By Brianne DeRosa
Last summer, the deck on the back of our house finally rotted through. The planks on the lower level, increasingly springy for a number of years, at last gave way. My son put his foot through them on his way to guitar lessons. The dog got stuck too.
Soon, the steps started to rock, and then crumble, falling planks chasing the feet that tried to race down the still-stable parts. With them went our major point of entry and exit, and our house became a sad little island I was almost afraid to leave by the strange, seldom-used front door.
When the first subtle signs of rot started to appear, my youngest son had just started kindergarten. He and his brother, a second-grader, learned to dance gently around the soft boards.
One day on our walk to school, the kids and I were crossing the street when our neighbor approached me with her cell phone in hand. “Did you hear?” she asked, and I hadn’t.
I was standing in the middle of the busy crosswalk, cars honking impatiently at me, when I found out there had been a shooting threat made against my kids’ elementary school. By the time the information fully sunk in, and I dashed to the relative safety of the sidewalk, my boys and the neighbor’s kid were half a block ahead of us, backpacks bobbing as they ran towards the schoolyard gate.
It was the contractor, the one I’d called to fix the deck, who told me about the squirrels.
“See that?” he asked, pointing up to the back corner of the house, right above where the steps had been. There was a sizeable hole, the eaves literally chewed away. I could see the teeth marks on the red-painted shingles that remained.
One of the squirrels poked his head out of the big hole and chattered at us. Holes everywhere, I thought, if you only know where to look for them.
As it turned out, we weren’t done looking yet.
“See that?” The pest company guy asked, showing me the photo he’d snapped with his phone. While he was investigating the squirrels, he’d found a massive hole in the roof. Insulation was popping out.
The dog hurled himself against the back sliding door. I let him outside and watched him skid to a halt at the edge of the deck, looking over into the abyss where the stairs and lower level had been. He howled with futility.
Taking stock of the broken shreds of our home, so did I.
I’m getting ready to walk my sons to school. I head out the back door, down to the newly installed stairs and across the fresh stone patio.
Today, it seems they are both covered with shreds of wood, like a spray of shrapnel.
Fourteen teenagers and three teachers are dead who were not dead a few weeks ago. And I am about to walk my kids to school.
I collapse on the steps and try to catch my breath. A squirrel climbs the fence in my peripheral vision, watching me. I imagine a gang of others lie in wait.
There are holes everywhere, if you know where to look.
At the schoolyard gate where I am about to leave my children, they are revealed to me as if in freeze frame. Walking backwards so they can tell me one last thing. I am conscious of trying to fix their smiles in my memory, of noticing their nearly-outgrown winter jackets and their frayed backpacks and fresh new sneakers. These, I realize, are the things that would be returned to me, if today was the day they were shot at school.
A squirrel climbs the tree next to me on the path. I watch my children until they have entirely vanished from my view, and then I begin my walk home, to step over the shrapnel and grieve.
You make a home safe and snug and dry, but what does that leave you with?
Cedar shingle shrapnel, sprayed around your little island like bullets sprayed in a classroom.
Fourteen teenagers and three teachers are dead who were not dead a few weeks ago, and my house is falling apart, and my children are at school.
I let the dog out to chase the squirrels, admiring his resilience in the face of futility. As they scatter away from his furious barking, I wonder—cringing at the irony of the turn of phrase—just how many bullets we can dodge before our luck runs out.
There will always be squirrels.
There will always be bullets.
There will always be grief.
And yet I sip my coffee and wait until it is time for my kids’ school dismissal, just like I did four years ago, when the deck was starting to become only a little soft beneath our feet. Tomorrow I will ask my husband to cut back the tree branches, and I’ll call a contractor to patch the squirrel holes. Again. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.
Tomorrow I will walk my boys to school again and leave them there in a world where squirrels are eating away at our security and 14 teenagers and three teachers are dead who were not dead a few weeks ago.
Just like so many other days in America.
Brianne K. DeRosa is a work-from-home mother who can most often be found, these days, soliciting recommendations for squirrel removals, writing letters to her representatives, and generally shaking her fist at the state of her home and the world.
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