By Avery M. Guess
Dealing with the consequences of abuse looks a lot like this:
You go into your kitchen one morning and pull the small frying pan out of the bottom cupboard—the one to the right of the stove, one of the two or three in this rented house’s kitchen you have to close just right if you want the latch to catch—because you are determined to eat better and save money and because you love egg sandwiches with cheese for breakfast.
You see what looks like a mouse turd. You wonder how it got there—how there could be a mouse in your kitchen that had previously only harbored black ants and four (maybe more, but definitely four) termites prior to your landlady spraying for them while you were out of town at a writing conference in Tennessee.
You step on the garbage lid opener and dump the offending turd, clean the pan, cook your egg. Sooner than later that day you are pretty sure it wasn’t the poop of a rogue rodent you saw, but your imagination playing tricks on you. You see something in everything. Patterns that aren’t there. This was nothing. Never mind the now half-remembered odd sounds coming from the same cupboard over the last couple of weeks. Sounds you also dismissed because they came like memories—only every so often and gone before you could recognize them as something real, something tangible.
Until another morning, days later, and more mouse shit.
Only this time it’s on the stove, behind the butter sitting in its crystal tray—the one your birthmother gave you when you left her house to move to this college town to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing at 41—and more near the bag of bread you left out overnight.
Definitely, you think. There is definitely a mouse.
So you tell your therapist about the mouse—she’s the only person you feel you can tell who won’t judge you, though, it’s a mouse in your kitchen, so she probably does. And who could blame her? She doesn’t know how much of a slob you are or aren’t, she only knows the little sound bites you tell her in your weekly sessions—the worries you have about writing into the truth of your childhood and the corresponding anxiety of producing a worthy thesis. Never mind the other issues you should be discussing.
You explain to her how, when you lived in San Francisco in the mid 90’s, you had mice by way of the sump pump cover in your tiny, illegal in-law apartment—the one with no sink in the bathroom because it was too small, so for years you washed everything from yourself to your dishes in the tiny shower, the one prone to flooding the floor because two of the shower’s walls were made out of shower curtains. You tell her that you were vegan then and caught mice with non-dairy cheese. Only in San Francisco, you say, and you both laugh.
You leave the therapist’s office determined to get rid of the mouse. Drive to the local hardware store, the one in the shopping center with the co-op, the international grocery, a liquor store, a produce market, and a bakery.
After the bored cashier directs you to the mouse trap aisle, you find yourself staring down mouse death in a variety of forms: glue traps, poisons, ultrasonic waves, the traditional spring traps, and more. It takes a couple of minutes before you find what you are looking for—a humane trap that promises—despite the menacing cat with claws outstretched decorating the box—not to kill your mouse, only to contain it, so that you can let the mouse run free after being caught. You are no longer vegan, haven’t been for years, but you still can’t bring yourself to kill a mouse.
When you get home (after a stop at the bakery for cupcakes), you open the package and pull open the back of the trap, and proceed to slather it with the name-brand peanut butter you have always loved. Only the real thing for this Midwestern mouse. If you were in San Francisco still, you would have gone for the organic stuff. After you maneuver the back panel back into place, a feat requiring more intense hand-eye coordination than you would have expected, you set the trap on the stove where you last saw the poop and you wait.
You expect the mouse will be caught that evening.
But nothing happens that night or even overnight, though the next morning you see what may be a new mouse dropping near the trap, but you aren’t sure. It could just be one that you missed. You decide that the mouse wasn’t caught because the door of the cupboard containing the frying pan with the mouse dropping was closed. So you open the door the next day and night and invite the mouse to come and get the delicious peanut butter.
Nothing. Not even a new dropping. Two days and nights later—still nothing. You move the trap to the cupboard. Nothing. A week has passed and you are cycling back to where you began, convinced again the mouse is an illusion created by your brain for its own entertainment.
And that’s how it is for abuse survivors. Some days you find all the shit—all this evidence that proves you experienced what you say you experienced. The binge eating to make your body safe from men who want to touch you without your consent, the startle response to any noises you aren’t expecting and even some you are, the crushing panic in the grocery store that hits you like a cart driven by a distracted mother on her cell phone with three kids in tow—with no apologies, only a look that says it was you who did wrong by being there.
Other days you question everything from your adult responses to the few memories you claim. So, you set traps. You write about what happened. But sometimes, no matter how much mouse shit you’ve seen, no matter how many traps you’ve set, the mouse refuses to come, and you’re left questioning its very existence.
Avery M. Guess is a recipient of 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and residencies from the Ragdale Foundation and Albee Foundation. She is a PhD student at University of South Dakota, assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review, and an assistant editor at Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Mid-American Review, Washington Square, Quaint, and Muzzle.