‘Somebody had to be brave. Most of the time it had to be me.’
I was home from college on winter break, and we were trying to trap the little critters that ran amuck in our apartment when everything and everyone else stilled and the lights dimmed.
This week’s column is an excerpt from the author’s memoir, “True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope & Clarity”
Another trap popped. I lifted the copper wire from the neck of the little gray mouse and slid it into the plastic garbage bag with all the other bloodied and disfigured corpses. Then I reset the wooden trap and climbed back into the bottom bunk with my little brother.
Jeff didn’t know it, but I was just as afraid as he was. I have always been afraid of rats and mice, ever since the first time I spotted one scurrying through our apartment when I was a little boy.
But I never had the freedom to show such fear. Somebody had to be brave. Most of the time it had to be me.
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It was after midnight. I was 18, Jeff, 11. I was home from college on winter break, and we were trying to trap the little critters that ran amuck in our apartment when everything and everyone else stilled and the lights dimmed…
Their teeth and nails ripped through food packages. They tiptoed across tin pots and dishes, rummaged through the garbage, gnawed at chicken bones, squeaked.
By day, the apartment was ours. By night, it belonged to every creeping thing. It seemed as if there had been some agreement between the mice and us. “Don’t y’all mice come out in the daytime,” was the way I had imagined our agreement had been cut with the Head Cheese, who had squeaked back in agreement, “And don’t y’all even think about coming into the kitchen at night.”
If you had the choice, you would choose to live with mice rather than rats. Rats were bigger and acted differently from mice.
Mice scurried. Rats strutted, pimp-walked, came out in the middle of the day, stared you in the eye and dared you to say something. Mice were more agreeable…
Life at home had worsened in the four months I had been away at college. However bad it seemed before, there were never this many mice before, or this many roaches, nor was it this dark and depressing…
I got mad. “I’ll kill ‘em,” I said. “I’ll kill ‘em.”
I rushed out of bed and flicked on the lights. Behind the dryer and the refrigerator sure enough, I found the traps that my stepfather had set to no avail. They were still baited. But the cheese was as hard as a rock. If I were a mouse, I thought, I would not nibble from these traps either.
I cleaned the hardened cracked cheese out of the traps… I got a couple of strips of bacon from the refrigerator and rubbed it over every inch of the traps, then fitted a few small pieces into the bait hook.
I placed one trap behind the dryer and another behind the refrigerator. We climbed back into bed and waited for action.
A few minutes passed. Then pop!
“We got one of them suckers!” I said, dashing out of bed with Jeff close on my heels...
In the end, there were 23 corpses in all. Mama was ecstatic the next day when I told her I had caught all the mice and was even happier that next night when the kitchen was still and quiet after the lights dimmed and we’d all gone to bed.
I also went out and bought a can of Raid and killed a few hundred roaches that fell from the ceiling like raindrops and were swept up into a pile, then properly disposed of. Mama was so happy.
So was I, except I knew that old problems, no matter how joyous the reprieve, would eventually come creeping back into our lives. Just like the mice.