Squirrels Can’t Read Minds and Other Things My Crazy Neighbor Needs to Know

Midlife Sentence | Squirrels Can't Read Minds

Yesterday I had an appointment with Steven, whose calendar fills months in advance. If I ever have to reschedule, it’ll be a while before I can get back in.

I don’t have a lot of secrets, but if I did, Steven would know them. He’s got sophisticated ways of making people talk even when they don’t want to. I’m just guessing about that. I’m not one of those people who needs a lot of prodding to spill the beans.

In fact, I’d make a lousy secret agent, or spy or anything. This would be me in any kind of captured secret agent situation:

Evil Villain: Ve have vays of making you talk. *brandishes pliers*

Me: Eek. Whatever you do, do make me tell you the secret code, or the location of our secret agent headquarters.

EV: *puts down pliers* You have a code? Headquarters?

Me: Well it’s more of a clubhouse, really… Oh shoot! Dangit.

“So, what’s new,” Steven says as I come in, hang my coat and take my seat. He’s a good one to hash over stuff relating to family, parenting, work, or just the weather. If I don’t have anything to share, he’s ready with a story of his own, just to get the juices flowing.

But on this day, I’ve come prepped with the latest tale about my flailing about as a human.

“I’m still feeding the crazy lady’s squirrels.” I cut to the chase. We only have 45 minutes.

Steven frowns as he shakes out a gown and drapes it on me.

“Let’s hear it.”

Here’s the story: Once upon a time, a woman on Nextdoor needs help unloading a big bag of birdseed from her car because her back is out. I live with two strapping adolescents, and have a rare minute to spare, so I grab a kid and head down to see her.

She’s already found help with her bird seed but keeps us on her doorstep for about 30 minutes with what I suspect is only a partial account of her personal woes. She’s thankful we’ve come to help. The rest of her neighbors can’t seem be neighborly enough to do so anymore. We manage to extract ourselves from the conversation when she finally stops for breath, but it isn’t easy.

Days later she calls (because why not leave my cell number on some strange neighbor’s Nextdoor comment?) and leaves a message that’s essentially “thank you for your kindness,” but in long form. Like, my-voice-mail-cuts-her-off long.

I don’t call back then, or later when she calls to say how nice I seem and how she can tell these things about people and would my son be able to come around once in a while and empty her cat litter? Newsflash: I can tell things about people too, and this woman freaks me out. I take a pass on the cat litter thing on behalf of my kid.

In December she calls again and I pick up, not recognizing her number. She’s fallen on ice and was at the hospital until late when her neighbors could drive her home. She’s broken both arms and her knee and can’t really function and isn’t sure what she’s going to do to take care of herself or her cat but the most tragic thing is her bird and squirrel feeders are empty and it’s winter and they’re starving and all looking at her through the window and she swears she can hear them all dying and she’s dying too and all she’s asking is if I’ll pick up the birdseed she’s already paid for from the lawn and garden store?

I promise to pick up the birdseed the next day and assure her that the birds and the squirrels won’t hold the wait against her. I hang up and have a mini nervous breakdown in the middle of the grocery aisle.

I won’t bore you with a long list, but I’ve somehow found myself Head Caretaker of All the Things at this point in my life. Worrying about how some stranger is going to take care of a bunch of codependent fauna much less her own, damn self is the last thing I need on my plate.

Which is the genesis of my latest inner monologue that’s been on continuous replay every couple of days or so for the last two months I’ve been feeding this crazy lady’s squirrels and birds:

Me: Oh my God, I don’t have time for worrying about her damn squirrels.

Also Me: It’s literally 20 minutes every couple of days, and you’re just too busy?

Me: You know it’s twice that long if she happens to catch me while I’m there.

AM: Man, you are a piece of work. You’re all willing to help a person out but only so long as it meets your criteria?

So, yes. I’ve been feeding crazy lady’s squirrels and birds every couple days for the last two months. About half the time, I’m able to slip in the back door quietly and grab the food and load up the half dozen or so feeders in her yard, replace the bag and duck back out again without seeing her. The other half she appears in her robe to say hello. I’ve learned to have a hard and fast reason I must interrupt her because I’m expected elsewhere. Lately, I’ve just looked at my watch and shrugged before ducking out the door, leaving her talking.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Crazy Squirrel Lady:

  • She’s been near death at least 20 times and the doctors have told her one more neck injury and it’s curtains
  • She’s had seven shoulder surgeries and three back surgeries, and her elbow occasionally locks up, but she finds a way to care for herself and push through the massive pain she always has
  • Despite being extremely accident prone, she has let her medical insurance lapse, so she worries about money
  • But not enough she won’t call the mobile pet groomers to come trim her cat’s claws (or stop ordering about a hundred bucks in birdseed from the lawn and garden store once a month)
  • The cat’s name is Simba. Simba hates to have her claws trimmed
  • Even with all her trials and tribulations, she’s always been the helper, not the person needing help (this statement is not backed up by her octogenarian neighbor by the way, who tells me Crazy Squirrel Lady has been perpetually in need of help for the last 15 years or so, and she’s damn tired of helping her)
  • She frequently has migraines
  • Birds make her cry
  • Other birds (the big ones that eat the birds she draws to her back yard) make her mad
  • Squirrels can read her mind
  • She has a brother in California, but they don’t talk, and all her other family members have passed on
  • Her ex-husband is a terrible person and is somehow responsible for the clutter in her house (when I say “clutter” I realize I forgot to tell you Crazy Squirrel Lady is a legit, straight up hoarder. I’m pretty sure half the injuries she’s had have been a result of something she owns falling on her)
  • She’s also an organic vegan
  • And a landscape photographer
  • And a singer/songwriter
  • Who has a substantial Instagram following
  • She speaks multiple languages
  • Some of her neighbors help her out with other things, but most of them can only do so much because she’s not a member of their church (or because they’re 80 and sick of her shit – but that’s just my own observation)
  • Her banker comes by once a week to take out her garbage
  • Her Instagram name is based on her love of the TV series Bonanza

