I Am Spartacus (R.I.P.)

I’ve wanted so desperately to write something about Spartacus. But it’s seemed almost a sacrilege to mention his name. I’ve lost my taste for poetic words, and the insane rhyme of reason. Some things can’t be put into words. And you can’t explain to people with no poetry in their soul what it’s like to have a friend who is a squirrel. My heart aches for those who will never know the simple gift of having those small paws reach out to us, seeking to touch us for no other reason than to make that connection.
In Spartacus’ short time on this Earth he brought to us a joy that cannot be calculated. He reawakened battered, jaded old hearts with the wonder of life and the beauty of the Universe. His presence was a gift to us that was beyond measure. The ever-present, bone-gnawing anguish that has been left in the wake of his absence is a fitting testament to our love and regard for him.
More than anything, I find myself saying, over and over, in my mind, two phrases. One thing I keep saying to myself is, “I don’t understand”. I can’t conceptualize why the Universe would bring us such a wonderful gift, and put us in the position to save him and gave him a chance at a long, full life, only to take that promise away a few short months later. Another thing I keep saying to myself is, simply, “inconceivable”. I can’t process this. It’s not as bad today, but Wednesday I found myself shaking my head and gritting my teeth, because somehow I felt that I could WILL this horror out of existence. As if I could make this NOT BE. Yesterday was easier only because I was finally accepting that it was all real. He is really gone. However much I might hurt or rail against the Universe and God at this injustice, Spartacus will not be coming back. I will never again stand in the breezes in the back yard, watching his shining eyes as he makes his way down a tree to say hello to me and play with my fingers.
After I had dug his grave Wednesday, I took the small box containing his body with me to a bench in the yard. I couldn’t bring myself to just put him in the ground. There had to be some kind of observance. That was my last moment on Earth with him, and I needed to pause before doing the inconceivable. As I sat down on that bench and looked up into the trees, watching the wind stir the branches, I was buffeted by the most heart-breaking anguish I’ve ever experienced. It welled up inside of me and poured out of my heart and soul in a deluge. I wept like a small child and held that box close to me. I’d thought maybe I could say a few kind words or provide some fitting epitaph to the soul that has so enriched my life, but all I had to offer was my grief. I cried so hard, so loudly, and for so long that I feared the neighbors might hear me. If I can offer nothing else, I pray that, perhaps, my tears might have sufficed to state to the world how special this one dear soul was to us, that his loss reduced me, a grown man, into a wailing child. If nothing else, let that be his epitaph.
When I had regained my composure, I went into the house and found a pair of scissors. I cut off some of my hair (Spartacus loved to play and tangle himself up in my hair) and I placed it into the box with his body, alongside the assortment of his favorite nuts that Victoria had already placed in there, and his favorite snuggle shirt, upon which she had lain his body. If Spartacus was going into the ground, a part of me was going to go with him. A part of me will always remain with him, just as a part of him will always live and breathe in my soul.
Since we buried Spartacus, we’ve tried to move on, but we’ve been only marginally successful. We’ve tried to get through our days, dancing around the pockets of breathless grief that sneak up on us in unguarded moments. Last night we went to Ybor City so that I could play with my band, and even there I found myself lost in every quiet moment, thinking about the unspeakable horror and loss that has so shaken my conception of everything even down to the spiritual level. Every poignant song that was played on the jukebox during our breaks sent me sliding out onto the thin ice. I grieved for my son, who was taken from me long before his time. I know now how parents must feel to lose a child, long before they’ve had the chance to fulfill their potential and begin making their own way in the world. This grief never leaves me. At best, I find ways to distract myself from it so that I can function.
What hurts most of all is when I reflect that before all this pain and anguish, there was a sweet, kind soul that came to me. I found him, a baby squirrel, sitting in the middle of the alley behind our house. I was driving a Land Rover. I stopped, expecting that he would move. But he did not. So I got out of the car, and walked over to him, expecting that he would scamper away. But he did not. I stomped my foot, hoping to scare him off of the pavement into the grass. He didn’t move. Instead, what he did was move weakly over to me and put one tiny paw on my shoe. I reached down to him, not knowing what else to do, and was surprised when he climbed into my hand. I held him up to me and looked at him. What I found in those dull, weak eyes was total trust. It was if he knew I would come for him. He knew I was going to help him. I decided to call him Spartacus because of his fearless spirit.
