When it was over, 30 lay dead or dying.
Silence, though welcome, lay heavy in the morning air. Mercifully, the wind had blown through in the night, pushing the smell of death to the periphery. But the visuals were there to tell the story.
Charlie and I stood in wonderment that it was finally over. It had been more than a week of long grueling battles, nights barely sleeping, as we lay vigilantly listening for the intruders. We had hidden as best we could, but still they would find us, and the skirmish would begin again. We were frightened and confused by their boldness as they tried to claim our living space, our home, seemingly undaunted that we were there close by.
They may have come from the south, across the desert. It is still an unknown part of the mystery of how they found us, why they selected us to assault. For years we had lived in this corner of Paradise, only slightly bothered by them. Why had they picked this time, this year, to attempt to rip our world apart?
Of course, Charlie and I are worried, even now, whether we will be held accountable. We will claim it was self-defense. Surely it was. Surely it will be seen that we were only defending the life we had built, our home, our property. Surely it will be seen that when the smoke lifted, when peace was restored, we had been, indeed, fighting for and defending our very lives.
Remorse? Regret? Would we do it differently if it were all to be done again? Would we wish for a different outcome? Yes, of course. If only they had retreated earlier. If only they had not sent for reinforcements. The damage would have been less, the body count fewer. That was their choice, not ours.
And yet. . . . and yet, we chose to fight them, we chose to defend ourselves. We could have left, we could have run. But we did not. We stayed and we are left with the consequences: a long list of casualties.
Of what do I write? A warzone in Mexico against the cartels, where no one’s home is sacred? The old wild west, where guns and rifles lie smoking on the ground?
No. Rather, this was the scene last month, when Charlie and I returned to our home on Terlingua Ranch after six months away. Mice had taken ownership of our home. It was war.
Other years we returned from extended times away to find evidence of mice– some droppings, perhaps even a nest. But this was unlike anything we had ever encountered in our own home. (And in years past, we’d had our Alvin cat. But he had died at 15, right before we had headed back to Texas.) What was especially strange is that when we walked into the house, I said, “Someone’s been cleaning!” All the surfaces I could see at first glance looked newly wiped off. Had one of our neighbors prepared the house for us, knowing that this was about when we would get home every year?
And then I opened a drawer, lifted a pillow, looked behind books. . . Mouse droppings, mouse pee, mouse nests, chewed papers. There was not a room that was unaffected. Our neighbors, indeed, confirmed that they had been at our house, seen the mess, and cleaned enough so that we didn’t have to walk into a complete horror show.
We put out a few traps, caught a couple of mice, thought, hoped, that was the end of it. Ha!
We cleaned and cleaned, and yet the next morning, there were new droppings where we had just cleaned. By Day Three, hearing the mice in the attic, seeing those brazen intruders parading across our floor as we were eating dinner, we succumbed to using the most effective but inhumane of traps, the stickies. As soon as we caught them, Charlie killed them so they didn’t keep suffering. . . although my heart was quickly hardening. We had nine dead.
More days of cleaning, more nights of the sounds of scratching and scurrying. More mice walking around our house, unaffected by our presence, claiming our home as their own. We still couldn’t unpack from our trip home, couldn’t put food into the cupboards.
On Day Eight we emptied everything out of our crawlspace attic. Boxes of ceramics, plastic tubs of photographs, and bags and bags and bags of Styrofoam packing peanuts from the past 25 years. (What?) We vacuumed. We vacuumed so much we blew out the motor on the vacuum. (And yes, we did wear substantial facemasks.)
Now we could better see where the villains might be entering. We put sticky traps all around the perimeter of the attic to hopefully clue us in on their exact entrance point(s). This was enlightening. The tally was now 19 dead.
Day Twelve, with 30 dead, Charlie devised another strategy. (I must insert that Charlie stayed in remarkably good humor throughout.) On a ladder propped against the gutter on the south side of our roof, Charlie sprayed expanding foam insulation under the fascia board to fill the multiple ridges of the metal roof. He also returned to the attic and put screen over the insulation that was exposed between the 2 x 4 studs.
That night, there were no deaths. No mouse sounds. No mice in traps. Silence prevailed.
We have now completed eight nights of no deaths. I admit that I am still holding my breath, but I am beginning to believe that the siege is, indeed, over, that the mice can no longer find entrance to our house.
We are not killers. We have always been kind to animals. This was self-defense.
And yet, when it was over, 30 lay dead or dying.