When you called to me that night from the backyard, your familiar voice in a particularly urgent timbre, I knew something was wrong. There you stood, in between the bush that always needs trimming and the birdbath that never seems to get used, facing off with a very large possum. He hissed and you made a growl-y sound back, a noise from the back of your throat that I’d never quite heard before. That you were the one closest to the house, out of the two of you, would seem to make this easy: you merely need to turn and run inside, and I’ll slam the door behind us. But your back was to me and I could sense the fear you had of turning and running, afraid this creature would run just a little faster. As the person who was next in line in this stand-off, I had a bit of the same fear.
I wondered why the possum didn’t turn and run, up the wooden fence, or around the back of the bush, but even with its hissing bravado I could sense he had the same concern, not wanting to be the first to break the stare. You stepped forward just a bit, testing the limits, and he countered his slightly-frightened side-step by hissing with increased ferocity. Then he mirrored your move, and you reenacted his, and for a moment it was like a dance in the boxing ring, two prize fighters moving around an invisible center. I called to you, but you either didn’t hear me through the adrenaline or you weren’t ready to surrender. I made a mental inventory of the weapons in the house, a short list it turns out, and I landed on the kitchen broom as the best choice, its length and solid wooden handle making up for the rather wimpy straw-end.
My only other real option was a heavy glass vase by the back door, and as I imagined a lifetime of picking up shards of glass from the backyard, I quickly went in for the broom. I could have come back in full offensive mode, swung the broom, and made enough of a distraction to get you inside, but I had another problem. I’m not much for rodents. Or rather, marsupials with rat-like tails disguising themselves as rodents. My own fears began to take over and I wasn’t sure exactly how close I wanted to get to him. He was acting more and more agitated; those teeth-baring hissing sounds, the arched back, and onyx eyes gaining in intensity. You seemed more and more desperate, and the Muhammad Ali re-enactment had now placed you off to the side, and the direct line to the door was no longer direct. I played out a few scenarios in my mind, all of them involving one of us getting a course of rabies shots and a definite trip to the emergency room.
And then, with the clarity that comes when the thing you love most is in danger, I acted. I took the few quick steps to where you stood, grabbed your collar, scooped you up, and ran inside. Kneeling down to pet your fur, I said, “I love you so much, I’d jump in front of a possum for you.” And if I wrote country songs, I’d write that one for you.