This happened a couple of weeks ago, but I hope never to forget it. Certain moments in a man’s life transform him from what he was, happily shallow and pleasantly complacent, into what he can be, a warrior or a healer or even a poet. In the great opening line (and it was all downhill from there) of David Copperfield, Dickens wrote “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
The event that this weblog describes did not show me to be the hero of my own life, but it awakened within me a new idea of heroism, one that does not revolve around watching things happen and making smart remarks, but a heroism of action. Peter Parker saw his uncle killed when he could have prevented it. Oliver Stone lived through Vietnam. I survived my Night of the Hunters.
It was early in the morning and Aimee first heard it. She woke me with the question, “What is that, a bug?” I drowsily listened. It certainly sounded like a bug, there was a floppy sort of moth-like sound moving around in the pitch black, followed by the unmistakable din of Nine chasing something. Flippty-flippty… then a biddaba-Plop as Nine pounced. “I think it’s a moth, go back to sleep,” my flabby and complacent self was about to utter, when the thing began to shriek.
The last time I went to the dentist (2002), she had a new tool to clean teeth. Rather than dipping that little spinning barrel into the Nasty Stuff and scouring, she used a sonic emitter to dislodge plaque and the odd shrimp exoskeleton lodged ‘twixt my molars. It was less irritating than the spinning barrel thingy, but it created quite a clamor. Our intruder made just such a noise. Leaping, or rather leaning, into action, I reached over and turned on the lamp. This was no moth. Our rest was not interrupted by an exciting but fairly routine exercise in lepidoptery. We had been visited by a bat.
Nine (who is, of course, always already the hero of her own lives) was chasing it about the room, knocking it out of the air, and leaping upon it. For her, this was equivalent of the circus unexpectedly turning up for an impromptu performance in her home. There was no need to actually kill the bat, as she wasn’t hungry and such a course would necessarily end the circus, so she pleased herself by knocking it out of the air, pouncing upon it, and then politely stepping back and, in a sort of good-sportsmanlike way, waiting for it to resume flapping about the room. The bat, of course, protested the very basis of her sport in what may well be the most caustic dialect of the animal kingdom, bat blasphemy.
I like bats, in their place. I like that they eat insects and, rather than birds who just swoop along and hope to run into bugs, are maneuverable enough to actually change course to intercept. I like that they’re so well-evolved that they live pretty much everywhere and make up 20% of all species of mammals. But I also like them to be outside. My previous experience with the various animals Nine has captured (mice, birds, and squirrels) has taught me the single most important device in wounded animal transport: the plastic shopping bag. I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed one from the never-ending supply in the cupboard ‘neath the sink. I rushed back to the bedroom and made for the bat. “Very few bats have rabies,” I recited to myself that which I had learned from a trail-side sign in Bend, Oregon. “Those that do tend not to be aggressive,” I added. It was no good, I needed protection.
While Aimee tried to make herself very small and horrified, and Nine continued to abuse the bat, I whipped on a pair of nitrile gloves. Proof against blood-borne pathogens, proof against general ickiness, and enough of a barrier for my piece of mind. Taking up my trusty Hy-Vee bag I entered the bedroom and waited for my chance. There! Nine had grounded the bat. Swiftly I knocked the cat aside and covered the bat with my bag. Nine stood to one side, interested. This was a new twist on what was already the best game ever.
I gently gathered the bag around the suddenly silent bat and gathered it up. Considering it had an approximately 12-foot wingspan, it weighed surprisingly little. Nary a noise did it make as I scuttled through the house and to the back door. “It’s mortally wounded,” I thought. “Poor thing, Nine was just too much for it. I’ll have to use the brick (my other tool in the disposal of Nine’s mostly-dead victims).”
I went through the back door, opened the bag, and waited for its humongous body to thump on the ground. A tiny whisper of a swoop tickled my face, and the bat was gone.
Where had it come from? How did it get into our bedroom? Could we use it as a reason to discount our next month’s rent? Mostly unanswerable questions. On Aimee’s side of the bed there’s a big (and scary) air return from the basement. Could that have been its point of egress?
I and my loved ones made it through that night unscathed, and now when I’m confronted by some new and alarming reality I meet it with a quietness and a readiness that I’ve never had before. With open eyes I assess the situation, and, with steady hands, I reach in my pocket and take out my plastic grocery bag.