I’ve been stuck on the bunny I said I’d throttle with my bare hands to feed my kids. If I’m honest with myself, I’m actually not sure I could do it. Or, well, if I did, there would be an emotional spectacle around the event, many tears and much gnashing of teeth, and I’d probably bungle the job and bunny would take forever to die. Jesse or Anthony would probably have to finish it off for me.
I don’t consider myself a violent person. I don’t spank, I don’t hit my kids in anger. I’ve never laid fist to face on anyone. I do hate the rabbits that try to destroy my gardens each year and I make threats, but I can’t bring myself to actually do anything, not shoot them or poison them or trap them. I just yell and throw shoes at them. It’s pathetic. I’m weak.
Before Nick was born, when Jesse was 3, we went to a beach we frequent on Lake Michigan, at Kohler Andrae state park. It was a very hot day so it was busier than usual. Our habit is to hit beaches earlier in the day and leave by lunch time, so that we can avoid people. People are nothing but trouble.
As we were walking off the beach, a family – grandparents and a couple grandkids – was arriving and unloading their car. Suddenly there was much shrieking and jumping as they pulled out their beach chairs. There was a mouse’s nest in one of the chairs. It was populated. The grandparents shook the nest out onto the paved parking lot and the family wandered off blithely with their gear, leaving behind 4 or 5 hairless, blind, newborn mice – each about the size of my thumb – crawling about on the burning hot blacktop, right in the path of cars and people. As we walked past, we could see them struggling and hear their tiny little cries. They were obviously terrified and suffering. They couldn’t have been more than a day or two old.
I was overwrought. I felt we should do something as we got to our car. I looked back and noticed a person slouching along in flimsy bathroom-style rubber flip-flops. She actually stepped on one of the mice and appeared not to take any notice. I became even more distressed because even from 10 yards away I could see that the now-half-crushed baby was still alive. I made a plan: I’d start the car and just go run them over to end their suffering. it might take a few back-and-forth aims but that would do the trick. By now I was in tears.
I’m pretty sure I was blathering senselessly to Anthony as my feelings developed. He was as shocked and upset as me by the bizarre scene, but he didn’t lose his shit like me. When he finally figured out what I was saying I’d do, he shook his head dismissively. I don’t remember his specific words, but this is what he conveyed to me: “what the hell are you talking about? Shut up. That’s crazy, you can’t do that, you’ll just hit pedestrians.” As I continued with my hand-wringing, Anthony looked at me like I was useless (an accurate assessment) and announced, “I’ll just take care of this.” He promptly marched over and crushed each baby mouse with his foot, making sure they were all good and dead. Then he walked over to some dirt and cleaned off the bottom of his shoe. Then he came back and got in the back seat with Jesse. It was all very grim and business-like. He looked sad and vaguely revolted. He said to Jesse, “Sometimes you have to just do the right thing, even if it’s really hard and disgusting.”
Have I mentioned what an amazing person Anthony is? He is seriously badass. I know it sounds kind of creepy and weird, but when I saw Anthony kill the mice, I felt proud of him and I loved him in a whole new way.
I wish I could have just done the right thing, like Anthony. Those baby mice were dead no matter what. Mama was gone, and they were done for. So it was just a question of how long and how badly their tiny little bodies would suffer before they died. I should have moved quickly, but I was immobilized by something. I wanted 2 tons of automobile between me and the act of killing, but also that was just an excuse to delay acting. I’ve thought of that failure many times. I’ve come to believe that something deep inside me was shocked by the inherent violence that killing those creatures entailed. I didn’t want it on my figurative hands.
“Violence” feels like a dirty word to me; it implies something evil, bad, wrong. But Anthony’s small violent act – crushing the mice – wasn’t evil. It was kind, good, right. It made moral sense and showed a deep compassion. It gained him nothing, and spared innocent creatures some suffering. I don’t know where the boundary is between right violence and wrong violence. I haven’t thought carefully through the nuances of when NOT acting constitutes a greater violence than doing something. I’m sure many someones have thought about stuff like this and written brilliant things about it, in larger geopolitical and smaller personal terms, and I haven’t read any of it.
These are big, big issues, well beyond the scope of my little blog and my little brain. Whatever the boundaries are, if I ever again see a little creature suffering without hope, with death imminent, I hope that I’ll find the courage to do something about it without all the faffing and hand-wringing. I don’t want to disappoint myself that way again. If I ever have to kill for meat to feed my kids, in whatever unanticipated apocalypse might befall us, I hope I can do it quick and clean, without fussing about. I’m counting on Anthony to teach me how.