In my mind, all leather-bound books have full mustaches and conservative values. Their smell can establish any room as an office, but I’m not a fan of their overall aesthetic. I’d recently moved with my boyfriend, Abe, and his lot of old books, into a crumbly house in Morgantown. With him in law school and me in graduate school, moving felt a bit like transporting a library. When we were unpacking, he lined the top shelf of my bookcase with the kind of antique legal publications that look perpetually dusty and mean.

“I don’t really care. I just hate those books. But we can keep them there if you want,” I said. I’m trying to be more comprising. I’m twenty-three and it’s our second year living together. He makes me embarrassingly happy, so I’m trying to budge on more issues. “Or just move all my journals and then the bottom shelf can be for your undusted books.”

“Come look at this,” Abe said. He didn’t seem interested in my shelving system. He pointed at a small black mass under a huge antique journal. It resembled a shriveled-up portabella mushroom. He lifted the journal to reveal a small bat carcass.

I decided that I was done unpacking for the day. I ran upstairs to listen to Woody Guthrie and reestablish my enthusiasm for our new home in West Virginia.

Our orange attic was enormous and full of comfy old leather couches. There were two nooks with bay windows that jutted out from the main room. We each got one for our easels and paints. Upstairs on the couch I googled, “What should I do if I find a dead bat in my house?” This counts as helping, I thought. Before that moment, I had never considered dying of rabies. Yahoo Answers changed that. I yelled down to Abe, who was still unpacking, and asked if he noticed any other signs of bats. He walked upstairs and told me this was the second dead bat he’d found. I threw myself on the floor.

I met Abe five years ago when I was a freshman in college. We spent a year being awful to each other and talking about books. The next year we indulged ourselves in complications. I spent the following year or so traveling around India and France, trying to become my authentic self. We finally got back together two years ago. This was the nine-millionth iteration of us and by far the best.

“We just have bats,” he said and rubbed my head. I pulled my laptop off the couch and rested it on my stomach. I googled “Why are there dead bats in my house?” and then “Family of bats living in my house.” This was when I found out that a bat can bite you in your sleep, exposing you to rabies, and you won’t even feel it. You won’t even wake up.

“What does a bat bite look like?” I googled. “How long does a person live after exposure to rabies?” Google handled my litany of fear-based questions calmly. I didn’t have such grace.

These days all of my fears stem from being alive. At least six times every day, maybe I’m eating soup or feeling a breeze, I think, being alive is the best. Because I was dead for a billion years before this moment, and I’ll be dead again for a billion more after it, everything, even the bad bits, feels like such a treat. When I think of death as a loss, a step out of the world met with nothing, I wiggle around and think this is so dope, being alive is so dope. And it really is.

After I finished using the internet to work myself into a frenzy, I shared everything I’d learned with Abe as he played a computer game on the other side of the attic. The computer screen glowed a green halo around his head. He looked like an e-angel.

“Your jaw locks up so you can’t swallow and that’s why you start foaming at the mouth. But at first rabies feels like nothing special. The symptoms are like ‘sore throat’ and ‘headache.’ Did you know that rabies is 100% fatal? Didn’t you think we had cured this?” I asked.

“Do I look like I have rabies?” Abe asked me, mouth flat. I’d worried him.

“No, you look good. And from what I gathered, you should get the shots as soon as possible, but you have a two-week window. Basically, we just have to take our bat to be tested,” I said, in an effort to comfort him. So we stuck our bat in purple tupperware and promised to get it tested first thing in the morning.

Writing something down helps it to feel real. Rabies is preventable. Death is natural. Rooibos tea prevents cancer. My body can get sick and recover. Fear feels like hot goo against the bottom of my throat. Name it and release it.

Lots of people don’t think about death constantly, and it’s hard for me to chat with them. What are they barreling towards? How do they go about cherishing? My therapist is one of them. She cites stories of people who have died and been brought back to life by doctors. She claims they all report a feeling of peace and welcoming, across cultures and religions. That’s persuasive information. If I thought there was something similar to being alive that was going to happen after I died, then I probably wouldn’t be afraid of death either.

The next day we slept till one.

“Do you think you could take the lead on the bat thing while I get the garbage set up?” Abe asked, on our walk to get coffee. I released an audible sigh. But I agreed to handle the bats, because I do little to help around the house. I hate small tasks. It shows. I have a very marsupial face that showcases sadness well. Abe got me a breakfast cookie as thanks for helping out.

Abe helped so much with moving that week. Maybe I was starting to appreciate him more, or maybe the appreciation was a symptom of rabies. We’d spent lots of money at Target in the last few days. Maybe that’s why life seemed so pleasant and organized. Or maybe the Target splurge was caused by rabies. How could I know anything anymore?