We later realized that Spartacus had little choice. He was so weak from dehydration that he likely would not have survived the night. Over the following weeks we nursed him back to health. We agonized over what we should do with him. On one hand we wanted to turn him over to someone who would reintroduce him to the wild. But on the other hand he had already bonded so to us, and us to him, that we couldn’t imagine turning him over to another person without a thorough, Federal level investigation into their life and background. We weren’t about to turn him over to just anyone who would take him. And as the weeks went on and we developed a relationship with him, he became family. We decided that it would be better to see if we could introduce him into the back yard, because we have a unique situation here, in which there are large trees in this area, an alley runs between our home and the neighbors behind us where there is rarely traffic and only occasionally people, and there was already a community of squirrels.
It was with trepidation that we decided to introduce Spartacus into the great outdoors. We took him with us out onto our large, screened in back porch, to gauge his reaction to his surroundings. It was immediately apparent to us that the experience stirred some memory in him. We’d never seen him act so happy and excited. Within a few days he had already scampered away from us and into the trees. We didn’t see much of him for a time, and tortured ourselves over whether we’d made the right decision, but he started coming back, much to our relief. We quickly established a daily morning routine, in which Spartacus would come through the holes in the screens onto the porch. He would play with us for a bit, wrestling with our fingers and playing with our hair, sometimes running over excitedly and touching us on our faces with his little paws. Victoria would sometimes scoop him up into her hands and rub his cheeks, which Spartacus eagerly submitted to, wrapping his paws around her fingers as if hugging her. We both quickly became fond of how wonderful he smelled because of living in the trees. Earthy and wood-like, he no doubt brought down to us the scent of the tree bark he’d scampered across all day long.
We would usually end our morning routines by gifting Spartacus with cracked nuts that we’d taken from our kitchen. Pecans. Walnuts. Brazil Nuts. Almonds. Hazel Nuts. He loved them all, but had a special fondness for the pecans and the walnuts. Some he would eat, but many he would hide away in different locations all over the yard. We loved watching him dig a hole in the ground and scoop the dirt over it, then pat the dirt down with his little paws. He was so full of life, mischief and simply joy. Our morning routine was a gift that was beyond measure, that brought hope to us no matter how dark our days might have become, or whatever latest financial crisis was tormenting us. Spartacus became our escape. We loved him, and he clearly loved us, and we desperately looked forward to seeing him grow into an old, happy squirrel, snoozing on a tree limb in the sun to warm old bones.
Then he was gone.
We still can’t comprehend it. Spartacus is gone. With him went much of our sense of hope and wonder. We can’t bear to walk in the back yard now. The many eyes of the squirrels in the trees that look down at us now, but don’t approach, are torture to us. Somehow we hope that maybe Spartacus is still up there somewhere, even as we know that he isn’t. Some part of us hopes that one day we’ll look up and see those bright, shining eyes staring at us as he scampers down the tree to say hello. But he won’t. Whatever wondrous joy he might have been in our lives for a time, that is over now. And as much as we might ache to just have one chance to hold him close to us again and smell his Earthy wildness, we know those times have passed.
I won’t speak about how we found him. Or what happened to him. Much of it we can only imagine in our darkest nightmares. Suffice it to say that a cat that lives outside, and took up residence here, took Spartacus from us. There are those who would like to think that we killed him somehow, but stunting his natural instincts. But they’re fools. We watched him in the yard, and his instincts were just fine. He was wary of all the same things as the other squirrels, and he was just as quick to run when he needed to. He also was one of the first to leap into a tree and start squawking whenever a cat was nearby, signaling his alarm to the other squirrels with the thrashing of his tail in the air. Spartacus was just as much a squirrel as the others that he hung out with. He was wild, free and, most importantly, happy.
