December 2023

Despair is the Squirrel in My Rafters

Jennifer D. Munro

Play Audio
read by Susan Iadone

art by Ryan Livingston

I have no quarrel with you when you romp in the yard, scrabbling round and round the trunk of the corkscrew willow, chasing your bushy tail. Or when you dangle from a branch and sip from an orange persimmon cup half-eaten by flickers. Or when you sit back on your plump haunches, chomping a mushroom cap big as a hamburger bun held in both paws. Or when you tut-tut from on high at the holy-roller hounds clamoring at a tree’s trunk for your execution. I have no quarrel when you somersault for no apparent reason on the green spring grass, as my son once did on concrete when blitzed, hitting his head—or did he? Hard to know with his lies.

Outside, kept at bay, you’re fine: in the gnarled lilac, in the Doug fir, in the black walnut, in the volunteer hawthorn despite its spikes. You scamper along limbs and wires and fences, busy, busy, and scold me when I trespass on you by dragging the hose or raking the sodden leaves. Though you—an invasive pest in this neck of the woods—bully and decimate the less hardy native critters, I tolerate you. Even, sometimes, lately–barely–smile at your antics.

But in my attic, you’re an interloper. You shred my insulation, gnaw coated copper, make my joists your toilet. I lie awake all night with imaginings, as I used to: What if he has a gun this time? How far do bullets travel through walls? I still check the deadbolt every night. And check again.

These walls should separate us. What crack did you find? Why your need to creep in through the chinks? I’ve gone to great lengths to block you out.

We cannot live comfortably together. You make unexpected noises when I’m trying to sleep, startle me when I think you’re gone for good. Just when I’ve kidded myself that I’ve sealed you out, you parade across my girders like a clopping Clydesdale, high-stepping for crowds.

In my crawl space, you rip up what I’ve stored there—including the boxes of photo albums I’ve thrust into out-of-reach corners—padding a nest in which to protect your family, which I could not do with mine. My grown son is addicted, is an alcoholic, is missing, is enraged, is abusive, is violent, is kicked out, is a felon, is a thief, is incarcerated, is who knows? Is, finally, left behind. I forge a new life, a safe life, across state lines, without him. You forswear your pups when the time comes: it’s not so unnatural for a mother, is it?

I’ve tried to discourage you from infiltrating my rafters. With barbed wire stuffed into your entry holes. With bright light. Ultrasonic devices. Shaved Irish Spring soap. Mothballs. NPR blasting 24/7 during election season, which even I cannot stomach. But you crowd out my peace in my new home, new town; I can’t escape you.

If you keep intruding, I’ll have to obliterate you. My grandmother’s copy of Joy of Cooking contains instructions for how to skin, chop, and cook you, portrayed splayed, belly up. I—a vegetarian, a wildlife rescue center volunteer—will follow the step-by-step diagram, boot on tail to peel off your hide, inside out, like wet jeans off a toddler. I will stew you, chew you, and swallow you even if I make myself ill. Anything to be rid of you.

As I stand at the kitchen window, time spooling out into wasted hours, into What if’s and If only’s, you leap, leap with aplomb from my rooftop to the filbert, the branch too flimsy for your weight, but you land, and it holds, and you hang on, swaying: a miracle, really. Indestructible. At least you’ve clambered back outside and left me alone for now. Would that I could fling myself into a future that I had faith wouldn’t break me.

Yet when I walk through the park and forget about you for a moment, you—skinny and mangey on your own out in the wild—burst from the underbrush and scramble across the dirt, a Cooper’s hawk on your scabby tail, and I root for you.

You dive under a bush behind me. The hawk, talons empty, swoops away into the woods.

A haughty hoarder, you bury the seeds that spring up sprouts. Like the saplings that burst up scattershot through the turf in my yard, I too can thrive.

You, synanthrope, need me to survive. Despair scampers on the tightwire of hope, which I can’t let die: He’ll turn things around. There’s still time. He is a baseball fanatic. A violinist. A birdwatcher. A punster. A colorful dresser. My only child, possibility yet alive.

About the Author

Jennifer D. Munro’s personal essays have appeared in publications such as Salon; Ninth Letter; North American Review; Gulf Coast; Boulevard; Full Grown People; Brain, Child; and in anthologies such as The Bigger the Better the Tighter the Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty and Body Image. Her work has been supported by Artist Trust, 4Culture King County, Jack Straw, Fishtrap, Hypatia-in-the-Woods, Playa, Astoria Writers Guild, and Hedgebrook. She is a freelance editor living in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about her and her work at

About the Reader

After a fulfilling career in the classical music field, Susan Iadone is thrilled to be working at her second career as a voiceover artist. She loves living on the Upper West Side of New York City (which she considers to be the center of the universe) with her 18-year-old cat, Violet. Susan is known throughout her building as a reliable source of home-baked goods; she gets enormous pleasure out of sharing cookies and cakes with her neighbors, many of whom are close friends and have her phone number on speed dial. Her attention to detail, on concert stages and in the kitchen, has been an asset in her voiceover work.

About the Artist

Ryan Livingston is an illustrator, designer, and screen printer based in New York. He earned his BFA from Lesley Art & Design (LA+D). He is currently building out his body of self-published comics and zines, exploring silkscreen techniques and limited color. You can see more of his work at