My sister just visited for a long weekend and it was fabulous. What was not fabulous was that minutes after she arrived at my house for the very first time, my scrappy little terrier mix caught a chipmunk and started flipping it around the yard.
"I think Kima has something," my sister said while eyeing the edge of woods with suspicion.
"Yeah...what is that?"
Initially, I thought she just had a wide stick or large piece of mulch. And then I saw it bend the way only a little furry body can when it is being launched in the air and batted like a toy.
"Kima!" I yelled as I marched across the squishy grass. She came immediately. Instinct had run out and she didn't know what she was ultimately "supposed" to do after catching a critter. I dragged her and her 85-pound hound mix "brother" into the sun room where my sister and youngest daughter were watching.
"What did she have?' my sister, who lives in south Philly, wondered. She was already on nature overload.
"I don't know yet. I'm going to go see."
I trudged back across the yard to the treeline where the victim lay. I knew it would still be alive and I hoped it was merely stunned or playing possum to avoid further injury. I thought getting the dogs inside would give it some time to recover and it would hop right up and run off. I was wrong.
I soon saw that my dog had caught and slobbered a chipmunk. The poor thing looked like it had been through a hurricane. It's fur was plastered this way and that and its once poofy tail was thin as a string. He was still breathing. His eyes were even open. But it was clear that the bottom half of the animal was broken.
Immediately, it crossed my mind that I should kill him and put him out of his misery all while simply skipping a few steps to his soon-to-be demise. Instead, I headed to the garage to fetch gloves and a box. I picked him up gently and placed him inside it.
I brought him over to the four curious eyes of my sister and my daughter, one of whom had muttered, "You picked him up?!?"
My sister refused to look, but my daughter was willing.
"I should probably kill him, right? What do you think? But I don't think I can do it. No, I just can't."
I pictured a few possible scenarios in which I did end the life of the tiny thing. But that sealed it for me. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. Maybe my husband would when he got home.
For four hours I checked on the chipmunk. Every time he was still alive. A few of the times he would crawl, dragging his legs behind him. Other times he appeared to be very still yet quivering and I assumed the end was near. Still other times, he appeared to be cleaning or scratching himself as if it were business and usual.
When my husband got home he said he would toss him over the fence into the neighboring lot of woods owned by a house so far behind us we had never seen it or any of its residents.
"Will that kill him?" I asked, obviously more than obsessed with the fate of this rodent.
"I don't plan to throw him that hard."
After a bit of debate, I decided I should do it. I had forced the thing to live all this time, I deserved to do the deed. I put on the gloves and opened the box. He was bright eyed and moving around. I instantly balked and began to cry. How could I leave him to die?
"What would you rather do?" My husband asked not cruelly, but practically. The fact of the matter was that this was a wild animal, more or less broken in half and doomed. I had to just let nature take its course, in nature. I had possibly prolonged his life by stressing him out in a strange white box and adding unnecessary adrenaline to his already aching body.
His question did the trick. I swallowed my sadness, picked up the weightless wad and placed him under a tall, leafy weed on the far side of the fence. For hours after, I fought the urge to go peek at him, but I held firm. Through tears I commented on how silly I was being.
But the truth is life is made up of moments like these: loss, change, growth, grief. Ends, but also beginnings, good and hard and awful and awesome and everything in between. Life is made up of little deaths. And that damn chipmunk reminded me of that.
In retrospect, I think its OK that I didn't have the guts to kill him. But I did hold on to him for selfish reasons. Eventually, I saw the need to put the chipmunk to bed. I got there. And so did he. I hope minimal damage was done.