DNA and The Strange, Mystical Promise of a Dead Opossum (a true story)

I want to go to India or somewhere you can sprinkle flower petals at the foot of a half-animal, half-human statue who freely gives out blessings to the faithful.  I want to smell the incense, subtly burning slowly in the background.  I want to drift like its stream of smoke, first steadily and then, once I’ve got myself going, go all curvy and crinkly and bouncy.  I want to be free like that smoke, like that brave traveler hippie who sees the beauty in the nasty, nitty-gritty world, the one we all sometimes wish we could be, mostly when we are sitting at our desks or mopping our floors or changing diapers.  

This morning I said, “Today feels full of promise.”  This was at 6:45 as I was leaving the house.  The sky was not quite lit, splashes of dreamy lilac colored the edges of the horizon, a few clouds hovered briefly, still clinging to the dark of night before releasing themselves into the clear as the day woke itself woke up. 

A man without a beard pointed out a opossum, dead, on the ground near the orchard.  “Electrocuted,” he said. 

“What?!  How does a ‘possum get electrocuted?”  I walked over to check out the carcass at the foot of the electric pole.  It looked like a sleeping cat with a racoon’s tail.  Could it still be even just a little bit alive?  I didn’t want to see its strained expression.  Not after I saw its contracted, clenched claws, inanimately frozen in distress. 

“Must have grabbed two wires at once,” he said. 

“Yeah, the wrong two,” I said, thinking of jumper cables and how you sorta have to know what you’re doing when you’re dealing with electrical currents.  Which is why I don’t like jumper cables–because I don’t know what I’m doing without somebody standing there telling me.  It was one of those thoughts–the ones about the jumper cables–that just pass into your brain so briefly, so softly, so barely that it almost doesn’t even touch your consciousness.  Like a near imperceptible, subliminal message.  I say this because when I thought that thought I didn’t actually think much about it.  It was a split-second flash–the ‘possom was a cartoon character, holding two wrong wires with each claw, in mid-air, at midnight, getting jolted from the power lines.  It was comical.  “From the looks of its butt hole, it got quite a jolt,” another onlooker said.  The electrical current surrounding the cartoon character in my head now had a big lightening bolt coming from his bum.  I laughed and then got back in the car.  

I noticed just how lilac the sky actually was when I looked at the hills beyond McDonald’s.  (It’s a new McDonald’s–the towns people fought tooth and nail to keep them out but don’t seem to have a problem going through the drive-thru now that it’s here.)  I thought if I weren’t in the car I would take a picture.  McDonald’s at dawn with the most beautiful background of craggy hills.  Then I noticed a car with its headlights on.  I should turn mine on, too, I thought.  It’s still not very light out. 

And then I got home, got out of the car, came inside, checked my email, made coffee, had some yogurt, made the bed, got dressed, brushed my teeth and went back out to the car about forty minutes later.  I put the key into the ignition and turned it and nothing.  Flat.  Dead.  Deader than the opossum.  

Now, I know it’s weird, but I just think it’s absolutely whack when stuff like this happens.  I mean, I go for days, months, maybe even years without thinking of jumper cables.  Then, one morning I think of them and an hour later I need them.  Is this a coincidence because I don’t think it is.  It’s like when I dream of an object, like a rubix cube or something equally obscure, and the next morning I flip on the television and the first thing that comes on is some bad soap opera where a kid is playing with a rubix cube.  I know this happens to everybody.  I know it’s not just me. 

I started noticing stuff like this–coincidences that probably aren’t coincidences–back in 8th grade.  It was when I learned about DNA, which I’ll never forget stands for Deoxy Ribonucleaic Acid.  Our Earth Science teacher taught us this and it’s one of those rare classroom memories I have that’s still completely in tact.  It’s so solid I could step into it and actually be there right now.  The teacher’s to the left of my desk, my head is down, I’m staring at the twisty double-ladder depiction as she tells us about DNA and something in my brain clicks and I’m like, “OH MY GOD.  WHAT?  HOW ARE WE JUST LEARNING ABOUT THE KEY TO LIFE?”  I literally felt like somebody had clicked on a flashlight, shining it right into my soul and in my brain.  It was as if someone was saying, “See?  This is you, zoomed in big time.”  It seemed so utterly important to know and yet we only spent about three seconds on the topic before we moved onto dissecting the atom, which I found totally unearth-shattering and nowhere near as important. 

Anyway, it was in that class, that my consciousness shifted and my perceptions began to noticeably pick up other things.  I remember especially what the teacher said, “Now that you’ve learned the word DNA, you will start hearing it everywhere.”  And I did.  I also conducted my own experiments, learning by heart all our vocab words as quickly as possible, keeping my ears perked to see if I noticed them now that I knew them.  

Of course I did.  It was true.

All this stuff?  It’s so weird, I know.  And I’m sure you think I’m weird for talking about it.  Call me crazy but I think there’s something underneath it all, the dead opossum, my fleeting thoughts of jumper cables, the fact my car battery died…  On a superficial level, none of it clearly relates except that it’s the string of events that happened to me, Regina, this morning.  Yet, interestingly, I’m sitting here writing this because of that dead battery.  (I’m waiting to see if it’ll charge itself up before calling someone over here who has jumper cables.) 

Had that random dude not pointed out the dead opossum this morning, I probably wouldn’t have turned my car lights on and I also probably wouldn’t have a rundown battery.  I wouldn’t have remembered my DNA memory and I wouldn’t have eaten those two tortilla chips just now out of need for something salty.  My day would be slightly different and this piece of writing would not exist.  It would have remained in oblivion.   

Everything is so vast, so intricate, so divinely orchestrated.  Life is incomprehensibly intertwined, just like that twisty double-helix that so fascinated me when I was only thirteen.  I think we only spent a few seconds on it because of its complexities, because it was so abstract and difficult to understand.  My teacher said, “You’ll learn more about this as you get older,” and I remember wondering when that was going to be.  I imagined a high school physics class, a lab where we had to wear goggles and hold boiling beakers or bacteria-infested Petri dishes.  Little did I know it would have anything to do with a dead opossum and a 1995 Nissan Sentra that won’t start. 

This wasn’t exactly what I meant when I said today felt promising.  I have been gently reminded that promising doesn’t always come in the most straightforward of ways.  And maybe this is the whole point of a Hindu shrine.  A weirdly mystical half-human, half-animal statue.  To remind us how life itself is such a bizarre temple.  We’re all connected, inexplicably, illogically and in ways far beyond the confines of our conscious understanding.  If my car starts, I’m going back to that opossum with a handful of rose petals to scatter over its body.  Wish me luck.           


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