The dark, wee hours are when you connect the dots of disaster

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* Editor’s note: Debra is taking the week off. This column first ran in October 2011

When that internal switch flips inside my brain at promptly 3 a.m. most every morning, and all my cerebral circuits come roaring online, I’m jolted wide awake and falling back asleep is just silliness.

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So, I make use of the quiet, dark hours to think (some would call it obsess) about things I just don’t have time to think about during the day. My mind meanders here and there, connecting dots I normally wouldn’t connect.

Like… I’m rubbing my forearm, and I feel the bones, and I start thinking about bones in my arm… and throughout my body, and it occurs to me: There’s a skeleton inside me. A whole skeleton. I can see it. And I’m totally creeped out.

Or … The car was making a funny noise … what if it’s the drive shaft coming loose? What if it fell and jammed into the asphalt at 70 miles an hour? Would I more likely be killed by being catapulted and slammed upside down into the concrete or by the drive shaft impaling me? And what if the impalement didn’t kill me and I’m pinned right there in the seat like a human shishkabob? Would they have to slide me off it? Ewww … just … ewww.

And… those Republican candidates. Holy moly. What if one of those goonybirds actually becomes president?

Now, that’s just too terrifying to think about. I don’t want to give myself nightmares.

If I could actually sleep, I mean.

I spin the dial of thoughts that swirl around in my head, and thankfully it stops on something less threatening: Persimmons. As in, every single persimmon has been stripped from my tree. And they were almost ripe. And I know who the culprit is. I came face to face with him one night in the back yard while my husband and I were sitting on the patio.

There we were, playing with our new tribal drums by candlelight, and my husband suddenly looks past me into the bushes, and says, “There’s an animal in there – I can see its eyes glowing!” I turn to look, and the hugest gray rat I’ve ever seen in my life comes darting toward me, looks me right in the eye and freezes. We stare each other down, as if neither of us can believe what we’re seeing, and like the big, brave creature that I am, I dove back into the house with my husband on my heels, while the Super Rat scurried back into the bushes.

Is that… a possum? I wasn’t sure because I’ve never actually seen one. He who grew up in the Pennsylvania woods confirmed its identity.

Whoa. Wildlife in the yard. All the construction on Putah Creek must’ve driven the local fauna into nearby back yards. Poor things, seeking a safe haven. Suddenly, I felt sort of attracted to the idea of having a possum in the yard. I told my husband we should feed it some cheese and see if it stays.

No.

But maybe we could tame … (no). Maybe we could train it to …  (no). Or … (no). How about … (no). But .. (no).

OK, fine.

But I’m gonna leave some cheese out there when you’re not looking.

Seeing the possum solved the mystery of why my cats often stare into the empty fireplace when there’s nothing there. Except the sound of something sprinkling onto the metal vent. I thought maybe it was just bits of soot. Nope. It’s possum poo, I’ll betcha. That little bugger is probably nesting inside the top of the chimney, which explains the little thunder of footsteps I hear across the roof from time to time. I thought they were just really fat squirrels.

So I’m lying there awake in the dark, wee hours, bummed about my persimmons and dreading the idea of opening the fireplace vent and possum poop piling up on the logs. What if I just light it on fire? Would the stench go up the chimney? Would the stinky smoke drive the possum away?

But!

What if the possum doesn’t leave? What if it braces itself against the chimney walls with its four little paws, and the smoke overwhelms it and it falls into the fire? Oh, that would be heinous.

Oh. My. God. What if it doesn’t die in the flames and leaps fully ablaze through the fireplace screen and ricochets through the house like a four-legged flameball from hell, right under the curtains, and they catch fire, right up to the ceiling, and then the entire house is engulfed, and how long does engulfment take, and is that longer than it takes for the fire department to get here?

And what if it isn’t?

Would AAA have me make another radio commercial about what a great job they did rebuilding my house after the fire?

Oh no… What if my homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flaming possums? (Note to self: call AAA tomorrow and ask.)

Would it be too much to ask the fire department to station themselves in my driveway when I light the fireplace the first time? (Call about that too.)

One thing’s for sure. It was just dang lucky I was awake all night to connect all these dots of disaster. Just imagine if I’d lighted a fire without thinking this through.

Flaming possums.

It could happen, my friends. It could happen.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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