Matthew A. Merendo

in undergrad i was a member of the “i talk to squirrels” facebook group

Eeyore in the front, Tigger in the back.

Eeyore in the front, Tigger in the back.

(Entry #4)

Right now, the sky is split down the middle, as if two opposite sisters have drawn a line of demarcation down their bedroom. In front of me is the angry sister, the sad sister, the Goth sister, the one who wears only shades of black. She’s Eeyore in front of me. Behind me is Tigger. The sky is clear and blue, a bright orange sun emanating bouncy trouncy flouncy pouncy light. As I walk to the park, I see only Eeyore — dark sky and wet sidewalks — but Tigger brings out my shadow, always in front of me, and it feels odd, out of place, almost surreal in the Eeyore before me. But I walk on.

At the Walled Garden, there is no event, but there is a family having professional photographs taken. I am sitting on a stone bench in a corner of the garden, and the family is next to me, laughing and smiling as the photographer has them shift into various configurations. “Blue sky behind you, this is the money shot!” she says. She keeps shouting names — one of the people is named Matt, which is my name, and she keeps calling to him, telling him to smile a little more, move a little to the left, angle his shoulder. This is also strange, to have someone shouting my name when she’s not talking to me, when she has no idea that I’m Matt, too.

My father calls. He’s neurotic and paranoid, and he knows I’ve walked to the park. Before this trip ends, he’ll call another two times. But right now, he asks what I’m doing. “I’m at the park, you know that,” I said.

“Who are you with?” he asks.

He knows the answer to this question, too. “No one. My umbrella,” I say, and suddenly a wave of loneliness washes over me, the kind that makes me take a deep breath as if I can’t, the kind that turns down the corners of my eyes, makes me grab my chest as if my heart is breaking. (Perhaps it is, slowly, not the shattering of a wine glass but the snapping of a paper clip bent two too many times back and forth.) I am no stranger to this pain. I have felt it, with varying intensity, for as long as I can remember. To some degree, it has guided my life since the moment my life became mine to guide. I chose colleges based on the likelihood of my finding friends or a boyfriend; I moved here, back to the city, for the same reason. A year and a half after my move, I am still very alone, though I am also very busy, so busy that it has been hard for me to feel the loneliness.

Furry-tailed lump of a squirrel

See that furry-tailed lump in the middle?

My father says goodbye, and I am here alone again. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, try to loosen the grip on my chest. The turtle fountain is quiet, odd considering the recent rain, but I hear the photography to my left — “A little to the left, Sydney! Rosemary, come toward me now!” — and I hear some sort of bird in a tree to my right whose call sounds less like a chirp or a tweet and more like a recorded kazoo if the record player were running low on batteries. I look at the tree to see if I can spot the bird, but all I find is a squirrel that looks more like some sort of cancerous growth with a furry tail than an adorable tree-dwelling rodent. Ah, well. Birds are mysterious.

The family and their photographer are gone, and now I am truly alone, just me and my umbrella, the kazoo-calling bird and the lumpish squirrel. I decide to have a photo-shoot of my own and take a bunch of selfies, which I hope to use on Grindr and Tinder and okcupid and the various other “dating” sites that lead nowhere. But alas, I forgot how bad I look in selfies, and all these will get deleted when I get home. It was a nice distraction, though, for a few minutes. You’re never alone when you’re staring at dozens of you on your iPhone, I guess.

My bench up top. My rock-hopping rocks down below.

My bench up top. My rock-hopping rocks down below.

That kazoo bird has kept calling, and that lump of a squirrel is still there, and I decide to investigate. I hop down a series of rocks, and I feel like a mountain goat. This is not something I normally do — hopping down rocks or feeling like a mountain goat, really. I head over to the nearby tree and stare at the lump. It has not moved since I got to this park — so something like twenty minutes. I’m not even sure it’s a squirrel. I think there’s a chance it may be a stuffed squirrel, perhaps like a scarecrow of some sort, but what is scared of squirrels, besides a few nuts? Is it dead, then? A dead squirrel, up in a tree? Do squirrels die in trees? Would they fall out? I don’t know.

It’s not dead, nor is it stuffed. As I stood at the base of the tree and looked up, it lifted its head. It stretched its neck. And most surprising of all, it is the bird making the kazoo noises. At least, I think it is. The squirrel doesn’t appear to open its mouth when I hear the noise, but… If it isn’t, something very, very close to it is. Baby squirrels, perhaps? Baby squirrels with kazoos? I don’t know, but I’m almost sure it’s the squirrel, and now that I’m here, beneath the tree, the squirrel makes the noise much more often, almost constant, and suddenly the noise is more than a kazoo. It’s a keening, a cry almost, one voice in the wilderness, all alone.

Is it, though? Or am I just projecting, just anthropomorphizing this squirrel, making it lonely and crying out because I’m lonely and crying out? The lack of movement for the first twenty minutes does seem pretty odd — perhaps the squirrel is sick. (Or sick of being lonely.) In my head, the squirrel is now also rabid, and I’m picking Cujo from Stephen King’s horror novel, but instead of a vicious dog it’s a vicious squirrel, but I tell myself I’m nuts — no wonder I’m afraid of the squirrel, I’m totally nuts! — and to stop it. I decide to have a video shoot now — the squirrel is my subject. After about twenty seconds, the squirrel leaves, shimmies up the tree, and I go back to my bench to sit a bit.

A few seconds later, the keening kazoo starts again, but much, much closer — directly above me closer. The squirrel has moved trees, and it is now just above my head. My bench is no longer safe. Now I picture squirrel poop dropping. Now I picture Cujo Squirrel jumping from on high. There’s a storm coming, too: the wind is picking up, the sky is going complete Eeyore, and the air has that static electricity feel to it. It’s time to go home, where I’ll spend the rest of the weekend alone, but at least now I know that there’s a squirrel at the Walled Garden who knows just how my heart feels.

Matthew A. Merendo