It happened on my way home from work one summer night. I was around the corner from my building. There were about eight people crowded around a spot on the sidewalk. I went to investigate. They were all staring at this little creature, no more than 2 inches long, barely moving. I couldn’t tell what it was. A baby rat? A baby mouse? Then I heard someone say it was a baby squirrel who had fallen from his nest. Apparently the squirrel’s nest was on a fire escape several floors above us.
Everyone was just standing there. Nobody was doing anything to help this poor little thing. Some evil bastard suggested that someone should stomp on it to put it out of its misery. I didn’t know what to do but I was furious at how everyone just stood there, staring. I wanted to scream at all of them: “What the fuck is wrong with all of you?? This is a living creature who needs help!!” I don’t remember what I actually said, but I yelled something as I shoved people out of my way to get to the squirrel. I had some tissues with me and I gently picked him up and wrapped him up in the tissues to keep him warm. He was so light. His eyes weren’t open but he moved every so often.
So there I was with this injured baby squirrel. Now what? I frantically searched for a working pay phone (this was 1999, pre-cell phone days). When I found one, I called the ASPCA. I spoke with a very nice woman who apologetically explained that they didn’t accept squirrels. I asked if she could suggest somewhere else, but she didn’t know of a place that might be able to help. By this time I was almost hysterical and I was crying. I didn’t want this baby squirrel to die.
Then I saw a woman who lived in my building. She said, “Oh, you know who helps squirrels? Bernie Goetz.” Bernie Goetz??? The Subway Vigilante?? The guy who shot some would-be muggers on the subway back in 1984? My neighbor said Goetz lived nearby and that he was known for rescuing squirrels. Who knew? I needed to get his phone number. Back to the phone booth.
While I was on the line with the operator, I noticed that the baby squirrel had stopped moving. I looked more closely at him and realized that he was gone. I thanked the operator and hung up.
I suppose I wasn’t really surprised that the little guy died. I don’t know how far he fell, but it was far enough that his injuries would have been severe. I had hoped to get help to him in time, but I couldn’t. At least he wasn’t alone at the end. Even if it was a giant creature holding him in a tissue in her hand, he wasn’t alone.
I walked over to Washington Square Park and found a nice tree. I dug a small hole and buried him. I’m so sorry, little squirrel. I wanted so badly to save you. I’m so sorry you fell from your nest. I hope you didn’t suffer too much. I tried, I really did.
I said a little prayer over the tiny grave and cried all the way home.