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Archive for September, 2010

With Sam’s parasites treated and his eye infection gone, the only thing keeping me from letting him out of the containment of the garret bathroom last Friday was my PTSD. I was afraid of the chaos that would commence, the lack of control I would have over my home environment, once I opened that door. But I did it anyway.

Sam ran up and down the garret hallway, pounding his tiny paws like sticks on drums, reveling in the sound of himself, grounded in the world. This type of behavior alternated with a panicked frenzy that overtook his body and, for a few moments, on overload, he became a tiny version of the Tasmanian Devil on “The Bugs Bunny Show,” screaming himself into a whirl of paws and claws and baby teeth, stinging my hand like a swarm of yellow jackets as I felt the poison of adrenaline running through me.

Hannah & Sam, first night

The first night was very hard. I was used to Hannah’s quietness. Sam’s noises tapped into PTSD-driven reflexive gut reactions of terror that I could not control. While I knew logically it was just the sounds of a kitten, my body was on-guard and I could not sleep. I closed my bedroom door, thinking then I’d sleep undisturbed, but fear still was my cloak, and my eyes remained stuck open. I knew the door had nothing to do with Sam.

Tolerating my gut reactions was painful. I felt like a drug addict – dependent on environmental control – going cold turkey. I remembered how I had difficulty when I first adopted Hannah, but this seemed worse. I thought, if I could get through the first night then it would just get easier. But it didn’t.

During the day, I walked around in what I knew was a PTSD daze, a state of mind one might compare to the mental version of physically feeling motion sick long after you’ve gotten off the terribly turbulent plane. I was no longer in the environment of my childhood, yet I was still feeling its effects. Thoughts bombarded my mind and I lost track of what I was doing and where I was placing important things, such as my bills, my favorite necklace, a Gumby talisman someone I’m close to gave to me as a token of faith. I’d carried Gumby in my pocket for years as a grounding tool, something to hold onto during times of stress. But, while walking home from some errands, I realized Gumby (whose character embodies the message “everything will turn out okay”) was gone. I retraced my steps, looking for Gumby through the city streets, feeling a strange kind of desperation from another time and place aching in my ribs. I searched until my chest was sunburned and then I told myself that was it, I lost it.

When I arrived home I found Hannah and Sam playing in the living room, taking turns batting a string toy I had tied around a scratching post. Then they chased each other into my bedroom with what appeared to me to be glee.

Hannah settled at the head of my bed for her nap and Sam made little gurgle noises before attempting to use his baby legs to jump up to be with her. He clung to the side of the bed for dear life, then pulled his body up as if climbing a mountain. Having cleared the top of the cliff, he walked over to Hannah and sat beside her. Hannah let out a small moan of annoyance but Sam did not care. He rolled over on his side and began biting the comforter. Hannah swatted at him to stop, and he did. Then they both settled in, and things grew quiet. I stood in the doorway and watched.

It’s about letting go of control, of the past. It’s about holding on to the intangibles that can only be found in the heart and soul. It’s about standing in the doorway to the room of the things that are now, and walking in.

TLS


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There is peace in the garret. In a way.

It’s been two weeks since I brought Sam home from The Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL). Due to lung-based parasites and roundworms,  as well as an eye infection, I’ve had to keep Sam (and his litter box) away from Hannah and quarantined in the bathroom most of the time, but there have been a few supervised feline “Meet-and-Greet” periods.

Last week, on the first day of my teaching term, I tended to Hannah and Sam separately in the morning, first giving Hannah her ritual of a belly rub on the living room floor and then opening the garret window, where Hannah perched with a quiet peacefulness, observing the world from her place, above. Then, I disappeared into the garret kitchenette, mixed Sam’s parasite medicine with his kitten food, and walked down the short hallway to the bathroom. I opened the door and placed the plate of medicine and sustenance on the floor, where Sam purred and hiccupped and ate voraciously. Suddenly, Hannah was by my side, studying Sam, who did not lift his head or his attention from his breakfast.

Remembering Hannah’s initial reaction to Sam’s arrival, I touched her back gently: “What do you think, sweet girl?” I said. Hannah looked up at me with half-apprehension, half-play, then galloped with abandon back to the living room.

Although I responded to Hannah in a relaxed and positive manner, my legs and arms were shaking from the PTSD: my body had anticipated Hannah’s reaction to be one of aggressive hissing and growling; flashbacks were close to the surface. I breathed slowly to help the trembling pass. I put on my jacket and picked up my keys, then grabbed a few mouse toys and sprinkled them on the floor near Hannah. “See you later,” I said to her, then scratched the top of her head. “I love you.”

A peace offering

As I was about to close the garret door, I felt joy spread across my chest. I was happy about an accord that had formed between Hannah and Sam. Sam, in fact, had a habit of passing his orange mouse toy underneath the bathroom door to where Hannah kept guard in the middle of the night. I thought to myself, it was going to work. They were going to be great siblings. It was all going to be okay.

Just then, I heard Hannah at the closed bathroom door, hissing like Donald Sutherland did after he was invaded by a body snatcher in the film bearing the phrase.

I did not react in terror: “Han-nah…” I heard my voice trail with the end of her name in the loving yet slightly admonishing tone I use when she does something she knows she’s not supposed to do, such as putting her paws on the table or gnawing at my shoelaces. She stopped, immediately.

*

“Hello everyone!” I called as I entered the garret that evening. “I’m home!” I was met with silence. “Hello?” I turned on the light switch and saw Hannah on the living room floor. I let go of my heavy teaching bag. “Have you been sitting here all day?” I asked with a touch of envy. Hannah stood then and meowed about my absence. I bent down to her as she sniffed my hand, circled me, and tapped her tail across my back. I gave her dinner, then went to see Sam.

