@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
An Open Letter Of Apology To My Neighborhood Opossum
Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases and is considered by the CDC an “emerging epidemic.” Hysteria? Maybe. But if there’s any type of hysteria I buy into, it’s usually some sort of disease. Infection and illness being my top fear.
Lyme disease is a special issue because it’s extremely hard to diagnose if you don’t get/miss the ring rash from the initial bite of the tick. The bacteria leaves the blood and enters the lymph nodes and tissues rather quickly, making it hard to detect. Additionally, Lyme disease can remain dormant for weeks, months or even years. The side effects of the disease are extremely dangerous, including joint swelling/pain, heart palpitations, episodes of dizziness, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and neurological damage. It’s actually terrifying.
In times I’ve been sick or experienced odd physical symptoms, I’ve often fretted, “oh God, what if it’s Lymes?” I’ve pulled enough ticks off my body in my life, it really wouldn’t be all that shocking. A beach kid and surf bum, a summer doesn’t pass that I’m not running through dunes or hiking in the woods somewhere. Our parents were thorough about checking us for ticks when we were kids, and installing a fear in us that we’d examine our own bodies after a day of running around the beach. As for me, I have a lot of beauty marks all over my body. More than one lover have expressed they find them sexy, only for me to reply with, “you want to pick which one is going to give me cancer and inevitably kill me?” Yes, I’m a real gem with bedroom talk. I have two on my bikini line, and as mother cautioned, you had to really check your armpits and your crotch area for ticks because they are drawn to the warmer nooks of your body. To this day, I get freaked out and go, “is this a tick!?” and then go, “oh yea, it’s that beauty mark that’s been down there MY WHOLE LIFE. Indeed, I am a hypochondriac.
Deer at the beaches we frequented growing up (mostly Atlantique beach on Fire Island) grew accustomed to being friendly with humans. You could feed them right out of your hand. I remember parents taking their kids to pet a ‘real life Bambi.’ Cut to me. Already a cynical bummer and concerned about death and dying… a middle school kid who looks eight, with a head that’s too big for my body and nasally voice… “hey, you guys shouldn’t touch her, she has ticks!” I mean, you could literally see the ticks on the deer. Still, the family looked at me like, ‘who’s Debbie downer kid is this?’ That’s me. Lori Palminteri. The downer. Hope your kids’ brain doesn’t swell up because you wanted them to pet a wild deer.
One time, my best bud Wesley and were killing time before the tide dropped and we could go boogie boarding again, exploring the dunes. We found a tick, completely bloated with blood. Using sea shells, we scooped it up and brought it the handball court and put it on the cement. We then took the sharp edge of a broken clam shell and sliced it open, watching the blood ooze out. Not sure why we did that, or even, why it was so satisfying.
“Do you think it’s human blood or deer blood?” I asked Wesley.
“Only one way to find out,” he said, Wesley’s mom was a high school science teacher.
“We don’t have a microscope,” I said as though it would be obvious under a microscope if a blood sample belonged to a human or a deer. What the hell did I know?
“I was going to say you have to eat it.”
And then we laughed and laughed.
My family and Wesley’s were big into mountain biking too. We were kind of a team of an action sports family. I remember once we went to these biking trails out east and I looked down at my white t-shirt which had several ticks on them and freaked out. Another time, my sister pulled a tick out of her belly button, threw it in the sink, and we ran the water on it. Less than an hour later, that little bastard crawled out of the drain. It was then flushed down the toilet, and we monitored Lisa’s stomach for that famous bull’s eye rash. It may be a damn miracle that neither myself nor my sister or brother ever contracted the disease given our exposure to those things.
Anyway. I’ve lived in my humble little apartment in Astoria, Queens for a near six years now. Yes, it’s Queens, but I live near Astoria park along the East River where it’s rather residential, and while most of our woodland friends are feisty squirrels, we also have raccoons, snails (in the warmer months) and at least one opossum.
As a comedian, I often come home very late. It’s about a mile walk from the subway to where I live, which, yes, I often do in the middle of the night by myself. There’s usually other people around. I never feel unsafe. Before I moved, I surveyed a lot of other comedians who lived in the area and they assured it’s safety. I truly love where I live. Sometimes, I think, “well, I’ll just continue to be a comedian and a screenwriter until my landlord eventually raises my rent and I can’t afford to live in this amazing place.” Luckily, she hasn’t, and I’ve got one of the New York gems of studio apartment deals.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been startled by the garbage hunting, hideous creation of evolution— the neighborhood opossum. We’ve had interactions where it makes me squeal and jump, or I make it hiss at me, sometimes it plays dead, and even there are times we eye each other walking across the street like cowboys ready to duel. Sometimes (perhaps not in sobriety), I berate it.
“Ew! Get out of here! No one likes you, you hideous monster!”
“Yeah, you play dead, you should be ashamed of your existence, your face is atrocious!”
“Oh god, not you again! You little beast of an unloved creature!”
“Jesus Christ, you are one ugly mother fucker. Ugly. Stupid. Loser. Mother fucker.”
“You volatile abomination, disgrace to the rodent species!”
Yes, like an abusive spouse, I yell at the opossum in the street in the middle of the night. I’ve spat at it. I mean, you do that too, right? This is normal behavior for a young lady?
Recently, I read that opossums eat about 5000 ticks in a single season, destroying about 90 percent of all ticks they encounter. Making the opossum our best defense against ticks. These hideous hissing, freakazoids of nature, might as well be wearing capes in the night. They may be literally saving our lives from Lyme disease carrying ticks. In fact, the more opossums around, the less ticks. So this opossum that I’ve been verbally abusing for years, is actually like a misunderstood fury (yet remarkably unattractive) super hero of sorts.
I then felt shame for my behavior. Oh how I have acted a fool! How I have pre-judged you based on the fact that no one wants a stuffed animal of you to cuddle. Your face is a nightmare, truly! But you are not bad. In fact, you are quite good and essential in the circle of life and you deserve a place in our neighborhood as much as squirrels who try to rape each other. Nature, you’re a cruel mother, and I, Lori Palminteri, of the homo-sapiens species, am a cruel daughter. Oh misunderstood monster, please forgive me, for I know not what I do.