I call you Raccoon Mother because you were a mother once and I don’t know how else to identify you. You suckled babies at your breasts and maybe witnessed them grow up to maturity. But when I met you, you were alone. Alone and helpless. Helpless and crippled. You bled. You lay still. You could not stand. Your fur was saturated from the rain. And ticks held tight to your skin like barnacles on a rock.
I know you didn’t expect to be hit by an automobile, in the concrete cemetery where many like you find death, and corpses transform like sugar crystals dissolving in water. I found you in the middle of the road. You lay there, forest on both shoulders, in an underworld segmenting the woods in two. I thought you were dead, but as I approached your body, I witnessed your feeble blink and saw that you still lived. At that moment, I reacted like a human with a rupturing heart and an open source pool of charity. I thought I would be kind. I thought I would do the right thing.
Unfortunately, I was not alone when I saw you. I was traveling with a companion, more like a business associate I happened to live with at the time. He saw you in the road too and eagerly wanted to pass you by, alive or not. He pleaded me to ignore you and walk away, but how could I listen to him? He didn’t care about you. And I suspected he didn’t care about me, either.
Staring upon your broken, wet body, eyes barely open, I knew you were dying. But I could not accept it. I said I alone had to save you, even if the journey was just you and me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t take the time to feel what you were feeling. All I saw was death, your death, and it was the worst event that could happen to us.
I lifted you, your shattered limbs dangling in my arms, and I carried you to the edge of the forest. I placed you on your feet to stand. You couldn’t support yourself on your broken legs, so you toppled to your side. You didn’t move. You must have felt so much pain and trauma. You must have been paralyzed, waiting to die. I felt the death threatening to appear at any moment. I couldn’t let that happen. Inexperienced I was, at dealing with a person dying in my arms. I didn’t know what to do, but I know I didn’t want to see you die.
I took off my coat and wrapped it around your body. I picked you up again and, this time, carried you to the car. My associate protested, but his complaints fell on closed ears. My determination overpowered him. You were coming with us; I wasn’t going to have it any other way.
“I’m going to take her back to The Forest and find a rehabilitator,” I proclaimed.
“What?!” he replied in shock. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. What if that thing has a disease or something?”
“Don’t worry about it. Just drive. I’m going to take care of her.”
He fell silent and lowered his head. But he did as I told him: he drove.
During the ride, I could hardly feel you breathe. What if you died in my arms on the way back? I thought of nothing else–you, the dying one; me, the desperate rescuer.
When we arrived to The Forest and the house in which we resided, I ran with you in my arms to my bedroom, wrapped you in a white towel, and placed you gently on the floor. What could I do next? I needed to find a rehabilitator.
I observed you for a couple of minutes. Your state hadn’t changed–barely alive and severely crippled. I didn’t sit and watch for long. I needed to do something. I couldn’t watch you die. I couldn’t let you die. I convinced myself that I had the power to save you from death, and I didn’t care who stood in my way. I didn’t even think about your feelings and where you wanted to be. I didn’t listen to your feelings. I didn’t realize the further danger I put you in and how I made your remaining life worse. I am so sorry.
I ran downstairs to the computer room and searched the internet for wildlife rehabilitators in the area. The closest one (and most credible given its title): Tufts University’s Wildlife Clinic. I called, asked their female office support if they would admit you to the clinic. She replied, “We don’t take raccoons.”
I paused, experiencing a surge of panic. “Well, do you know any rehabilitators in the area who would?” The searing of my options began to show.
“I don’t know,” she stated bluntly, tone of a working woman with little time to answer foolish questions. “To be honest, you’re probably not going to find anyone who takes raccoons. They’re not worth the risk.”
“What do you mean?” I held my breath so as to suppress my tears.
“Well, in the state of Massachusetts, raccoons are main carriers of rabies, so most don’t take them in. And we certainly don’t.”
After this declaration, there wasn’t much left to say. I said thank you and hung up the phone, distraught and defeated. Now I was really at a lost for what to do. I couldn’t believe what was happening. A mother was dying in my room, and nobody cared. No concern for her, just a condition she may or may not carry.
It didn’t matter at this point. You were dying, and I made the mistake of bringing you into a hostile place. I didn’t listen to your feelings, raccoon mother. Only mine, and I’m so sorry.
I began to tell myself that you should at least die close to home, out of sight from humans in the forest. I had to get you out of my room before people learned of your presence. That was the least I could do. I had to bring you back. I could not escape your death, I realized that. Your death was inevitable, and bringing you to my room made the last moments of your life stressful, to topple your agony and paralysis. So now, I had to smuggle you away from the people of The Forest for fear of what they might do to you if they found out you were there.
I left you in my room and sprinted to the main office building, with the intent to check out a car and drive you back to the forest. Before I could enter the building, management interrupted me. They found out anyway, my associate told them, it was too late. They had already called animal control and ordered me not to return to the house, under penalty of expulsion. I felt so much despair and felt so afraid for what they would do to you. But there was little I could do beyond persecution for both of us. Now I was the helpless one.
Management spoke to me, condescendingly, like a doctor to an inmate in an asylum. They continuously asked me why, why, WHY?? Every question, every response became a blur. I didn’t see them or hear them or smell them. I just thought of you, raccoon mother, and how I had failed you.
“Don’t you know that rabies is a big deal in Massachusetts and that raccoons are the primary carriers?”
“What where you thinking bringing a wild animal here?”
“How could you have such little consideration for your housemates? Do you realize the danger you put them in?”
I told management that I acted out of care. They told me that my care was misplaced, that I should have cared more about the potential threat to my housemates, that I should have cared more to adhere to social boundaries and know that wild animals have no place in The Forest except in a cage or on a dissection table. The aching pain I felt for you, dear raccoon mother, was soon replaced with rage.
The last time I saw you, you were wet and covered in a white towel on my bedroom floor. I didn’t see you when animal control came and took you. The entire house was quarantined for three hours. After management declared the house safe to live in once more, I returned to my room, the floor bare, and the air holding on to the scent of your wet body. Once you were gone, The Forest felt safe again, and I felt a part of my soul die. A week later, I asked management what happened to you.
“I don’t know. It was sent to CDC.”
“Is she dead?”
“Of course, it was euthanized. It was a public health concern, so all carrier species are destroyed and processed.”
Management talked about you like a deactivated bomb–a threat to the people now destroyed and processed. They didn’t care about you. And I hated them for it. I buried my sorrow and transformed it into bitterness and anger. Even during the aftermath, I didn’t bother to reflect on what you may have felt. I felt rage and made it all about me, and I am so sorry.
This is the first time I have spoken aloud of what happened since you died. This is the first time I spoke directly to you. For two years, I didn’t want to face the pain of your passing and how you passed. I didn’t want to face the regret in my actions. How you died forced me to see an ugly side of modern humans and the overbearing presence of my ego.
I wrote this letter on All Souls Day but am now publishing it on Animal Visions because after two and half years, I still have not healed from the wounds your passing left behind. I still don’t forgive the residents and workers of The Forest, even though my bitterness and anger have subsided. I have only recently begun to forgive myself. But I’m still not sure what you would have wanted, because I didn’t take the time to feel and listen.