I googled “phone number for dead bat” when we got home. I realized that I needed to be way more specific. “Dead bat Morgantown rabies.” The first article was about a cat in Morgantown that had tested positive for rabies. I sipped my coffee. I didn’t know people wrote news articles about that kind of thing.

I added “.gov” to my search to find something more reputable. I found an official looking page that said to call my county health department within twenty-four hours of finding a bat. Great, now the government’s going to know about my bat, I thought.

I called the wrong county on my first try. But the woman on the phone seemed nice. She spoke in pure notes. Her sentences were long with a cheery flip up at the end. Some time later, I found myself on the phone with the correct person. Her voice sounded like the other woman’s voice run through a garbage disposal.

“So do you think I should bring it in and get it tested for rabies or do you think it’s just one of those things, like, no one really does?” I asked.

“Uh, I can’t answer that,” she said, voice full of scattered tones.

“Like, isn’t rabies one of those things that never really happens?” I asked her, looking for any excuse not to deal with this.

“You know, I’d say it’s always better to be safe than sorry,”

“Totally.” I was feeling slightly embarrassed for trying to get out of the rabies test. “That makes sense.” If you get rabies, you will 100% die. And it’s completely preventable through a vaccine. But only two people in America died from rabies last year, which signaled to me that I didn’t really have to get my bat tested.

The woman at the health department gave me directions to their office. It was near the alumni center, which wasn’t so bad. I thought about how unlikely it was that our bat would have rabies as I ate my cookie. It’s hard for me to trust my judgment, because sometimes I’ll trick myself to get out of work. I passed the baton to Abe.

Crow Folk would be a great band name. We agreed on this over Sleepy Time tea. It was only three in the afternoon, but that was the clip Abe and I planned on going that day. We were going to wake up early tomorrow to hand in our bat at the building by the alumni center. That was going to be the worst, so we decided to go easy on ourselves today.

It felt like I’d done something the day before because I’d put on that facemask. But that doesn’t really count. I decided to start holding myself to a higher standard. I bought a big glass jar to keep cotton balls in. That’s a start. And I’m turning my bat in first thing tomorrow morning.

 

Everything I’d read online confirmed it was too soon to tell if I had it. With rabies, you could go months without showing any signs. The symptoms don’t really matter, anyway. By the time you show any you’re already a guaranteed goner.

While lying in bed that night, I imagined trap doors opening from my ceiling and bats pouring out. I pictured them whipping their wings around my coatrack and stabbing my toes through our lavender top sheet. I’d tell Abe to put “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” on the cover of my funeral pamphlet if I die of rabies. That would be a class move, I think.

I turned to face Abe. He sleeps like a loaf of uncooked sourdough. He’s more considerate than I am. He won the “Most Caring” award in 5th grade. His mind has always been a populated place. I’m still internalizing the idea that the Earth is covered in other people. Earlier Abe pointed out that, all things considered, being crushed by an enormous antique blank journal is an okay way to die. It would be very Terry Tempest Williams. It strikes me how bizarre it is that Abe put thought to that subject. He worried about the pain involved in the bat’s death. That’s why he’s nice and asleep. I picture myself super thin, dying of rabies. That’s why I’m mean and awake.

When I asked Abe what he thinks happens after a person dies, he answered that the person begins rotting. The grossest part about his answer is it’s true. One day my thighs will rot off the bone in a casket no one will open. My boyfriend takes the rotting thought in a different direction. My body will no longer be an important part of me after I die. I’ll be finished with it. Who knows what’s next? But my body’s done and so it’s going away now. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of life without a body.

Death is just how a body breaks. But I’m really attached to my body and that’s not very Buddhist of me. Maybe this body is holding something eternal that will keep living after I die. I don’t know, but I hope so. But I don’t know, and I’m not banking on it.

I left bed to get a drink of water. Our tap water had the same aftertaste as Benadryl. This was because we have tons of discarded mountain tops lying around West Virginia. I pictured their particles in my water making it muggy. Brita filters work, I wrote down in my journal when I got back to bed. My flashlight woke Abe up.

Bodies are ephemeral and that’s the worst because I love mine. It’s grown on me, with its constellation of freckles across the stomach. My rib cage takes its job seriously, never lets things poke my lungs or heart. And my lungs and heart are always doing something so I try to pay attention to them and learn about consistency. It feels wrong to tell my body it’s not as holy as my soul. Why does it have to rot while the rest rises to do something new?

“I don’t want to have rabies,” I said to Abe. I hadn’t realized I was on the verge of crying until I heard the quality of voice that was escaping me. I tucked my head into his neck. I felt safer. I was an ostrich hiding from predators.

“Come here. You’re fine.” I loved his voice when it was deep and half-asleep. “You’re not going to die till you finish paying off your student loans.” He turned my hair with his fingers. I whispered what I wanted on my funeral pamphlet and which friends I wanted to have which of my scarves if I died.

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