REPRINTED FROM THE ALIBI
i was driving in the mountains at dawn. there were spots of ice and snow. i spotted two dark lumps in the road that looked like chunks of ice that had fallen off the bottom of a truck. i slowed down. then the chunks moved, just slightly, and i realized, now less than 50m away, that the chunks of ice were in fact a pair of squirrels. there wasn’t much time. first i went right, then left, then winced as i heard the cha-chunk sound beneath the car. i continued driving. i had a destination. what was i going to do for a dead squirrel? road kill is just a reality of our roadways. but it didn’t feel right, to just continue. this forest, this road, was their home. after about a half mile i realized i had to turn around and go back. what was i going to do? i didn’t know. if the squirrel was mangled but not dead i could kill it, put it out of its misery. then i saw the little body at the edge of the road. it was not flattened. i half expected it to jerk back to life. i parked and went over. i squatted in the road and took the squirrel in my hands. i cradled its body. still warm. it was black with a white tail and had brown stains on its two front teeth, like it smoked heavily and drank black tea. i hoped death had been immediate. i’m sorry i said. i couldn’t leave him in the road, to be run over again and again, becoming part of the asphalt, so i took him to a tree at the road’s edge. in a natural depression that had formed at the base of the tree, i laid him down and curled his tail over his head as though he were sleeping. then i got back in the car and drove off. it was harder that there had been two of them together. i was left to wonder: were they mates, family? did it matter? i came into the squirrels’ home and killed them. it got me thinking about coming back from iraq. i was seeing a va doctor. i was living like a recluse and had a mouse problem in my century old house. they found their way into drawers. they found their way into the insulation in the back of the oven. i found their little droppings around which enraged me. i had to do something. it took me a while to act. finally i set a trap in one of the drawers baited with cheese. nothing for several days. then one morning, i opened the drawer to the sight of a dead mouse. dead in my trap. i began to shake all over, the sight of its crushed neck, its little teeth. i shook all over. i’m sorry i said. i’m sorry. over and over and over again. and i wept. i told the va doctor. he said the mice, they’re like an insurgency, it’s like you’re fighting an insurgency in your very house. he wasn’t trying to be funny, he was just trying to help me understand my reaction. i thought of this while driving up the road. i thought of what it is like to go into someone’s home, someone’s country, and kill them, and how you feel afterward. i thought of what it is like to hold a still warm body in your hands that will never move again. i thought of why i walk the length of the sandia mountains on the anniversary of westhusing’s death. am i still trying to carry his body, to carry all the bodies? is this not why i climb alone in the mountains, so i can carry the bodies like i held the black squirrel, looking down at its brown stained teeth and beautiful black fur? i told myself i would stop and move the squirrel to a site away from the road. and then i tried to stop thinking about it. i tried not to think about it as i parked my car and got out and started climbing. at some point i was able to forget. maybe i started thinking about some new gear i needed for the mountains. crampons or a snow shovel. who knows. i managed to forget. that is what the mountains do for me. the weather was warm. despite the snow and middle of winter i could climb without any fleece, without any layer at all. just in my bare skin. i was forgetting everything climbing in the sun. several hours later, heading down the mountain, i remembered what had happened, and what it had been like to hold a body in my hands, and i remembered that after iraq, i hadn’t ever wanted to stop, couldn’t bear to stop, couldn’t bear to look back. if you looked back, if you paused, you would get hit by a truck. then i got hit by a truck. doctors put me back together with screws and rods and chains. i parked the car in the same spot and went to the tree. i took the squirrel’s body in my hands and looked up the hill for a suitable resting spot. my eyes settled on a jagged stump about 7 feet tall and not easily reached. i clambered through the snow up the hillside. when i raised him up he was backlit by the sun. his tail glowed like silver filaments. i am sorry, i said. i am sorry. i am sorry. i am sorry.