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Killing the Armadillo
By Dawn Richerson
Monday, April 19, 2004
Not rated by the Author.
A 1,000-word essay surrounding a childhood event from 2004.
My father stood before me, bare-chested and tanned by the Floridian sunshine, threatening a wayward armadillo. Tall and strong, Daddy was a golden god to me, his blond hair shimmering, brown eyes brimming with determination. He stood now in the shadow of iniquity, transformed without warning into a seething, 6’2” hunk of hate looming large above a frightened, misplaced mammal.
The bony-plated object of his wrath was perhaps a foot long and trailed a pointed tail that doubled its length. Desperate for escape, it clawed the concrete. Both hands clutching long, wooden handle, Daddy raised the tool above his shoulder with a cavalier step and swung as if engaged in a lighthearted game of golf and this mere sport. The sharp, flat blade missed a scurrying armadillo by inches.
Sweat rolled down my cheeks. It felt like two hundred degrees outside, but a chill tip-toed down my spine. Moments earlier I had bounded out the screen door of our Tampa home, skipping across its threshold into a surreal situation. Recently turned six, I immediately wanted to retreat from the scene and step back into the safety of an air-conditioned house where my mother sat building magic castles with my two brothers. But I could not avert my eyes.
My attention fixed on the standoff between this frightening father figure and the tiny, odd-shaped animal, confused rage coursed through me. Who was this man, leaking acid anger at a stray armadillo? Daddy went about his work. Taking into account the terror in the armadillo’s eyes, again he raised his weapon of choice.
Until this moment, I had never confronted my father’s rightness; yet, even I recognized the moment as one that demanded action. My choice would not be one of feigned compliance with so heinous, so deliberate an act of cruelty. My heart beat wildly at the realization of what I was to do. Nevertheless, I issued my challenge.
“Daddy, stop it,” I screamed. My shrill voice, unrecognizable even to me, gurgled with an uncontrolled rage. “Stop it now! Stop it now!” My father turned toward me and looked, momentarily, straight into my eyes. Did he ponder my wild terror?
He smiled. I will never forget his smile, misplaced, incongruous, like the armadillo on our carport that day in July. That smile haunts me. “Dawn,” he said. He shook his head slowly from left to right as if to say someday you’ll understand. Without another word, Daddy hoisted the hoe high and slammed it down with such force that it sliced the harmless armadillo into two halves and sent chunks of flesh flying in every direction.
As I watched in silence, my father cleaned up evidence of his kill, then went back to work on our well-manicured suburban lawn. Later that afternoon, we shared a lime from the tree in our backyard. That night, he told me a story before bedtime, and I pretended, like little girls will, that all was well.
We never spoke of it, at least not until three decades had passed. Even then, we laughed as if it were simply another funny childhood memory. As if it had not bloodied my world, leaving stains that would not be washed clean.
I did not know then that armadillos burrowed into ground, like the gophers who would create a maze of tunnels of our backyard haven. The armadillo eats bugs with its long, narrow tongue and has only small teeth in the deepest recesses of its mouth. The nine-banded armadillo found in the southeastern and south central United States, Dasypus novemchinctus, weighs at most 15 pounds and is protected only by its shell. One particular type of armadillo can bend its jointed armor and tuck its entire body inside at the first sign of threat.
The only known animal to carry the bacterium that causes leprosy in humans, armadillos are valuable specimens for research. When I first learned this, my heart sank. It seemed such a travesty that this armadillo, who could possibly have contributed something of value to the scientific community had not been spared.
If I told you other childhood stories, you might find my fixation with this one disproportionate. Still killing the armadillo changed my lighthearted view of the world. I felt less protected, less sure of myself. I became wary of golden gods who wielded ordinary tools for life as weapons of death and learned to use my shell.
Yet, not all was loss. I like to think sometimes that my armadillo had some greater mission, one that cost him that day scorching summer day his very life. Perhaps he wandered up the sidewalk and into our yard to find me, to push me right up to the edge of what even then I knew as a part of my calling in this life.
As a witness to the fate of the armadillo, I discovered courage I did not know I had and had never imagined I could claim. I became an advocate for life and mercy, finding my voice and using it to plead in another’s behalf. “Stop it!” I had insisted. So I have done again and again through the years when witness to a situation that might harm human hearts or upset to nature’s precarious balance.
Almost a decade ago, as I was leaving decay and debris from an unwanted divorce behind, a wise friend presented me with a small necklace. As she placed it in my hands, she told me to wear it for protection. There in my palm I saw a tiny, silver armadillo. Whenever it hangs around my neck, I remember that little girl who stood terrified but found the courage to stand for what she believed to be right.
Protected by a higher golden god, I move on, in search of some safe place where innocence might be reborn in me, knowing all the while that to reach that safe place I must be bold, risking all that I am to fulfill a purpose often beyond my comprehension.
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Copyright 2004, Dawn Richerson
Site: Dawn's Books and Art
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|Reviewed by Joe McCarthy
|I'm no editor. But in my opinion, you already write well.|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|good story, dawn! well done!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your tx. friend, karen lynn. :D