I’ve tried to be thankful for those short three months that we knew Spartacus. It’s amazing to me that in a short time he made such a dramatic impact upon our lives. But he did. I’ve shown my humanity by not killing the cat that killed Spartacus, though the image of what I could do with the sharp end of a shovel never quite leaves my thoughts. I’m working on the rest. I’ve offered Victoria the best compromise I can, in that she can continue to feed that cat if she likes. But I know I can never bring myself to put out food for her again. Yes, I realize that she’s only being a cat and she did what comes naturally to her. But I can never forgive, or forget, what she did or what she took from us. I can respect her right to live, but I can no longer reach out to her.
I’ll always torment myself with questions about things I could have done differently. For instance, I firmly believe that if I had moved my mother’s car so that we could pull our Land Rover further up into the driveway, the cat could never have gotten so close to the fence, and might never have had a decent chance at catching any of the squirrels. Victoria’s right to point out that we don’t know what happened, and that Spartacus might have dropped to the ground in the driveway, as she’d seen him do before, but that all seems like semantics to me at this point. We may never know the details, but we know the likelihood of what happened out there, and how, and why, and by whom.
In the end, all that matters is that a wonderful miracle is gone. Every day I miss his presence. Now I have no one to play with in the mornings to start my day. Now when I walk out into the back yard there’s no one to care that I’m there. I miss his smell. I miss his single-mindedness (have nut, will travel). I even miss the scratches on my arms and legs. But more than anything, the one thing which it all comes back to, I miss Spartacus. I miss the person. His life brought to me a sense of wonder about the world and the Universe that I haven’t felt in decades. But more than all that, I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend. Indeed, I feel like I’ve lost a son.
It doesn’t matter to me if you think all this is silly. I certainly understand that there are those out there who will be shaking their heads and thinking, “it was just an animal” or “it was only a squirrel”. I pity those people. What dark, dank places you must live in, if the world offers you nothing more than your own self-importance, and your misguided belief that somehow your value is far beyond that of a little squirrel only because you are a human being. If you believe the only lasting relationships you can in the world is with other human beings, then you are a fool, and you’ve missed much of what makes the world such an amazing and wonderful place. You’ve missed much of existence, because you’ve locked yourself away in the misguided sense of superiority, maybe because you believe your god gave you all the animals of the Earth to use as you see fit, as if they were disposable handkerchiefs to use and discard as needed. What a shallow, pathetic life you lead, if you are incapable of conceptualizing, much less appreciating, the wonder gift of life that is all around us, which can be embodied even in the form of a simple squirrel sitting up on a tree limb.
Maybe the next time you rush back up your driveway and are scurrying into the house with a few bags of groceries, you should take a minute and look up into the trees, and watch that squirrel for a few moments. You might see it playing. You might see it warming itself in the sun, stretching out on a tree limb and enjoying the simple thrill of being alive. You might even comprehend that somewhere along that rat-like maze of your busy daily life you’ve perhaps lost something that he has not. He is what God has made him, and that’s enough for him. Are you happy? Are you content?
Maybe you can take a moment and listen as he squawks for no apparent reason, as if making his presence known to everyone around him. He has nothing to prove. All he wants if for the Universe to know that he IS. It’s fine if you can’t conceive of these things I’m talking about. After all, you’re only human. But for my part I will wander through my days, looking up into the trees and wondering if one of those squirrels that so loudly proclaim his or her right to exist is, in fact, shouting to the world something similar to “I am Spartacus!” In the end, aren’t we all? Aren’t we all?
As ever, my words have failed me. Nothing can really sum up what I’ve been trying to say or do here. It’s been a way of making me feel better. In the absence of my daily squirrel therapy, I’ve had to find other means to get through my day. I keep thinking about that phrase, which I attached to a wonderful, kind soul, by way of illuminating his amazing spirit and determination. How amazing is it now that a random phrase has come to embody everything that made the last three months such a notable period of my life. I hope that whenever I say it, whether to myself, to the unheeding world, or before an audience of thousands of people, I can invoke a familiar spirit and have his warmth and kindness there with me again, if only for a moment. He is gone, but I am still here to remember him. As long as I live, so will he. Whether those with no poetry in their souls like or not, or whether they can even comprehend it, in the end, thanks to the presence of one small squirrel, I am more than I once was. Thank you, son, for that gift.
I am Spartacus.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments