An uncharacteristically quiet mouse with adorable bedhead ran into the kitchen this morning before she was fully awake. Outside, the rain was coming down steadily. The light was gray. She looked bleary and confused under the too-bright flourescent light.
Good morning, I said.
Squeak, she whispered.
I was in the middle of making coffee but turned the heat off the water when I caught sight of her big, red-rimmed eyes.
What is it?
I want to go home, whispered the mouse. Her chin wobbled and tears were gathering and beginning to spill over her lower lashes.
But this is your home, little mouse! I'm your mama mouse!
Tears were slowly and steadily dripping down her cheeks now. She told me she didn't "recognize anything here" and wanted to go to her real home, which was "in a big field, under an old old tree." What was she doing in this strange house?
The pretend mouse story was the gauziest wrapping around a heart of very real, disoriented feelings. You could see right through it.
I picked her up and took her to the couch, where she tried to burrow into my chest. She told me how she longed to go home, where things are just her size and right for her, and where there are lots of foods she likes to eat. Though we might love her here, "there is much more love" in her real home. I'm not even a person, she told me. And then: what is a person? And what is love? I don't even know! (More tears).
She continued: How do you even know me? You look like a human being, but I'm a mouse. How did I get here?
I told her I had known her and loved her since the day she was born, and every moment since then. Five years!
Frances gathered herself together and looked at me steadily. I live in mouse-years, as you know.
In my mind I heard that haunting, beautiful line from a Neutral Milk Hotel song, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all.
This empathetic sponge of a mama, emotional amoeba that I am, sat and clutched my little girl on the couch and tried not to cry with her. (Her sensitive brother roamed the house looking for "gifts" which he deposited next to us, asking Didi if she was happy now with each new offering). I wanted to honor her suffering, the truth of what she was tapping, without sending her over the edge.
Her lost little mouse was expressing a primal in-the-world-but-not-of-it realization, an existential shiver that shook her from whisker to tail. To feel oneself a mouse amongst people, to feel onself not quite fitting into the world as it is, to feel one's separateness and yearning for a home where everything is beautiful and these distances between us disappear. A real home, a mouse house. It is a lot for a small person to hold all at once.
Which is why, thankfully, this moment soon slid naturally into more light-hearted mouse family play. How tenderly I felt towards her. How painful growing up can be. How strange it is to be anything at all.