I was living alone in a two bedroom bungalow house, in a town where I knew only one person, where I had no job, an ex-boyfriend who wasn’t returning my texts asking when I could return all his stuff to him, and it was Tuesday.
At 10:30 p.m., I was in my bedroom packing clothes into boxes by season. I had been sorting, packing, purging, and organizing my stuff for several days. I was moving soon. I wasn’t sure when, or where to, but I knew I was moving. My rent was paid, though, so I had some time to decide what to do.
I had a month of no real obligations. With no job and an impending move, my days were filled organizing and packing. When that got old, I would quilt or sit on my front porch drawing and painting while watching old seasons of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Sometimes I was overcome with listlessness and did nothing; then suddenly I would have a burst of energy and organize all of my books alphabetically by genre. I’d then wander from project to project to project, completing none of them. I didn’t know what I was doing next in my life, so I had a hard time deciding what project to tackle next.
The only certain thing was that I wasn’t going to stay in that house with the red door and red porch, tall windows and cream colored siding, fake vinyl wood flooring, huge backyard and slightly sloping kitchen floor. I wasn’t staying in Champaign, Illinois any longer than I had to.
As I sorted clothing my into boxes, I heard a noise come from the back of the house bear the kitchen. I didn’t care enough to investigate; I assumed it was squirrels on the roof again. Then I heard the cat growl. It was the kind of growl I’d only heard from her a handful of times, and it always and only meant something bad. I rushed out of the bedroom to see her standing at the edge of living room and kitchen, eyes glued to something at the rear of the house. She was staring at the backdoor, which was opened into kitchen to let in the night air. Sitting on top of the door, inside my house, was a raccoon, and it was growling back at the cat.
I immediately grabbed Sheba, put her in the bedroom, and closed the door. I returned to the living room to face the creature and decide what to do. With the screen door closed, I couldn’t figure out how it had gotten inside my house.
I quickly decided the best course of action was to open the back screen door and chase it out. Because of the narrowness of the kitchen, when the backdoor was opened to the inside of my house, it created a hallway (see floor layout diagram). In order to open the screen door, I would have to be standing almost directly underneath the raccoon, close enough for it to attack me. Due to its growling, there was no way I was going to open the screen door from inside my house. The only option left was to open the screen door from the outside via my backyard, which was completely fenced in with no gate. I was going to have to climb over the fence in order to get into my backyard.
I went around the side of the house, gripped the top of the fence firmly, and hauled one leg, then the other, over the fence. Just as I was about to hop down to the ground, the thought crossed my mind that jumping to the ground in the dark, when I couldn’t see what I’d be landing on, might not be a great idea. I did it anyway, and it turned out to be a terrible idea. My right foot landed on an uneven spot in the yard and my ankle rolled. I fell to the ground, my foot curled to the inside of my leg, and I was fairly sure I’d heard something crackle as I went down.
Fuck. I broke it. And I don’t have health insurance right now. Or a job. And I have to move. Such bad timing to break an ankle. This is SO inconvenient.
I lay there for a moment, fighting back tears. But I had to get up because there was a raccoon in my kitchen, and that was the more pressing issue at the moment. Gingerly I stood up and put weight on it. Ok. Not broken. Badly sprained. I took a step. It was very badly sprained. I hobbled over to the screen door, opened it and tried to secure it so it would stay open. I then grabbed the rake, and limped back to the fence to climb over it again.
I put most of my weight on my arms, and made sure that I landed carefully on my good left foot. It worked, mostly, and I wobbled to the front door and back into my house.
The raccoon was still sitting on top of the door, legs and arms draped on either side, perfectly balancing itself lengthwise on top of the door, nose to tail. It didn’t look happy, and neither was I. Using the rake, I attempted to poke at it so it would leave through the now-wide open screen door. The way I’d planned it in my head, I’d poke at it, the raccoon would jump down off the door and run off into the night. What actually happened was it bared its teeth at me, growled, grabbed the rake with its knuckly hand-paws, and tried to pull the rake out of my hands. I was having a tugging match with a raccoon over a rake.
My plan hadn’t worked, so I retreated back outside to the front of my house to reassess the situation.
As I was pacing in front of my house trying to figure out what to do, I noticed that my neighbors were still up. Not only were their lights on, but their front door was open and they were blaring gangster music. I recognized Tupac, as I was also a fan of his music. I could see two people on the front porch, silhoutted against the light from inside the home.
I made a decision. Months earlier, my astrologist had told me I needed to learn to ask for help from people. This was one of those times.
I tottered across the street. The people on the front porch appeared to be teenagers, but it was hard to tell. It was dark, the lighting was bad, and my night vision isn’t great. One of the girls was bigger, the other smaller, thin, and lithe. But thinking they were minors, my opening words were:
“Excuse me. Um, hi. I live across the street. Are, um…are your parents home?”
“What you talkin’ ‘bout parents? We grown,” said the bigger girl.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell how old you are, what with the lighting and all.”
They just stared at me.
“Well, anyway, I live across the street and I was just wondering if either of you knew how to get a raccoon out of your house,” I explained.
“You got a ‘coon in yo house?” asked the bigger woman.
“Yes. I do.”
“Dem mutherfuckers NASTY,” said the lithe woman.
“Yeah. I don’t know how it got in, but it’s sitting on top of my backdoor. I tried to chase it out with a rake, but it tried to take the rake away from me.”
“Man, fuck those things,” said the bigger one with a dismissive hand gesture.
As she said that, two other people came out of the house: a girl who appeared to be 15 or so, and a woman who looked like she was in her mid to late 20s. A small toddler was hiding behind her leg. My eyes had finally adjusted to the light and I could tell that the two people I’d first met on the porch were older than I’d thought. Except for the teenaged girl and the toddler, everyone appeared to be at least in their 20s.
