There's a Squirrel In My Coffee!
by Bill Goss
- Excerpted from New York Times #1 bestseller CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE PET LOVER'S SOUL -
Our house near Jacksonville, Florida, is a veritable zoo. My wife and I wanted our seven-year-old twins to develop the same love for nature that we had when we were children. We have tortoises and turtles, snakes, iguanas, frogs, rabbits and a four-pound attack Yorkie named Scooter. We even had a wayward armadillo for a spell. But when Rocky came to stay, our household --- and our lives --- changed dramatically.
A career Navy pilot, I was at home recovering from a rare, invisible form of a deadly skin cancer that had required some drastic surgery, and I definitely needed a humor injection in my daily routine. Rocky was just what the doctor ordered. The doctor, however, turned out to be a veterinarian, not an oncologist.
Dr. John Rossi is the local animal doctor. When someone showed up at his vet clinic with a tiny baby flying squirrel that had fallen from his nest, John and his wife, Roxanne, reasoned that if a baby flying squirrel couldn't help a recovering cancer patient, nothing could.
Rocky became an immediate fixture in our home. When Rocky first arrived, he resembled a little fur ball of dust --- like the ones you find in the guest bedroom closet during spring cleaning. He was no bigger than a walnut and he weighed less. His eyes had recently opened and he drank formula and water from a tiny toy baby bottle. He barely moved and his fur was kind of oily, like a "greaser" from the 1950's. His bulging black eyes looked like aviator goggles, and my twins, having just seen an old cartoon rerun of Rocky and Bullwinkle, immediately named him Rocky.
He grew quickly and was soon the size of a fresh bar of soap: his adult size. Rocky's fur turned a silky smooth brown as he learned to clean himself regularly, and his flat rudder-like tail turned him into a rodent Frisbee during his daily flying lessons, which I conducted by gently tossing him from our bathroom onto our bed. Rocky didn't require much training because gliding came so naturally for him.
Flying squirrel movements are extremely fast and very vertically oriented. In the wild , they rapidly run up and down tree trunks. In the same way, Rocky ran up and down our bodies, moving like a high scoring furred pinball in a flesh-and-blood pinball machine.
Moving at what seemed the speed of light, he was all over the inside and outside of our clothing as we tried to catch him with our bare hands. The tickling, particularly when he dived in the armpits --- one of his favorite haunts --- was incredible. This activity has become a daily ritual in our household, wonderfully uplifting our spirits. My doctors are amazed at how quickly my scars have healed. If laughter is the best medicine, then Rocky has delivered it by the truckload.
One morning, I was enjoying my morning coffee like most people do, except that I had a newspaper in front of me and a squirrel on top of me. Rocky was sitting on my head surveying his squirreldom, probably wondering if he had nibbled off the large chunk of my left ear that had been removed during cancer surgery. Suddenly, I sneezed. It was a big sneeze --- one that occurred as I was bringing my cup of coffee, now lukewarm, to my lips. Afterwards, as I reopened my eyes while continuing to bring my coffee to my mouth, I saw two of the most enormous, bulging eyes that I had ever come face-to-face with in my life, a furred hyper-thyroidic monster if I'd ever seen one.
I picked the newspaper back up, then quickly put it back down in a moment of reflection. We've all had those moments, when suddenly everything is brilliantly clear and sharp, and laced with humor and an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I was overcome by the realization that I was an utterly unique being. Unquestionably --- absolutely unquestionably --- I was the only person in the world, perhaps the universe, that had the amazing good fortune to have a flying squirrel in his coffee that morning.
By now, Rocky was sound asleep under my sweater. Unaware of my earth-shattering musings, he had curled up directly on a large scar at the base of my neck where my jugular vein, trapezoid muscle and 200 lymph nodes had been surgically removed.
Rocky --- and God --- were doing their healing magic once again.