In 1958, we lived in Jacksonville, Indiana on Clay Avenue, next to what had been a farm in earlier days. Now our place, and theirs, was on a street lined with elm trees.The barn next door was a playground for us all, but particularly for the grandchildren of the couple who had lived in the main house for their entire married life. We all got along, so we were given the run of the place.

One late summer afternoon, the kids chased a field mouse into a corner of the barn, and covered it with a coffee can to trap it. In their haste, they pressed the can down on the edge of the mouse’s tail, and cut it. The mouse screamed in terror. So did I.

The grandchildren were not mean kids, and quickly lifted the can up and freed the mouse’s tail. But damage had been done, and I saw the blood. I insisted they let the mouse go, and they did, startled at how upset I was.

Over and over again, I replayed the event from the mouse’s point of view — the chase, the capture, and the sharp edge cutting something tender in the dark. I pushed my dinner around my plate, and went to bed long before I would have been told to do. I wanted the day to roll over into the next, and the sound of that shrill squeak to be out of my ears.

It never left.

For almost half a century, I have had that sound at the spot in my spine where despair finds a dwelling place. When circumstances press down on me, I think of the coffee can in the otherwise friendly barn of a universe coming down over my head. I wonder if anything, anybody will speak up and say, “Let her go, let her go.”

One squeak of a mouse has made an echo in the darkest parts of my heart. What chance did I have with my children’s pain? How could I ever sleep again?