Requiem for a Squirrel

Photo Credit: National Geographic

I remember that day like it was yesterday.  I was twenty-two and recently graduated.  I drove a six-cylinder 1986 Taurus, but it was beaten up and drove like a two-cylinder.  Everyday I drove to work, where people would pretend not to notice just how loud the muffler was.  I worked for pennies, but the job had good benefits and paid the rent.  I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, and my life was a sequence of solitary events, sleeping, working, eating, and driving.

I remember the drive back and forth vividly.   Usually, I was running late.  If I turned right out of my apartment complex I could hop on the freeway, and drive 90 mph.  However, I always hit every light when I took that route.  If I went the other direction, I couldn’t drive as fast, but there was very little traffic and fewer lights.  Sometimes, I would take that route solely because it was less stressful.

That particular day, I decided to go the less stressful route.  I turned left.  Luckily, I wasn’t going too quickly because two baby squirrels darted right into my path.  I slammed on the brakes, and barely missed them.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved my foot back to the gas pedal.  And one squirrel doubled back at the exact same time…

Traumatized, but running late, I drove to work.

It was completely surreal, and I felt horrible.  How could I have killed something, especially when I had tried so hard to avoid it?  Once parked, I checked the car carefully.  My car didn’t have a single speck of blood on it, but the squirrel plagued me.  It disturbed me how easy it was to kill something, even accidentally.  I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn baby squirrel.

During that period of my life, all it took was a sad song on the radio for me to tear up.  Open wounds have a way of making everything more salient, even rodents.

Two days later, I was back in my car, and rushing off to work.  At the last possible minute, I remembered I had a training that day, and headed to the training center instead of the office.  I got there just before 8:30.  There were four of us, but the instructor never showed up that day.  We waited until 8:50, when Linda from personnel told us we were free to leave.  I climbed into my car, and began to drive back to the office.

I flipped on the radio, but there was no music on any of my usual stations.  The announcer was saying that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  Completely shocked, I pictured the WTC as I had last seen it and the busy street below the observation deck.  All I could picture was the sheer amount of shrapnel that must have been falling on people.  When I arrived at the office, the receptionist had the radio on as well.  “Can you believe it?” she said.  Stunned, I shook my head, muttered something about the impact of falling objects, and headed to my cubicle.

Ten minutes later, the receptionist poked her head in to tell us that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  By then, I had an internet browser open, and was reading an article about terrorism.  Several supervisors were gathered near her desk.  My supervisor came in to tell us that we might be sent home for the day.

Although very little was said, the feeling of unease was palpable throughout the office.  I called a friend who lived in NY, whose uncle was often at the WTC for business, and asked her if she and her family were okay.  She said they were.  I continued to browse the internet, and ignored the piles of work sitting on my desk.  No one else in the office appeared to be working either.  All flights had been cancelled, and all sorts of rumors were swirling about other flights and other threats, including warnings to avoid shopping malls and other large public places.

At 9:45 the receptionist came in to tell us that a third plane had crashed, this time into the Pentagon.  At 10, my boss received a call from her supervisor, and sent us all home.  I considered driving to my parent’s house, but instead headed home to my empty apartment where luckily I had no cable or internet.  I spent most of the day absent-mindedly reading Virginia Woolf, whom I don’t even like.  My mother called several times and I assured her that I was perfectly fine, even though the whole world had just shifted.  Suddenly, the squirrel seemed tiny, like a single drop of blood on a battlefield of cruel and unfair.

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This piece is for Trifecta’s  333-3333 word challenge.  

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I later found out from a friend that he spent the morning avoiding looking out his window.  He worked in midtown Manhattan, and could see the towers from his office.

Where were you?

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16 Responses to Requiem for a Squirrel

  1. Lumdog says:

    I like the way you told the story in such a matter of fact style. Very understated recounting of a horrible day.

  2. This is a beauty, Lovely. It resonates with me not just because of 9/11 but because I remember trying to rescue a baby squirrel that had fallen from his nest, but he died in my hand before I could get him some help. I buried him under a tree in Washington Square Park and bawled my eyes out.

    • Thank you Madame. It’s interesting because we see roadkill all the time, but we almost never see it happen. And that part is traumatizing, especially when it’s a baby and just doesn’t have any recourse. (Since I entered this piece in a contest, I don’t want to say too much more. I want everyone to be able to come to their own conclusions.)

    • I am proud to report no furry creatures have died on my watch. However, a snail did once. And many earthworms too. I can’t save all of them when it rains and they get washed out of the lawns 😦

  3. Peaches says:

    Very powerful. Better than any of those pieces my creative writing instructor made us read about 9/11 and they were all like 20 times as long. I need to take my own advice and your good example..shorter is often better.

    • I’ve been really been back and forth on this piece. I’ve expanded it. I’ve tried shortening it. In some ways the story could go on forever… but less can be more too. Aside from Fight 93 & the World Trade Center movies, which were both powerful, I haven’t read or seen too many accounts.

  4. Annabelle says:

    I remember that day too, I think we all do. Having been in NYC for it, I’ve never felt the urge to watch any of the movies. Our own stories were more than enough.

  5. ” Open wounds have a way of making everything more salient, even rodents.” “like a single drop of blood on a battlefield of cruel and unfair”

    I love the way the memoir drew me to examine the impact of everything. The impact of vehicle on squirrel, of plane on building. Falling objects, fallen animals. Virginia Woolf (who you don’t even like).

    Well written, and I enjoyed reading it very much.

    • Thanks Jester Queen. Those were the two lines I liked best too. Someone told me once that anything that was a great first line would also make a great last line and vice versa…

  6. El Guapo says:

    Very well told, L&L. I think it’s one of those things where you remember all the details of what was going on when you found out.

  7. trifectawriting says:

    I hit a cat once–actually, it was my husband who hit it, but I was in the car, too–and it stayed with me. It became a metaphor, though not for anything as large-scale as what you have here. This is really beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Thanks, yes, it does stay with you in the strangest way regardless of the animal. That whole period was surreal, as no one knew what was going to happen. There was such unease everywhere; it’s difficult to adequately capture that feeling.

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