I found love last year. It began in March, in Hampton Bays. I found a sister to connect to. To share my secrets with. She was a Virginia Opossum named Rosebud and nearing the end of her days. She was at least over two and a half years when I met her, possibly three. Even two years is quite old for an opossum, even a healthy one.
Rosebud grew up at the wildlife center where I had begun volunteering that month. I shook with excitement when I learned, she being an education animal, I was able to take her for walks out on the property. Rosebud had grown knowing no other life other than that of living within the walls and fences of the center but also as an important ambassador for wildlife everywhere.
Opossums are marsupials. Like kangaroos, opossum mothers nurse and care for their young deep within a pouch towards the bottom of their belly. Often, when these mothers are struck by cars or injured and killed in other ways, the babes within their pouch die too. The little ones inside, unknowingly become orphans, orphans too small to survive on their own. Unless a very rare, kind person, checks to see quickly if the body, recently pushed off to the side, has movement in its belly, none of the young ones will survive.
Rosebud, was one of these young “possies”, found in a dead mother’s pouch. Being the only survivor of her family, she was left an injured orphan. Rosebud was given a second chance at life because a phenomena of human kindness was committed and she was brought to the center. She could never return to the wild that she never got to truly know but she got to live.
After the accident, Rosebud’s back and neck remained forever slightly crooked. This caused her to have difficulty cleaning herself and to later in life develop a type of dermatitis or rash all over her back. Being myself a victim of a type of dermatitis (mine being eczema) for nearly twenty-two years with no end in sight, I was able to relate. Luckily, in her case, the cure was a body kept clean, fresh, and moistened when necessary. I did that for her.
Her skin began to improve greatly and what’s better, it no longer gave her discomfort. Though she still had bits of the rash up until the day she passed away, she no longer flinched when her skin was touched. I know that pain and irritation, I understand it well. It felt amazing to help someone else have control over their skin. I myself have very to little to no control over mine but to see that bit of frustration lifted from her eyes, it felt great.
She was always happy to see me when I came to wake her, though a bit cranky if ever woken up too early, as anyone would be. She would stretch her legs and body under her blankets with a small feel of ecstasy, and crawl towards me to sniff out what I had planned for her that day. My scent began to immediately mean fresh air, a stretch of the legs, a warm cuddle, and of course a fantastic dinner along with snacks. Our walks and exercises began to change her, both mentally and physically. So, I began to take her out of her enclosure any chance I got.
When I became staff and we were busy, I used my lunch break to be with her. When it snowed or rained hard, I would sneak her a bit of extra food since she couldn’t be outside. Only once, early on, did she nip at me. She could not communicate at all vocally because of her disabilities and one day in my arms she tried to make herself comfortable but I hadn’t noticed as I rushed to get back inside before my break was over. Her back was hurting in that position so in her way, she told, “stop that!” I took her point and from then always made sure she was perfectly comfortable in my arms before walking anywhere with her.
I was told not to get attached to her because of how old she was but it was love at first sight. We liked and then loved each other from the moment we met one another. The last day I spent with her, I knew something was off. She hadn’t been doing very well for a few days and then sitting there next to her in an enclosure, I saw her wanting both to snuggle against me but also to find a dark, comfortable place to lay down for good. When I was told she had passed during the night, I wasn’t surprised yet still in shock. Everyone at the center gave me their condolences, they all knew I loved her in a tremendous way. My heart cracked and something broke inside of me. With every death close to me, I feel something break. I wonder how many of these somethings we have inside of us.
My plan was to scatter her ashes throughout the woods around my home. In this plan, not only would I finally have her home with me but she would also finally be free amongst the trees, the brush, and the fresh air. I also have an antique, wooden perfume holder, bought in Bulgaria during the early fifties while my grandparents honeymooned through parts of Europe, with enough room for a bit of ash to keep close to my heart. It’s perfect really. There is a red rose (my favorite flower by the way) carved into its delicate design.
However, my plan never occurred. I’ve been selfish. She first spent a week next to me on my living room couch, occasionally in my arms as I watched television. Now, in her dark purple container she was given to me in, she sits on my shelf with fake never dying red roses atop her. I can’t let her go. Instead, I wait now for a perfect, warm fall day. During this day, I will scatter through the woods, the petals of roses I have been collecting since her death. It will be a beautiful memorial for an animal just as wonderful.