On Lovella Avenue

Photo: A pristinely manicured lawn, by Leonila Salinas.

I decided to go for a walk. I had been bedridden for several days from a fever and general malaise. Cause unknown. I felt being outside in the oppressive heat might rid me from the burden of my thoughts. So I set out on my journey, hobbling like an invalid. My hips tight and sore from lack of movement.

I tried to look at everything with different eyes. As
if I had never seen any of it before. Which was quite the contrary. I had taken
this route for several days before the illness had taken hold and left me
housebound. But I was surprised to find that actually, there were so many new
things to be discovered on this walk. On this day.

I noticed a pair of bright teal doors to a two-family
flat I’d passed by many times. But now they stood presenting themselves to me,
as if installed just yesterday. My eyes just never saw them. I continued on my
journey, eager to know what other hidden treasures remained undiscovered by my
negligent eyes.

My gait was awkward. Each step felt unnatural and
forced. Like a quadruped made to walk on its hind legs for show. I was almost
certain my legs would collapse underneath the weight of my body at any given
moment. I wasn’t heavy, my legs just felt abnormally weak. And they were, as was
everything else in my body. I just didn’t know it yet.

Feeling spontaneous, I diverted from my usual path. I
turned right down Lovella Avenue. What a strange name. I assumed I could cut
through this street to reach my regular trail a block or two down the road.
There were two small squirrels, I’m almost certain they were babies, running
back and forth in the street. Flourishing. This made me happy. Babies make me
happy.

As I approached, they scurried off to clear the way.
Further down the sidewalk I saw two more obstacles. A pair of black cats. But
unlike the squirrels, they were anticipating my arrival. They sat and stared,
waiting for me to approach them. When I finally did, the scruffy black one
asked to be petted while his friend looked on from a safe distance talking to
me in meows. I spent a few minutes with them. Contemplating their life. Hoping
they were safe, okay, loved, well-cared for. If I was more insane than I
already was I would have taken them home, but their presumed owner was standing
in the doorway. So I kissed them on their heads and went on my way. That’s when
I saw it.

An opossum. Blonde, not gray. Small. Strange to be
seen out in the middle of the day. I thought they were nocturnal. It didn’t
notice me, so I called to it. Making kissing noises to get its attention. From
what I knew about opossums they were aggressive, so I was surprised that this
one did not seek to engage with me despite my best efforts. I watched it cross
the street. It didn’t look well. Each step it took seemed to take a great
effort. It seemed tired and I understood. My heart hurt, but I continued on my
walk. Past deceased worms on the sidewalk, bloated from the heat of the sun.
Whenever I saw them alive, I tried to save them. But for so many, it was too
late. This, I also understood.

Two blocks further down and I’d reached a dead end.
There was no indication of this when I made the initial right down Lovella
Avenue. I felt conned. All this walking for nothing. Just another dead end,
like my life. I turned around in frustration, ready to return home when I saw
it again.

It had made it across the street and was sitting by a
truck in the driveway of a pristinely manicured lawn in front of a pristinely
manicured house. Something I knew I would never have the luxury of owning in
this life. I said hello to the opossum as I had to the squirrels and the cats,
but the opossum said hello back. I paused. Unsure if my insanity had reached
its apex under the blistering sun and days of fever. But it continued on. It
was a she, I could tell by the voice. She asked me to stop for a moment and
listen to her.

I sat down on the lawn under the shade of a Dogwood
tree. She came closer and sat next to me. I was silent, waiting to hear her
story. She told me she was old, nearly two now, and tired. Not much longer for
this earth. Her last litter of babies had been poisoned by people and died. She
was dying from the poison, too. I felt sad for her, I could tell she was
hurting and I wanted to ease her pain. I asked her to sit in my lap and let me
hold her for a while as she talked. I would listen to her endlessly, for as
long as she desired.

She told me about her youth. She was born not far from
here, near a dumpster behind the supermarket off Clayton Avenue. She was one of
twenty-two joeys, but her mother only had thirteen teats and nine of her
siblings perished from starvation in infancy. Nature is cruel. Her childhood
was short-lived. She witnessed the death of her mother at four months old, hit
by a car filled with teenage boys having their idea of fun on a Midwestern
Friday night. “People hate us,” she said, “and I don’t know why. We just want
to live, is that too much to ask?”

Humans are cruel. I began to quietly weep and my tears
fell onto her matted coat, covered in dirt and fleas. I didn’t want her to die,
she was special, but I could feel the shortness of her breath and her weak
heartbeat. I told her I wanted to take her home and rehabilitate her and maybe
we could live together, happily ever after.