Here’s what Crazy Squirrel Lady has learned about me:

  • I don’t answer phone messages

“So the fact that she has never asked about you, not one single detail, and yet you’re somehow on the hook for taking care of her problems should tell you something.” Steven says.

I nod, waiting for Steven to tell me what that is.

“There is something about this whole situation that attracts you, and until you confront that thing and address it, you’re going to continue to let her manipulate you. It’s just not going to stop.”

Attracts me? Not possible. I mean, the woman is a tsunami train wreck wrapped in chaos.

On the other hand, here I’ve been going over there two or three times a week for the past two months at a time in my life when I’m juggling so much I feel like I’m only just barely keeping my head above water. Each time I go, I have a note in my pocket to leave with her key telling her I’m done feeding her mind-reading squirrels and vulnerable birds and she’s just going to have to fend for her freaking self despite her litany of woes and chronic misery.

But, maybe on some level Steven is right, I have some sort of sick fascination with this person that I haven’t been able to shake. It’s like reading political comments on social media or watching documentaries about hoarders or huge families on the Discovery Channel, I’m horrified, but fascinated, slightly mortified, and just plain, old having a hard time looking away.

As of this writing, nothing has been resolved. Crazy Squirrel Lady has informed me her doctors aren’t agreeing on the best course of action to help her regain function in her right hand, which is out of the cast but still not usable. Steven points out that Crazy Squirrel Lady will probably perpetually find a reason I need to continue helping her because that’s what Crazy Squirrel Ladies tend to do and I’m going to have to figure out how to peel her off me or else ghost her or something.

All I know is, if you need advice on extracting yourself from a needy, manipulative hoarder who thinks squirrels can read minds, I am very much not your go-to gal.

And Steven can’t help either. He’s booked up for months, I told you.

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  1. I’m gasping here, positively gasping. With giggles. You see, this is exactly what would happen to me. Absolutely. I can picture it all. The heaps of crap hoarded throughout the house, the broken limbs, the endless chatter, the helpless birds and squirrels and on and on and on. For, I’m the person who found herself helping a disabled woman on crutches hobble over to a bench in Montreal, only to find out that NO ONE else would stop to help her, a car had apparently zoomed by and a guy yelled at her to “learn to fly” and the Handi-dart folks cancelled on her so she had no ride home. She was a Phd student. Did I know that? Long story short, she finally asked me for $20.00. My son was delighted to learn I didn’t give it to her. She’s the elusive scammer that the cops are trying to catch … Uh huh.
    But I do have two suggestions for you. 1) Perhaps you can suggest that she get the banker to refill the feeders and 2) memorize her phone number.
    Yours in deepest sympathy,

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Kelly! I can picture the scenario you described for me as well. I have a problem …

  2. I laughed, I cried and then I thanked God I’m not you. Yet. Cuz it could easily happen to me, too. Oh, my, you’re stuck. As stuck as a person could be in this woman’s swirling, sucking eddy of despair and calamity. Caught in her web of deceit and need. AND you couldn’t possibly deal with the guilt of having allowed the squirrels to starve to death. I can’t be much comfort to you, Beth! Other than… Someday. She’ll. Die.

    1. Oh, yes, I’m quite stuck.Somehow I’ll have to get unstuck, because this woman appears to have as many lives as her cat!

  3. You are overlooking the detail that you are a very kind person who knows that you are giving back to her in a way that few can, listening, checking in, even for a moment- and that is one of the things that is right in the world- that people like you are in it. Also, sounds like the secret stash of money or othe inheritance she has likely forgotten is under a pile some where could be yours if you play your cards right.

    1. Those are kind words, Julia. Thank you. I don’t know about what her resources are, but I do think she’s capable of taking care of herself. The rest I don’t care about. Not a bit.

  4. So sad, yet funny. Seems to me she’s lonely and doesn’t know how to have friends other than via trying to manipulate and guilt them into helping her. Is there a medical home health care company or even a psychiatric rehab. program nearby? They may be able to help her and give you some breathing room.

    1. Yes, there are tons of options listed in the phone book. I know because my mother broke her arm the week before and hired some home health care people to come help her bathe and do her physical therapy for the days I’m not available. Yes, they’re $50 an hour, but if you’re having problems putting groceries away or showering, they’re available and she has the means to pay for them (remember, she’s paying for a mobile grooming service for her cat and hundreds per month for birdseed). I talked to her about this about this, told her how to find them, gave her the names my mother recommended, and told her what they cost per hour. She didn’t respond or acknowledge she’d heard what I said. There’s not much in the way of psychiatric care options here, but I doubt she would think she needs it. She is simply lonely. And certainly manipulative.