When I opened the bathroom door, Sam peeked out, then bolted, his tiny legs sprinting down the hallway as if his whole being were shouting I’M FREEEEEEEE! For the first time all day, I laughed out loud. I could feel his liberation. Hannah watched him dash by, and did nothing.

Hannah (in mirror) looks on at a frantic Sam

Then Sam did not know what to do: he had gotten what he wanted, and he was terrified. He hid under my bed. I used a string toy to lure him out, then picked him up and took him into the living room where I placed him on the floor several feet from Hannah, who was curled up near the TV; Sam took one look at Hannah and then ran out of the room as if for dear life. Hannah’s eyes followed him but her relaxed demeanor did not change. She turned her gaze towards me and blinked: “What’s his problem?”

The Hannah-Sam dance has shifted.

TLS

Interested in reading previously-published Hannah Grace stories? Visit the archives on the right-hand side of the home page. As always, please feel free to leave your comments and/or suggestions!

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Meet Sam

For almost a year, I’ve been thinking about adopting another cat to keep Hannah company. When we lived in our last apartment, my live-in landlady’s black cat King Tut – named because he controlled his people rather than his people holding reign – would talk to Hannah from across the hall. Sometimes, Hannah, cuddling next to me and in the throes of purring, suddenly left my side and quickly ran down the stairs to the door: her boyfriend was calling.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with Hannah, but I’ve always been very protective of her. King Tut was an indoor-outdoor cat and so, under vet’s orders, I never let Hannah meet him face to face, though I always wondered what might happen if she did. Would they get along? Would they tear each other apart?

Last week, during my feline socialization volunteer shift at the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL), I was introduced to a 7-week old orange and white domestic short-hair kitten. Someone threw him out a car window on the highway. A good Samaritan witnessed the toss, and took him to the ARL where he was treated for worms, fleas, abrasions, and a possible brain injury. They named him Lil’ Trooper, because, they said, he was resilient.

When I first saw him in his cage, he was sitting in his litter box, surrounded by poop. He looked at me quizzically. I opened the door and offered my hand. He remained very still and then, after a few moments, as I stroked his forehead, he began to purr like a motor. He walked towards me, flopped flat on his back, and offered his belly for a rub.

I didn’t plan to go through with it. Lately, my life has been populated with a lot of stressful variables, and I did not think I could handle more chaos. I thought it might end in catastrophe. Irrational fears rooted in my past plagued me. But then there was this creature who had been through trauma and I was moved by his ability to recover. I was taken by the trust he displayed in me, a human, after what another human did to him.

Hannah waits

I named him Sam, after the good ‘Sam’aritan who saved him, and in the spirit of Samuel, from the biblical account of Hannah, a story about the life-affirming power of love, hope, and faith in the face of desolation.

Hannah was my first pet and I’d never had a kitten, but I knew it was important to introduce them slowly. Let them smell their scents but keep them separate. I kept Sam in the garret bathroom where Hannah pressed her nose up to the door and sniffed for long periods of time. She kept guard all night, as if waiting for a present to show itself, or for the chance to gobble him up. I showered her with continual praises, as I’d been advised to do. I wanted to keep her stress-free.

Nothing could prepare me for the moment Hannah would meet Sam face to face. Yesterday, two days after his arrival, I placed Sam in the carrier as a physical barrier, then brought him into the living room. Hannah stared at him and shrunk low, hissing with severity. She growled from deep within. I’d never heard such sounds come from her, ever. She looked like an angry dog, readying for the kill. A panic overtook my senses. Suddenly I was paralyzed, in body and mind. I could not move; neither could I think. I knew I was having a PTSD reaction. I was not there, but in another place and time. I was a child and Hannah was my father. It was as if a screen came down and I was in a theater watching a movie. The past played out before me.

When I was a child, I begged my father for a puppy or kitten. The answer was always no, but my father said he’d be my pet. This excited me. One day I got down with him on the living room floor and we pretended to be pets. Our tongues were hanging out of our mouths, we were panting, we were sniffing at each other the way dogs do. All of a sudden, my father pushed me over and stuck his tongue in my mouth. The next moment, things got dark and closed in.

Standing in the garret living room, I didn’t see Hannah’s reaction as normal feline behavior. I saw it as a catastrophic personality shift, my father’s: one who had once been so kind, gentle, and affectionate was now an angry aggressor who evoked terror. I could hear Sam’s crying. He was me, then, but, when I put him back in the bathroom, Hannah was me, too. She hissed at my legs as if I’d betrayed her and ran into my bedroom, hiding behind my bed. She refused to come when I called her softly. She glared at me with what I saw as “I hate you” eyes.

Twenty minutes later, however, she was winding her body around my feet, head butting my calves, looking up at me tenderly.

For me, PTSD reactions tend to hit without warning, but I think this time a part of me knew it would happen. Part of me understood when I looked into that shelter cage: if I do this, I’ll be opening a door guarded by an unprocessed demon. But a stronger part of me wanted to. I was not going to let that demon stop me.

Last night, I tried not to let the fear overcome me once more while my friend Stephanie held Sam in her arms and I tended to Hannah a few feet away. Hannah gave Stephanie and Sam a couple of furious stares but then she settled in to purring contentedly and nuzzling my hand.

I’ve wanted to hold on to that positive moment, at least for a little while, and so, I have not yet tried another meeting. Time will tell if Hannah will accept Sam. I’m hoping she will. Here, at the garret, we are not just healing old wounds. We are more than survivors. We are “thrivers,” for life.

— TLS


Have you rescued an animal who’s been traumatized? Do you have a story about one pet meeting another for the first time? Please leave your comments below!

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