She told me she was ready to die. After watching her
babies succumb to the poison she didn’t see a reason to go on. All she asked
was that I sit with her and listen for as long as I could. She told me about
her adventures. After her mother died, her and her siblings had to fend for themselves.
Some set off on their own and she never saw them again. She stayed together
with three of her sisters and for some time they lived peacefully in a vacant
lot. She raised her first litter there in paradise, but land developers
purchased the lot shortly after and began construction so they had to move
again. With babies in tow, she was too slow to keep up with her sisters, so
they parted ways and she began her journey alone.

By then she was nearly eight months old. She had seven
babies in her first litter. She was successful in raising them all to
adulthood, which was an extraordinary feat for a first time mother. Now and
then she would cross paths with them around the neighborhood. Many had families
of their own now. They would stop and chat for a bit, but everyone was busy
just trying to survive. Not much time could be spared. She told me one of her
sons died from an attack by a dog. He was her first born son, Ico. I could hear
the sadness in her tone as she told me this. Her voice trembling and weaker by
the minute.

For many months after her first litter she lived
alone, taking refuge in a feral cat colony near the Recplex. People felt bad
for the stray cats and would feed them regularly. No one ever feels bad for
opossums. The cats were kind enough to share their food with her despite their
differences. Then one rainy day the local animal control came by and rounded up
all the cats, never to be seen again. Shortly thereafter, the food stopped
coming and she moved on.

She made many friends along her short journey, but
many of them also perished. Hit by cars, attacked by animals, hurt by humans.
Life seemed so unfair she questioned why it had to be like this. She struggled
for many months, deciding whether or not to conceive again. It didn’t seem
right to bring more babies into this world of chaos and suffering. But then she
met Aris.

They fell in love quickly and lived for many months
near the outdoor Home and Garden section of Home Depot. Eventually she became
pregnant and when she told Aris, he was elated. It was his first litter. He
left that evening to go forage for food to bring back to her and the growing
babies, but by sunrise he hadn’t returned and never did.

Alone and pregnant, she needed protection. She had
seen several neighboring opossums in the area and reached out for help. An
older female named Kaiza took pity on her growing belly and agreed to take her
in. Kaiza was almost three years old when she met her, ancient for an opossum,
and refused to have more babies. She had seen the horrors of man and could not
allow for the possibility of more suffering than already existed. She stayed
with Kaiza until the babies were born nearly two weeks later.

Not wanting to be a burden on her elder, she decided
to leave with her five babies in her pouch. She felt strong and hopeful she
could fend for them alone and set off to live in a nearby park. Her babies grew
in the park and played and had many experiences exploring the wonders of
nature. She had discovered a bag of food near the playground, a prize, that she
took back to her offspring, now big enough to venture outside her pouch. She
fed the five of them a cheeseburger, fries, and chicken nuggets. They were
happy at the feast their mother had brought home to them.

That evening two of her smaller ones fell ill. She
stayed with them the whole night, not wanting to leave their side to find more
food. By sunrise she awoke to her greatest horror. All five of them were cold,
lifeless. They died in their sleep from the food they ate that had no doubt
been poisoned. She stayed by their side all day. Crying. Feeling incredibly
guilty for feeding them the food that killed them. She found the scraps from
the bag and ate them ravenously. She didn’t want to go on in a world like this.

And now here she was, almost lifeless herself, laying
in my lap. To me, a small little baby. I cradled her and cried with her. I told
her I was sorry people were so cruel and that her babies were no longer
suffering. I told her I had so much I wanted to share with her if she would
only let me take her to a vet, but her breathing was labored and she told me
the end would be soon. I told her I would take her body and I would bury it in
my backyard so she would never be alone again, she would always have a place
with me. I asked her name to put on the tombstone and she replied with her last
breath, “Nila.”

I sat there motionless for some time. Sobbing into her
fur. Feeling like I’d lost an old friend, perhaps the only one in the world who
ever truly understood me. Eventually the owners of the house came outside to
move the car. I must have been a strange sight, crying with a dead opossum in
my lap. I stood up, holding her still warm body, and began to walk home.

About two blocks down the road I crossed paths with a
dead bird. Its head bent upwards unnaturally towards the sky. I didn’t have a
chance to meet the bird while it was still alive, but I picked it up all the
same and placed it gently on top of Nila’s body as I continued my journey home.

Maybe her name was Nila, too. Like the opossum.

Like me.