On the night before Halloween this year — spooky! — I obliterated a raccoon with my car. I had time to register a striped tail darting into the road before I felt a sizable collision. Raccoons, I’ve discovered, are actually fairly large animals, especially when they’re serving as impromptu speed bumps.
I’ve always had a thing with rodents. Or, more specifically, my mom has always had a thing with rodents. Is fear of rodents genetic? Probably not, but watching my mom visibly wince at the mention of rats throughout my childhood could not have endeared them to me. Hamsters were out of the question; families who had pet hamsters were not to be trusted.
Mice in our house were never spoken of — they were disposed of, silently, by my father, whose normal levels of rodent-induced queasiness were considered heroic.
I understand that raccoons are not, technically, rodents. However, their rodent-y hands and collective sewer presence demarcates them, for me, as a part of the larger rodent group that I roundly despise. I felt oddly guilty about that raccoon, though. Where was he going? Why was he running so fast? Was he practicing for a marathon?
Having been raised in a house equal parts superstition and religion — whenever my dad sees a black cat, he encourages us all to pray a quick “Hail Mary,” utilizing the religious forces at hand to dispel of the seemingly unreligious bearer of superstition — I took the raccoon’s death as a bad omen.
A few nights later, I saw a possum on my walk home. Let me be clear: if I dislike raccoons, I hate possums. They look like zombie rat-raccoon blends. As ridiculous as it sounds (what was the possum going to do, chase me back to my dorm?), I ran, faster than I have in recent memory, until I felt the fear seeping out of my system. A week later, on the night of the election, I emerged from my friend’s room to find a possum scavenging five feet away from me. The cycle felt complete.
Everything was going horribly. Possums were stalking me to seek revenge for their fallen comrade, and President Donald Trump was ascending to the highest political seat of power in our nation. And it was my fault, for killing that raccoon and setting in motion this unbreakable cycle of superstition.
Superstition dictates that my debts to the raccoon gods have been paid — bad things come in threes, and I saw two possums and one Trump. Somewhere in my rational brain, I know that my fear of rodents seems thoroughly ridiculous. I also know that late one night, on a New York subway platform, I glanced onto the tracks and saw a living, breathing, writhing carpet of rats.
My fear felt like a physical presence, dragging my breaths, slamming against my lungs — no less real than the tunnels of the subway itself. I know that my slaughtering of that raccoon didn’t elect Trump president, but for now, I’m going to avoid the backroads of North Carolina and try my hardest to be kind to the raccoons around me.