I wrote this up and submitted it the NY Times magazine a couple of years ago, because why not aim high, and because I needed an excuse to record this very important event in my family history.
This past March, an urban drama occurred in my house. I was sitting downstairs and enjoying my last days of spring break by catching up on whatever had been recorded (aka I was watching the Kiera Knightley version of “Pride and Prejudice” for the second time in a week) . Suddenly, my mother poked her head in between the French doors of our family room. “Taylor,” she said, in a face that was trying valiantly to be serious, but wasn’t quite succeeding. Her expression reminded me very much of my friend who, in 8th grade, turned to me during math class and read, off of my forehead, the logic set transferred from my notebook to my face after taking a math cat nap.
My mother was a bit better at trying to stay solemn. She actually succeeded in saying with a straight face, “There is a dead rat in our toilet. Your father just discovered it.” She paused for effect (she majored in theater) and then went on to exclaim, “Want to come look at it?! It looks like this!” She lifted her hands up, scrunched them into “paws,” tilted her head upwards, closed her eyes, and pursed her lips. My mother starring in: The Dead Rat.
I nodded excitedly. Then I constructed an image of an actual dead rat in my head, and immediately changed my mind. “No mom! No! Ew! No way! But…what are we going to do with it?”
Let me pause for a moment to clarify a couple of facts. 1) We are a clean family. Growing up, I was forced to wash my heads before eating dinner, or else I was not allowed at the table. We change our sheets regularly. My grandma even washes ORANGES before she lets us eat them. We are not the most likely abode for rodents to draw their last breaths in, or even to draw any breaths in at all. 2) We live in Westchester, a place normally not associated with rats, although we do have an entire clan of deer who feed off of our shrubbery. 3) My parents don’t raise their voices very often. They also are not known to use profanity except during dire situations like trying to find a parking spot in Manhattan, right after a stubbed toe, or when something hot spills in the kitchen.
That being said, the first thing we all did when dealing with the rat involved a lot of hollering and four-letter words. My dad went in to investigate at the scene of the death, then came zooming out. (Let it be known: my dad is a runner. He ran a 50-mile race a couple of years ago; he zooms.) He looked at us, shook his hands out as if to remove them of something bacterial, and half-screamed, half-growled, “GROSS!”
Although “gross” is a word usually reserved for high schoolers when their mothers try to kiss them in public, I understood immediately why this term was applicable to our current situation. I was proud of my father for not pretending to fit into the masculine stereotype of the Man Who is Not Grossed Out By Any Creature. Dead rats are gross. This is a great usage of the word.
The next twenty minutes were spent theorizing how we could best get rid of this rat without having to look at it or touch it. It was obvious from the start that my father would be doing the removing. Neither my mother nor I have any training in the area of extermination, plus, my dad was the one who had made the discovery, and you know, he’s a man.
We decided that a rag should be thrown in the toilet water to “shroud” the creature. This was determined after my father went in the bathroom with barbeque tongs and came out screaming my mother’s name as well as some other profane combinations. It was also noted that a bucket would be necessary for Rat Transportation. Our plan was as follows: my dad would grab the shrouded rat with tongs, toss it in the bucket, and run outside. During this process, I did my best to yelp and make disgusted noises every time my father did. My mother did the same. We are moral support champions. When the time came for him to exit the house, I threw the front door open to the frigid winter and we watched as my father made a hard right turn, ran down the path and into the backyard, and dumped the shrouded thing into the neighbor’s yard. Good Riddance, Rat.
**To our neighbors in the back right sector of our yard: we apologize. We had never dealt with a dead rat before, and we panicked. Next time, we will be more prepared; we will not throw it near your house. If it is any condolence, we can perform for you, in unison if necessary, an impressively accurate impersonation of a dead rat in a toilet bowl.