It is dawn, I tiptoe down the stairs, and a bat flies across the living room. I assume it’s a bird, but then it flies back in its herky-jerky way and lands on the wall. I am making noise now — a gasp and muffled cry and then quiet sputterings of, “There’s — a — BAT — in — the — HOUSE!”
Our son is sleeping in the den at the foot of the stairs and he peeks around the curtain-door with a big smile. “I stepped on that bat last night,” he says.
This is a rare, precious day when two of our three twenty-something kids are here. The middle-child nurse who works nights and is not a morning person anyway is zonked out in the second bedroom upstairs. Our son is here during his break after summer classes which started at 7a.m. every morning, so he’s still got a bit of the morning habit.
He laughs and whispers the story to me, but I can hardly take in the incredible details yet. I’m all about the bat on the wall. It takes off and flutter-flaps, zigs and zags, back and forth and around and down and then up and over my computer and clings to the vaulted wall ten feet up. Thankfully our daughter’s bedroom curtain-door is closed, or there would be a scream to wake the dead.
Our son is now standing on the stairway landing in his boxers and tee-shirt, staring up at the bat. “Look at how little it is,” he says.
I must tell the Bearded One, I decide. We’ve never had a bat in the house before. He’ll want to know. Quietly, I wake him from a deep sleep. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but there is a bat in the house.”
He slowly opens his eyes. “Don’t touch it,” he manages to say, and then, “Don’t let it get in here.” Then he closes his eyes.
As I quietly close the bedroom door, I notice the bat has moved. I look over the railing and see our son by the front door pointing to it on the entry mat. “Get a bowl!” I whisper and scurry down the stairs.
He carefully places my green plastic mixing bowl over the little bat. I slip a cookie sheet underneath and we’ve got it trapped. It doesn’t move. We both know that now we can go outside and release it safely without touching it or harming it.
But the moment is too memorable to rush. We stand before the bat bowl in wonder. “You stepped on this bat last night?” I say, trying to roll back to the moment when I first came down the stairs.
“Yep. Over by the couch. It’s really soft.” He laughs.
I can hardly wait to check my animal spirit book to find out what bat energy is all about. But first we carry the cookie sheet up the stairs and out on the upper deck next to the cedar tree and release it. I get the camera. Our son puts his hand in the photo for scale.
Hours later the nurse gets up. “Your brother stepped on a bat last night,” I say to her in the kitchen as she pours her coffee. The Bearded One is reading the paper at the table. “Where?” she asks. “Over by the couch,” I say. “And what pray tell was my brother doing up in the middle of the night?”
Before I can answer, she says, “I’m going to interrogate him.” Her bare heels come down hard on the floor and we follow her in to the living room where her brother is sprawled on the couch massaging his recently surgerized knee with a special cream.
Even though he got a perfect score from his knee doctor on the healing and rehab, it still hurts and he is taking an official sabbatical from his beloved Ultimate Frisbee team, Mamabird, this year. He also has almost all new roommates, and he has fallen in love with French, of all things. His game is changing, he’s in transition, and he probably feels a little lost.
In the hours since we released the bat, I’ve done some reading. Bats are nocturnal mammals that eat tons of insects. Most in the Pacific Northwest are very small and don’t suck blood. Only one in 20,000 carries rabies, and they hibernate. In the world of animal guides or totems, bats are powerful medicine. I am giddy to read that bats symbolize Transition — precisely our son’s state.
“Okay,” our daughter says to her brother, “what happened?”
He woke up and remembered that his phone alarm was set for 4a.m., and so he got up in the dark to go turn it off because his phone was in here on the couch where he left it. Ruby was sleeping by the couch, so he stepped over her and that’s when his foot came down right beside the bat, brushing it with his toe.
It felt soft and furry. It squeaked and flapped away, and our son said he muffled a shriek. Then he turned off his phone and went back to bed.
The nurse sips her coffee and muses. The Bearded One says something about the bat having gotten in under the new Magic Mesh screen door to get out of the heat.
I maintain that it is magic, plain and simple. That animals can help us understand and adapt to what comes our way in life. This event is hardly mere coincidence. “He who steps on a bat is in Big-Time Transition.”
“Help!” says our son to his sister in mock exasperation of his mom’s mystical thoughts on the whole thing. I gently toss the animal spirits book into his hands.
“Not a coincidence,” the nurse pronounces, pointing to the book, “Read it.”
The Bearded One gets up and stretches, smiles skeptically, and says, “I’ve got to go to the bat room.”