Archive for November, 2010

Hannah, Pantry Mouse Bouncer (last spring).

Last night, one of my worst nightmares came true: there was a mouse in the (garret) house.

Why it decided to come all the way up to my attic unit rather than stay in the lovely warm laundry room basement I do not know. Perhaps my landlord dragged it in yesterday when he raked a path of scattered leaves straight to the front door.

Hannah was napping in the garret living room, over by the window, on what has become her and her little brother Sam’s bunk bed. Sam was nowhere to be seen.

Sam can usually be found on this garret chair.

It was 9:15 p.m. and I was sitting in the living room, unable to find anything good on network television to help unwind my PTSD-ridden mind before bed. I decided to work on revising the chapter-by-chapter outline of Hannah Grace, the book, and had just begun to really focus when an odd crunching sound broke my concentration.

It was coming from the garret kitchenette. Because Hannah was asleep by the window, I thought it must be Sam. He tends to graze on Hannah’s kibble in between his kitten-formula meals. At four months old, Sam recently lost several baby teeth, and so I can distinguish between Hannah’s and Sam’s kibble-crunching sounds.

This crunching was different.

I left the living room for the kitchenette, where I saw Sam on the floor by the pantry, his head sticking deep into the bottom corner where I keep some old boxes. I thought perhaps he had found something to chew on; lately, he’s begun teething and, subsequently, he has become addicted to drooling on and hole-punching anything paper: a box of tissues, my bills, the Petco receipt for 54 cans of kitten food, and my students’ composition papers.

“Sam,” I insisted, thinking he was chewing on some packaging, “No.”

Sam's favorite toy mouse

Sam retracted his head from the pantry, looked at me quizzically, then raced away. I went back to the living room, where I saw him become interested, momentarily, in a mouse toy on the floor, and then, uncharacteristically, he abandoned the living room quickly and quietly.

A few moments later, I heard the strange crunching again. Hannah remained asleep, unfazed. I left my chair and tiptoed towards the kitchenette.

There, I saw Sam sitting squarely in front of the refrigerator with a dead mouse at his feet, his adult incisors taking a bite out of its crunchy hind.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I sounded like an alarm. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Sam stopped, mid-bite, and looked in my eyes as if waiting for my gratitude. He met my sense of horror with a sense of accomplishment, and licked his lips. Then he jumped over the mouse and left me to pick up the pieces.

Feeling as if I might vomit, I considered my options. Regular readers of this blog may recall my post this past August about the garret landlord (“Mr. Fix-It”) and will understand my decision not to ask him for any help. I decided to take mouse matters into my own hands.

I told myself I just had to get through it. Looking at its innocent ashen face, putty-like gray body and tail, I knew I couldn’t just throw it in the trash and it was too late to go outside to the dumpster, where there would surely be live mice, if not rats and criminals, lurking.

Scorning the garret and my landlord, I put on plastic gloves, took a grocery store bag from under the sink and wadded up a half a roll of paper towels to make a broom-like scooper, which I used to brush the mouse from the floor. I tied the handles of the bag, opened the garret door, and threw it. It tumbled, like a murder victim, down the stairs, landing at the back escape door of the two unfriendly men who share the unit below me.

Sam, post-feast

As I imagined the mouse coming back alive, climbing the stairs and haunting me in the middle of the night, I inspected the pantry, in which I had found a quarter-sized hole last spring. At that time, Hannah had been sniffing quite heavily and insistently there. I had plugged it with steel wool and duct tape. When I examined my work last night, I found it secure. However, I saw that part of the floorboard had come away from the wall, leaving a nickel-sized gap where I imagined any mouse could enter. I spent the next hour scouring the garret, filling its voids.

I wondered if the mouse had been leftover from last spring. Had it been dead in the pantry for months? Was that why it “crunched” upon Sam’s contact, or was any mouse crunchy? Or, was this mouse a part of a family, whose goal it was to chase me out of my home? I had not seen any signs of chewing or mouse droppings and hoped, as my friend Steve assured me, it was just “a rogue mousie” or “a past tenant.”

The bunk bed.

I tried to wash my hands of it all, and returned to the living room, where I found Hannah and Sam sleeping as if nothing had happened at all. How could they be so calm and content?, I wondered. I worried momentarily that perhaps someone had put mouse killer in the house and the mouse ate it, and in turn Sam was about to die himself: “Oh hello, PTSD,” I thought, “I remember you….”

This morning, I tentatively approached the kitchenette, fearing a replay of last night’s sight, but, to my relief, there was nothing. This afternoon, I tiptoed to the basement, where the two washer-dryers are located, and stole three sheets of Bounce to try my college friend Kristin’s offered remedy: mice hate the smell of fabric softener sheets.


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Last night, as I stepped into the home of my once-upon-a-time college classmate – the host of our alumni social – I walked across a threshold into somebody else’s life: my own, I thought, or rather what could’ve been, had I not lived the life I had, experienced what I experienced, acquired PTSD.

Standing by the fireplace, warming myself, I sized up the kitchen and living room: the square footage of my entire garret apartment, which I currently heat with the small portable oil radiator I bought at Home Depot with all that was left of my monthly earnings.

I risk indulging in self-pity here but, to tell the truth, as I watched my former classmate interact with her husband and her little girl, as I mingled with other alumni and heard about their relationships and families, the details and state of their affairs, their togetherness in the world, I yearned for something I saw as better: a life I wanted. Not an idealized scenario (and let me be clear here to say I in no way thought of their lives as “perfect”), but something real – full of struggles and successes, laughter and sorrow, good times and bad, the whole spectrum: “full.” I desired something “normal.” Something “not PTSD.”

Envy is not something I’m proud to admit, but, to be honest, sometimes I walk around and I wish I lived somebody else’s life. Diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 30, I spent the years when my peers were getting married and having kids coming to terms with the truth of my past, the horror, the grief. Soon, I will turn thirty-seven, and I am (cat-lovers be warned) embarrassed to say that my longest relationship is with a cat.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if what happened to me never happened.

If I never acquired PTSD, I would never have adopted Hannah. Perhaps I would have a cat, or maybe even a dog, but when Hannah was abandoned at Saint Meows, when that long, loud meow leapt up from the floor, I would never have heard her: I’ve been hurt, love has died, hope is gone, I’m so afraid.

I would not have taken her in. I would not have faced my fears. I would not have lived, as I have.

I think about Hannah, and now Sam, and I wonder, who would they be, if they had not experienced what they experienced? If Hannah had not been abused, she would not have shown up at Saint Meows that day I did. I would not have rescued her. She would not have rescued me.

If Sam had not been thrown from a car on a highway, he would never have been saved by a Good Samaritan or been brought to the Animal Rescue League, where I would not have been a volunteer, where I would not have related to Sam’s trauma, or held him against my heart, taken him in. I would not have seen Hannah and Sam learn to negotiate their relationship, beat up on one another, or love each other.

We would be different beings altogether.

Last night, as I drove home from my former classmate’s house, I thought about my life, where I’ve been and where I haven’t. I considered, where was I going? I saw the car clock blinking 8:13 p.m. and I reminded myself it was the end of daylight savings – I had to turn back time.

But then, as I parallel parked my car on the street, I noticed something that made me forget: Hannah was peering out the garret window, looking directly at me. I had left the living room light on. A warm glow surrounded Hannah, like a beacon, fueling me to go in.


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