then do it again, then again, until I ran out of v (vole, vixen, vampire bat) or z (zebra, zebu, zebra fish) or x (x-ray fish, xenops, xerus). Then I might start with foods, or countries.

Sometimes I would make crossword puzzles.

Sometimes I would make up entire game shows, designing a double round of Jeopardy with trivia about my family that we could play on an event night I would plan later.

Sometimes I would list out every one of the X-Men, in the order that they joined in the comic books. The originals (Iceman, Angel, Beast), the new team from Giant-Size (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm), the New Mutants (Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Mirage), right down to the break-out teams in the 1990s (Excalibur, X-Factor, X-Force). Then I would carefully assign the people in my life a role from the team, writing their names next to the characters that best matched them, their personality traits or strengths. This one could keep me busy for days as I figured out the roles, moved them around, arranged little team-ups.

After the X-Men, I might start on the Avengers. Lay them out next to the X-Men in alphabetical order and pit them in an imaginary arena, eliminating a contestant one at a time with a single ink line until only one remained.

And then fold and wad, or fold and rip, rip, rip, then trash.

I’m 37 now and I still make lists. I have a list of every biography I have ever read, written in alphabetical order. When I read a new one, I make a new list, carefully adding the correct person in between the others. And when the new list is made, yup, I rip up the old one in the same pattern.

And now, here I am on my blog, making a list of the things I like to list. And I am at peace with my compulsions.

So, to all you listers out there, maybe some day we can make a list of ourselves.