“I just moved into my new house last month and I’ve already found one mouse, three rattlesnakes and two scorpions,” my friend Debra told me as she casually took another sip of her raspberry iced tea. Her voice was calm and smooth as if she was just discussing her last meal or her usual sleep patterns.
I stared at her in silent shock for a moment before finally asking, “You found snakes…in your house?”
Debra gave me more specific details then. “Two rattlesnakes were in the yard about a foot away from my front door. The third one was in the garage. The mouse was just inside the back door and the two scorpions were in the fire place.” Debra sat back with a sigh and then laughed at the look of utter horror that must have been gracing my face at that moment.
I’m not a prissy person. My hair is usually unkempt and flying out in all directions even when I’m standing still. My make-up is minimal and though I buy fingernail polish I have yet to turn my natural pink and white nails into shimmering shades of green, blue, or gold. As far as my shoes and clothes are concerned….well, I’d rather buy books. I haven’t even bought a new pair of jeans in three years. But there is one thing that makes me a complete and total girly-girl: I have a complete aversion to anything that crawls, slithers, creeps, scratches, or scuttles.
Now, I do love animals, and I certainly would not hurt another living creature, but bugs and I just don’t mesh. I also have an extremely low tolerance for snakes and mice. I think my repugnance is because I don’t like surprises. I don’t like anything sneaking up on me. Bugs, mice, and snakes can be sneaky. I mean I’m going to know if there is an elephant in the room. But I don’t always see bugs until they suddenly come scuttling right up beside me. Bugs and mice have that surprise factor that completely unnerves and terrifies me. For this reason, I always try to keep my home clean and organized. There will never be dirty clothes on the floor or last night’s dishes left in the sink. I’m not a clean freak; I am bug scared.
I didn’t explain this to Debra. I think I was too embarrassed to tell her that critters frighten me while she appeared cool and confident about the creatures invading her home. I tried to keep myself from shivering as Debra went on to tell me about all of the miniscule beasts that have wandered into her various homes in the high desert of Southern California over the years. Debra took a momentary break in her horrific tales of leading the reptiles away from her home like St. Patrick leading the snakes out of Ireland. She had to have noticed my complete shutdown. Debra laughed and now confronted me directly, “Well, Jamie, you do know that since we live in the desert we have to expect these things. My goodness, it’s only June and we already have had 110 degree temperatures. When was the last time we had rain?” Her question was actually rhetoric. Southern California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in over 5 years. Not a single raindrop has fallen in a good six months.
Debra laughed and said, “That’s what I mean. Because of this horrible drought and extremely high temperatures, everything is dying. There’s no food or water for the animals anywhere. They all are coming down from the mountains and up from the sand to try to find nourishment. It’s the price we pay for living in paradise.” Debra laughed again while I fought off another shudder.
That night, I went home to my apartment in Palm Desert, California, and saw a notice on my front gate. An exterminator was coming in to all of the apartments in my building to do a screening. Oh, good, I thought, I began to relax a little. I was pleased that the apartment management was being proactive. I was even more relieved when I found another notice on my gate the following day. This notice informed me that the exterminator was coming back tomorrow to patch up any holes in the walls. Again, I sighed deeply. I was again pleased that the management team was thinking ahead.
The following week, I began to relax a little more in my apartment. I felt safe and secure since the exterminator had come to my home. I thought I was safe. I thought wrong.
The next Saturday afternoon, I was seated at my computer putting in some extra work on my novel. I was getting a little stuck here and there but was determined that I was going to complete at least 5 pages before I stopped. Maybe I needed to get rid of distractions. Turn off the television and the phone…
What was that?!
I stopped typing for a moment and glanced around my apartment. I didn’t see anything unusual and everything was silent for a moment. I turned back to my keyboard and started typing again.
Wait a minute….What was that noise?
I stopped working and pushed back away from my computer. I sat silently for a minute or two…
Oh. My. Gosh…I stood up slowly and walked over the wall that separated the kitchen from the bathroom. I jumped back as soon as I heard a loud scratching noise coming from within the wall! Oh, my gosh, some critter was in my wall! In a panic, I ran to my cell phone and punched the numbers for the management office phone line. It took me a while to get connected. I couldn’t get my hand to stop shaking. I listened to the office phone ring over the sounds of the scratching that was coming from inside my wall. Dang! I just got the answering machine. I pulled the phone away from my ear and glanced at the time. 5:15 pm. The office closed at 5 on Saturday afternoons. I hung up the phone and quickly dialed the emergency phone number. The phone rang once, twice, three times…and finally someone answered with a gruff, “Hello.”
“Um, yes,” I said, “is this the emergency number for the apartment complex in Palm Desert?”
“Yeah,” the deep voice replied.
“Um,” I hesitated, not sure what to say, “um, there is a scratching sound coming from inside my wall. I think there is something crawling around…”
“Oh, yeah,” the man said. “That’s the rat.”
