Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This One is for Kristi and Sheila

My first-grader and I are bonding over our mutual disgust for opossums as she reads about them in her new Ranger Rick magazine.

A long time ago I was startled by a dirty, greasy opossum standing by the bushes near our apartment building in the middle of Chicago, right there in the city, at six-thirty a.m. as I hustled to our car to head to my ridiculously hard residency/internship for my clinical psychology doctoral degree. The reason I was so startled was that I had no idea what kind of animal I was having an urban standoff with. And how often, as an adult, in your normal daily life, are you faced with an animal you cannot identify? I seriously had no idea.

I eyed the greasy opossum, the greasy opossum eyed me, and I crept sideways past it as calmly as I could, running through possibilities in my mind: mole? mutant raccoon? Good God, WHAT IN THE WORLD?

As soon as I got to the hospital, I threw my stuff down in the closet-sized cave that passed as an intern office and ran to find my fellow interns, bombarding them with my crazy tale of the sudden appearance of a mystery animal just off Cornelia and Pine Grove, right there by the sidewalk, the size of a large cat, but with a pointy, pokey nose and a long, pink, rat-like tail. And greasy, dirty, gray-white fur. And of course my native-Chicago, fellow-intern friend Sheila immediately pronounced, "Possum." All matter-of-fact and blase. And I was, like, "Possum?! What are we, in the Ozarks or something?! This a major urban landscape! We are in the third largest city in the country! Aren't opossums supposed to be hanging upside down by their tails in the woods somewhere?" And Sheila told me there were opossums all over the city, that they love to eat garbage but since they only come out at night, you rarely see them.

Of course I was horrified and haunted by images of encountering that greasy, dirty possum and its beady, piggy eyes and sharp little teeth and long, smooth tail in the bushes near my building under cover of darkness some evening as I came home from my internship, exhausted and caught off guard and expecting to see nothing more exotic than squirrels and the occasional escapee cat.

This is what my daughter reads aloud to me, now, 12 years later: "When an opossum is scared, it releases a stinky green fluid from its rear end that makes it smell dead."

I am so, SO glad I did not know that fact 12 years ago.

2 comments:

Rita said...

Eeeew! That's disgusting!

And I thought my husband had cornered the market on Dead-Smelling-Butt-Stink.

Laura said...

Ugh. I am terrified of possums - we had them in our apartment complex in the middle of Dallas and we have them in the suburb we moved to. I'm convinced that one lives in the bush by the back door. I hate going outside at night. What a grownup, huh?

Somehow, the smell thing is comforting. Like, I'll know when I've pissed it off. Until then, I'll keep reminding myself that I'm a lot bigger than it. (Did Ranger Rick have a picture of the teeth? Scary!)