I also noticed all of these women were wearing the color red in some form or another. The teenager had a red bandana on her head; the lithe woman was wearing a black baseball cap, a red Bulls jersey and red basketball shorts. The woman with the toddler was wearing a red shirt with the word Juicy bedazzled in black across her chest. And the largest girl—both tall and broad—was also wearing a red Bulls jersey, black basketball shorts, and had the most precisely cornrowed hair I’d ever seen.
“Hello,” I said to the the teenaged girl and the woman with the toddler.
“Dis lady say she got a ‘coon in her house,” the bigger girl explained.
“Oh fuck dem things. Dey nasty!” said the teenager.
“That’s what I said!” the lithe woman explained.
“So, is there someone I can call who will come out and help remove the raccoon for me?” I asked, trying to get back to my problem at-hand.
“Don’t know,” said the bigger girl, somewhat unhelpfully.
“Don’t you got a roommate that can help you get the ‘coon out?” asked the woman with the toddler.
“Um… no,” I said.
“What ‘bout yo family?” she asked.
“I don’t have any family nearby.”
“What ’bout yo boyfriend?” the lithe woman asked.
“No, I don’t have one of—”
“You don’t got no man?” she interjected.
“No. I live alone.”
“Alone?!” she sounded surprised.
“And no boyfriend?”
“Aw, man…” It sounded like she felt bad for me.
I stood waiting out an awkward pause that felt longer than it probably was. “I already tried to get the raccoon out,” I re-explained. “I went into the back to open the door but there’s no gate so when I jumped the fence I landed badly and sprained my ankle so I’ve been limping all night and then I tried to poke him with a rake but he tried to grab it away from me and he won’t leave my house and I don’t have anyone I can call because I moved here six months ago for a job that I lost a week ago and I don’t have any friends or family nearby,” I said, the words pouring out of me. I didn’t mean to sound panicked, but I probably did.
They all exchanged looks.
“Well. I guess we could come help you,” said the woman with the toddler.
“Really?! That would be so great! Thank you!” I said, grateful one of them had finally offered.
“JAMAL! Come get your brother. I’m gonna help this lady get a ‘coon out her house!” she yelled into her house. A 10-year-old boy came to the door and steered the toddler back into their home. With that, the four women reluctantly followed me across the street to my house.
I led them through the living room to the kitchen where I pointed at the back door and the raccoon, still sitting up there.
“Oh MAN! I fuckin HATE dese guys!” exclaimed the teenager, gesturing at the raccoon.
“God DAMN dem motherfuckas nasty,” the lithe woman said.
“You got anything to poke at him with?” asked the woman who no longer had the toddler.
“Yes, I do,” I said. I already had the rake, plus I also had a broom and a Swiffer.
I noticed that the screen door had closed. I hadn’t secured it well enough earlier, and now the raccoon’s nearest exit was blocked. Someone was going to have to go back in the backyard and open the screen door again from the outside—no one was going to walk under the raccoon sitting on top of the door. I didn’t want to ask any of the women helping me if they’d be willing to hop over the fence—they were already going out of their way to help me—so I volunteered to be the one to jump the fence and hold the screen door open as they all chased it out of the house.
I armed these urban-looking, possibly gang-affiliated women with a rake, a broom, and a Swiffer—those were the only weapons I had that were suitable for the situation. I was one weapon short, so the teenager offered to just watch. I limped out the front door, around the side of the house, and hurled myself back over the fence, taking care to land on my good leg. I then carefully opened the screen door.
“Three…two…one,” I heard one of them saying, and suddenly there was screaming, yelling, and banging against the cabinets. I couldn’t really see what was going on, as a good sightline would also mean being directly in the path of the raccoon when he came running out. Whatever they did, though, it worked and I watched the animal run out my back door, sprint across my backyard, and jump over the rear fence into the alley.
I quickly went back into the house, closed and locked the screen door and the back door, partly terrified the raccoon would come running back and try to get in.
“Thank you SO MUCH!” I said to all of them.
“Man, that motherfucka was gross,” said the lithe one. “And he tried to climb into yo ceiling,” she said pointing up. My kitchen had a drop ceiling with acoustic tiles, and I could see where he’d tried to push a tile up and crawl into the ceiling space above. His dirty little paws had left prints on the wall.
“Damn…” I said.
“Yeah, I used the rake to get him down,” she added.
The other women all told me what they’d done to get the raccoon out of my house—banging on things, blocking routes away from the backdoor, poking at his face. The unarmed teenager had offered moral support in the form of additional yelling and banging. They were all glad I was the one to hold the screen door open. None of them wanted that job in case the raccoon ran outside and attacked. In that moment, we were commiserating like battle-hardened veterans—together, we’d faced the enemy, and he had a furry face, bandit-looking eyes, and weirdly human hands. We had faced him, and we had won.
“Thank you all again SO MUCH. I really appreciate it. I had no one else I could ask right now, so I can’t thank you enough.”
“Yeah…ya welcome,” said the lithe woman. “You gonna owe us some alc’hol or drugs or sumthin’ though.”
“Oh, yeah, of course!” I said. Thinking quickly, I asked “Do you like gin?”
“Gin? I guess so.” She didn’t sound enthusiastic, but I had an unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire, which I grabbed from the top of the refrigerator and handed to her.
“Dis shit good?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’m not a huge fan of gin, but this is definitely good gin. It mixes well.”
I hobbled them to the front door, thanking them individually as they left my home, grateful I had neighbors who were awake at 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in May to help me chase a motherfucking raccoon out of my house.