It was spring, late semester, desert air
thick with jasmine, eucalyptus, their ripe heat.
Nineteen, and though I didn’t know it then,
still in a winter of mourning, though who doesn’t
grieve at nineteen, with injury after injury
clicking into focus. I couldn’t name it
then, but it was a breed of this grief that wrenched me
awake each night, my body a breathless, pure
pulse. And so it was, near fifteen years ago,
I answered the midnight phone call from a boyfriend,
who was sobbing. “I killed a possum,” he said.
“Will you come see?” Already awake, I agreed.
In the car, I asked what had happened. He said
he had run over a possum on the way back
from McDonald’s, on a side road off Canyon Crest.
He wanted to drive by again, for me to check
if it were really dead, still dead. So we drove
through the neighborhood, flanked by the Box Springs
mountains, and then onto the darkened street.
Trees blocked most of the moonlight, the street
lamps. It was somewhere here, he said, slowing
the car. Can you look, please? I didn’t know
what I was looking for, but I stuck my head
out the window he had already rolled down on my side.
Up ahead, I saw what might be a flash of white,
and said so. That’s it, he said, and drove closer,
so I unbuckled my seat belt, climbed to my knees
(the better to lean out), and when I did,
the leaves of the trees must have parted,
and the moon shone its spotlight, illuminating
the possum’s smashed face, half-gravel,
half-flesh, one shoe-button eye trained
on me, its triangle mouth agape, as if
mid-scream. I screamed too, and my boyfriend
wailed, a pitiful, heartbroken sound that surged
not empathy but rage, like a fever through
my 100-pound body—the glowing animal’s
broken face just one in a line of petty
disappointments I would have further
broken, smashed, and flung back at the indifferent
mountains. I balled an empty burger wrapper in my fist
and flung it out the window, toward the darkness
of what I thought was a tree but it made no impact,
instead fell limp on someone’s lawn, said only let’s go.
The boy was crying and I hated him then, his innocence,
his weakness, the otherwise ease with which
I imagined he would navigate the rest of his simple
life, unable to face the most minor mistakes.
And me, I carry that possum with me, like the body
of the girl I was, the girl I was leaving behind—
that moonlit face I still see when I close my eyes.