This is part 2 of a two-part essay. See “Of Mice and Mightiness (part 1)”.
Walking into my apartment that night felt like walking into a trap. I knew the mouse was there, but I couldn’t see it or hear it. Small movements still had me scuttling for a chair, but I laid my traps diligently and scrambled into my safe haven: my bed.
I was familiar enough with the next part of the drama from the books I read. Waiting. Watching. Listening. The calm before the storm. My apartment seemed to teem with little sounds that I never realized were there before. The pop of my wooden cabinets adjusting to the temperature. People next door shifting in their sleep. The refrigerator turning on and then back off again. Then, plastic rattling on the floor. I held my breath and listened. Sporadic clacking. The trap had caught its intended target.
I eased myself out of bed, breath coming in short gulps. What was I was going see when I turned the corner? I had only gotten glimpsed of the thing at this point. There was a great mass of Unknown in my kitchen, and I approached with caution.
The mouse was still struggling to get free. Its lower half had been caught in the glue, and it thrashed around in panic. It squeaked, much like I had not 24 hours before it.
If you didn’t already know, glue traps aren’t friendly. Most mice become so frantic that they break their own bones, chew off body parts, and pull joints out of sockets just to get free. I knew I had a moral duty to put it out of its misery before it started chewing off its own legs, but for several moments, all I could do was watch.
I wondered if this is what it felt like for protagonists who had pinned their enemies down and looked down at them as they begged for their lives. Caught, defeated, dismembered. Pathetic. I knew the merciful thing to do would be to put it out of its misery.
I’d like to say that I acted with cool, swift motions like the heroes I’ve admired since youth. I’d like to say that I swept up that mouse and dunked it in the bucket of water I’d prepared to drown it in. I’d like to say I didn’t make the situation worse than it already was. But of course at this point in the paragraph you know that I didn’t, so I’ll just tell you what I did do.
My first thought was to knock it out. I grabbed my tennis shoe and threw it at the entrapped rodent. It bounced off the cabinet. I sighed. I picked up the shoe, and, extending my arm to its length while keeping my body as far away as I could, bopped the mouse on the head. It let out a pitiful, soft squeak.
This was about when I started to lose it. I backpedaled and gripped my hair. My breath heaved out of my chest in rasps. I felt that mouse’s pain and suffering, its pleading for me to just get it the fuck over with. I knew I couldn’t quit here. I had to press onward, for both our sakes.
I picked up a second trap from across the room and tossed it on the mouse. I took my tennis shoe and placed it on top of the mouse sandwich, gently this time, and wedged a letter opener under the bottom trap. This absurd machination enabled me to lift the mouse up and into the water. It sunk down. I put a lid on the tupperware. I collapsed onto the floor, and I sobbed.
That was my first episode dealing with genuine fear. It wasn’t exactly the way I expected it.
Fear shunted me into a corner and chained me there. It made me feel paralyzed, as if there was nothing I could have possibly done to make things better. Every time I acted, it was as if I was pulling on those chains. I would reach out to do something, and they would yank me back again. Eventually I figured out a way to pull and move to get the key for the lock, but it was a slow, painful, and halting process. This is what made my actions so clumsy, so awkward, and in so doing, cruel.
When you see heroes in your favorite movies, TV shows, or books, it always seems like there’s a calm that comes over them. It’s as if fear is something that they come to terms with and accept, and then they go steely-eyed into their final death match.
I don’t think fear works that way. If each of those people were real, I imagine they might have spent as much time shaking, crying, and retreating as I did. The thing that makes us brave is not necessarily how we face the challenge, but that we face it. Dry-eyed or in panic-stricken tears, both who step onto the battlefield are brave.
It doesn’t mean, though, that the things we do will be right. Courage gets us into the battle. Wisdom, knowledge, and ethics tell us what to do when we get there. Those things also help us do better in the future, and I already have my plan for the next time a mouse dares to darken my door again.