In Angels in America, Tony Kushner talks about a “painful progress.” How we’ll get there in the end but, boy, it ain’t gonna be easy. I thought about this a lot while wandering through my wilderness and kept wondering when the painful part would end and the progress part would begin. As it happens, they walk hand in hand for miles and miles but then yesterday, out of the sunny, shiny blue, I jumped out of bed like a gymnast and expected again. Expected love and magic and a hot cup of coffee. More progress than pain, I finally felt like myself and skipped outside to see how my roses were doing. That’s when I saw the possum.
The dead possum.
He’d clearly put up a good fight but had lost big and we were both bummed out. Him because he was dead and me because I had to deal with his deadness. I sat down with my bad cup of coffee (seriously, can anyone tell me how to make coffee? Feels like something I should be able to do by now) and tried to figure out what to do.
I thought about waking up Dash and, under the guise of a “teaching opportunity,” have him deal with it but it was still pretty early. Plus, he was wearing footsie pajamas and looking far too angelic to do any “cycle of life” type stuff so I went back inside for another cup of coffee and checked all the rooms to see if maybe there was a boyfriend somewhere in the house that I had forgotten about. That’s when I remembered that my boyfriend Derek had moved to SF a few weeks before and I had yet to replace him.
I went back to my perch and resumed staring at the possum. I remembered Derek telling me a story about finding possums in his garage a few years ago and I mined my memory for a salient tidbit that might help but all I could remember were the words “possum” and “garage” and they are not as helpful as you might imagine.
Hyped up on caffeine and adrenaline, I gathered my strength and jittered over to get a closer look. I was surprised to find that the possum - eyes wide open in fear and locked in rigor mortis - looked familiar. He looked, actually, a lot like me.
A while ago, when things were bad, I tried hard to keep up with the greeting of the dawn but eventually all I could see was the underbelly of the worst parts of being here and that’s when I gave up. Everything was just too hard and too hard for too long so I shut out the sun with bamboo blinds and settled into a matte-finish existence. I got into bed, curled up and played dead - staring blankly at the walls like a mental patient. On the days I had to (shudder) do something, I was more zombie than human – dead-eyed and aimlessly plodding from point A to point B in holey hand me downs.
The only good thing I can say about this time in my life is that I wasn’t ever truly alone. Penniless, heartbroken, sick – I met zombies of every stripe out there in the night and like Carnies, we roamed together in search of flesh, a lighted house and a
In the last three years, I’ve had to deal with actual poverty, the changing room at Target and a heart that’s twice been used as a whoopee cushion. I have overcome a lifetimes worth of family tragedy, a kid begging to be sent to a military academy, and a couple of moms on the party committee at school who have ruined the word “cupcakes” forever. Everything that can break has broken in the house. Same with the car. And my hair.
In the end I had no choice but to MacGyver myself back to life. Using nothing more than a glass of water and a ball of twine, I held on by believing that the beauty of every single thing falling apart at once is that eventually there’s nothing left to break. That’s when you start to build again. You get Amish in a hurry and build the damn barn. Plus, I’m stronger now than I ever thought I’d be. I’m talking strong. Bring it on strong. High five oak trees when I pass them strong.
When the dryer makes that weird noise or the pipe in the bathroom gives way or the car gets a flat on the freeway or a man tells me he loves me but “can’t” or the phone rings in the middle of the night, I no longer turn around and ask someone to take care of it. I grab the wrench, the manual and the rosary and get the fuck on with it, thank you very much. Besides, who cares if I don’t know how to make coffee? I know how to make a Gin & tonic.
I looked at the possum and said, “I got this.” I’ve been trying to show my son that his mom can do anything and that strength is the true magic so I wasn’t gonna let a possum undo all my can do. I put on a pair of goggles, some rubber gloves and grabbed the shovel.
I felt amazing. Look at me! Strong Alex. Oak Alex. Protecting her land AND wearing cute boots! I was high as a kite and then… I couldn’t do it. The thing was just too gross. I ran back into the house and spent the rest of the morning going to the window, hoping each time that the possum would magically be gone. Carried away by a coyote or a twister or that perhaps he’d merely been playing possum and threat over, had skipped away to re-join his people, stuff the turkey and count his blessings - there’s nothing like dodging yet another bullet to bring the meaning of cranberry sauce into sharp focus – but he was still there.
Countless times I headed out to be triumphant. Couldn’t wait to tell Dash how cool and fearless I had been but each time I went back inside and put the goggles away. If my son was going to learn a lesson about strength that day he was going to have to learn it from someone else.
Eventually he woke up and the neighbor kid, Jorge, came over for breakfast. I told them about the possum and they ran out to look at it. They thought it was gross too but also cool. Cool gross. They yelled for Dean & Karen over the fence and told them all about it. Dean said, “What? You’ve never had possum and sweet potatoes before?” Me and the boys squealed with disgust.
I’d love to say that I handled it in the end but I really, really did not. Dean talked to Dash about being the man of the house and that the task ahead was for men. I was fine with that. I know my mom marched for equal rights and I know that I can fix a bunch of stuff all by myself now but I am positively 1956 when it comes to this kind of thing so I stood on the porch with Karen and Jorge and watched Dean and Dash put the possum in a bag and throw it away.
When he was done, Dash came inside, stripped off all of his clothes and threw them out the window. He didn’t ever want to wear them again but a rite of passage had taken place and for the rest of the day he walked around like he owned the joint. I watched his face as he recounted the story later, saw how proud he was of himself and realized I don’t look like the possum anymore. I look like Dash.