The phone suddenly began to slide out of my hand and for a moment I had to juggle my cell phone quickly from hand to hand to keep from dropping it to the floor. All I could stammer when I brought the phone back up to my ear was…”Wh…wh…what?!”
“Yeah, the rat,” the man said. “That’s why we had the exterminator do the screening and patching.”
I didn’t know there was a rat in the building! Nobody told me! I thought the management team was just being very proactive! I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, but the r-r-rat,” I swallowed deeply, “is in my walls and someone needs to get it…”
“Nope, sorry, nobody’s here who can help ya,” the man said casually. “Everyone’s already gone home.”
“But this is the emergency number, right?” I countered.
The man answered, “A rat ain’t an emergency. Well, see, with the drought, the animals are coming inside. We’ll probably get a few more before the summer is over. Nothing we can do about it until the exterminator can be contacted again. Thanks for calling, huh,” the man said politely before hanging up the phone. I was left in dead silence…except for the scratching in the wall.
Oh, Nooooooo! I quickly ran around the apartment scooping up my backpack filled with novels and notebooks. I turned off my computer and the air conditioner. No way was I staying here for the night. I opened the door and stepped quickly outside shutting the door firmly behind me. I ran to my car and climbed inside. I stared the engine and then began to drift listlessly down the street. I had no idea where I was going but I was not staying in that apartment. I ended up at the local McDonald’s, sipping on an iced tea and furiously writing in my journals. I was there until the restaurant closed and I was forced out into the warm night air. I slowly drove back to the apartment. Was I brave enough to go back inside? No, I slept in my car.
The next day, I went to the office to talk to the apartment manager. “Gee,” she answered after listening to my rant, “I’m sorry that happened. But we are in the desert during a drought so it is very common for animals to come…”
“I know, I know,” I cut her off. I understood that animals were coming inside now but I really didn’t want my apartment to become Wild Kingdom. “I can’t go back in that apartment,” I told her. “Is there anything you can do for me?”
The office manager handed me the key to the model apartment and said, “I can let you stay in the model for tonight, but that’s all.”
I was grateful for that much. I thanked her and walked over to the apartment that was set up to entice potential renters into the complex. That space should certainly be rodent free!
I went into the model apartment, sat down on the couch, and flicked the remote to turn on the TV. The television wouldn’t come on. I don’t know what was wrong with it. The screen would just light up gray for a moment and then turn off. There was no stereo either. With nothing to distract me, I got out my notebook and began to write. Before I knew it, I had written 15 pages non-stop. Oh, my gosh…it was exhilarating! I was able to finish a short story I had started a few weeks ago but couldn’t figure out the ending. Now, I had it completed and my heart and spirit were completely renewed. I laid down on the couch in the living room of the model apartment and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
And then something strange began to happen…because of the critter living in my wall, I didn’t want to go home. I was completely thrown off of my usual routine of work, gym, writing, and home. Now, I looked for excuses to stay out for most of the night. I accepted invitations from friends I hadn’t seen in a while because I was “too busy.” I would stay up late hours at a café or diner, drinking iced tea, as I hand wrote my novel and short stories. On evenings when I was bored, I would wander into casinos and just people watch. One night at the Spotlight 29 casino in Indio, California, I saw a notice that Charlie Daniels was performing in concert. Oh….The Devil Went Down to Georgia…that guy… I didn’t want to go home. I bought a ticket. Charlie Daniels was amazing and I spent the evening laughing, dancing, and enjoying myself. I hadn’t been that incredibly happy in a long time. That was fun…I wanted to go again.
The following weekend, I drove up to Laughlin, Nevada, to see Lorrie Morgan in concert. The trip was fun and it got me away from my problem at the apartment and……
Wait a minute…
Oh, my gosh….
Why wasn’t I living like this every weekend?! Why wasn’t I out seeing people and dancing and laughing and traveling? Why wasn’t I sipping tea in cafés and writing good short stories every night?
My life had become incredibly routine and it took a rat to show me what I had been missing! The rat actually drove me out of my apartment and into a happier, more exciting life! I kind of wish God had found a different way to pull me out of my routine…but I couldn’t miss the significance of the moment…
Then I had even better news. My apartment complex was graciously letting me out of my lease four months early! I had been planning to take a road trip and then move back to Kansas as soon as my lease was over was up in November. Now I was able to move on with my life 16 weeks earlier thanks to a little creature living inside of my walls.
Last week, I went into the apartment management office to turn in my required 30 day notice which was really just a formality due to the situation. “We’re really sorry this happened,” the apartment manager stated. “But in the desert during a drought, the animals come inside. We even had a possum in the laundry room last night.”
I laughed with the manager over this situation. Though I don’t want to live with critters, I could certainly respect them. It took one of God’s tiny creatures to show me the beauty of life and help me move along my path. I will be forever grateful to the California desert critters…
I just really don’t want them moving in with me….