Archive for December, 2010

What kind of heat do you have?” the doctor asked. “Anything different than last year?”

It was my first winter living in the garret.

“Electric baseboard heat,” I said. “With metal coils.” I think they were the cheapest kind my landlord could find.

The doctor, my ophthalmologist, looked up at the ceiling with ocular-regret.

In apartments previous to the garret, I lived with steam heat, my eyes unaffected. But then last year, just ten minutes after I turned on the electric baseboards, my eyes became uncomfortably dry. Days into winter, a high tech hot steam humidifier was no more than a moisture mirage. By New Year’s, my vision had become impaired – I did not think heat could do such damage. I worried I might have a tumor as I rushed myself to my ophthalmologist.

My eye membranes were parched, according to my doctor, and the heating system was the root of my problem. As instructed, I doused my eyes with lubricating drops every hour, and spent as much time as I could out of the garret and in the most humid spaces (coffee shops, friends homes) I could locate. Of course, I was not the only one affected: Hannah was too. She developed oozy eyes. Daily, I wiped her lids to clean off the deposited crustiness and tried to hydrate her naturally with a warm-water cotton ball.

Spring could not come soon enough.

This year, life circumstances have brought us to endure a second winter in the garret. But I’ve refused to turn on the baseboard heat.

At the recommendation of some friends, in late October, I went to Home Depot and purchased, on sale, an economical portable oil radiator, which, while it does dry out the air, is much more bearable (and cost-effective) than the life-sucking electric coil baseboards. The radiator has, in fact, been so favorable that it’s become Hannah and Sam’s new best friend, almost better than catnip or the “cat dancer” toy (ironically made of a metal coil). The three of them are practically attached at the hip.

Hannah & Sam, and new best friend "Radiator."

Hannah first claimed Radiator as her own, falling asleep behind his back in the garret living room, her fur soaking in the warmth of his body. As a cool mist humidifier gurgled from above, Sam approached and sniffed Radiator’s short legs, sizing him up. Hannah hissed, claiming territory.

Hannah was happy to share half of “Radiator” with Sam, but only if he sat on his own side, out of (her) sight, out of mind. Sam did as his big sister said. Grooming herself, Hannah watched Sam through Radiator’s dark black ribs as Sam curled up on his side and took in Radiator’s warmth, like a good massage. Satisfied, Sam stretched his paw out underneath Radiator’s gut, between his wheel-feet, reaching for Hannah.

There they slept for hours.

I hope that by next winter I – we – will have long left behind the garret’s deficiencies, but, for now, simply sitting here watching Hannah and Sam fills me with immeasurable warmth.


May you find your own special warmth this season. Happy Holidays from Hannah Grace (and Sam).


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This is one story I did not think I would ever tell anyone.

A few weeks after adopting Sam, in the middle of a PTSD-adjustment period, I was standing in the garret kitchenette, minding my own business, washing the dinner dishes, when Sam, three months old, suddenly appeared at my feet, meowing excitedly. Was he hungry? Ever since Hannah’s life-threatening illness, I’ve had to keep her away from anything but her prescription food, and therefore quarantined Sam’s kitten food (and Sam, while eating) from her. At the time, Sam was quadrupling in size, and seemed to have an insatiable appetite. Wearing my neon yellow rubber dish-washing gloves, I decided to finish my task first, then feed Sam. But his meowing became more insistent, urgent. Then he brushed up against my legs. He looked up at me, sat up on his hind legs, his front paws dangling freely, and showed himself to me in all his (neutered) glory.

I froze. I had seen this sight once before, pre-neuter, when I first brought him home and had him on my lap in the bathroom. I was cleaning his ears and stroking his head when this worm-like protrusion poked out from his bottom.


I saw Sam, then, through a PTSD-lens: Was he a perpetrator? Was I causing this? Would he try to assault Hannah? Me? As I held this helpless three-pound animal, these questions spun around my head as if I were caught in a kind of post-trauma tornado. I knew my thoughts were illogical, irrational, but then I did not know if I could tolerate having a boy-cat in the house. I did not know if I could face the fears he evoked.

Shaking, I removed myself from the room. I told myself, He’s just a kitten.

“How’re things going?” Dr. Parker, Hannah’s vet (now Sam’s as well), asked when I brought Sam in to the clinic for his shots. Sam sat on the scale as if it were a comfortable cat bed.

“Okay,” I said, then tentatively, “actually, I do have a question.”

I felt my lips form into a nervous smile and my cheeks get hot as I described what had happened. I was so embarrassed to let anyone see or know the effects of my past, but I understood getting the medical feline facts would be the only way to allay the PTSD reaction. To my surprise, sharing the story actually overrode my PTSD-laden terror with some comic relief.

“And there he was in all his glory?” Dr. Parker chuckled and finished the story.

“Yes,” I said. Dr. Parker explained it was a normal bodily function that could occur even after neutering. It had no other meaning.

“What about when he and Hannah play?” I asked. “They look like vampires, going at each other’s throats with their mouths. They tackle each other and roll around. There’s no risk?”

Now we were both chuckling pretty hard. “He wouldn’t even know what to do with it,” Dr. Parker said reassuringly. “And even if he did, he’s been neutered, Hannah’s been spayed. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Later that night, as Sam cuddled up on my lap, I recalled his past display, then put it aside, focusing on the way he nuzzled his head against my heart, looked up at me, and purred loud as a motor. He stayed with me that way for a long while, until Hannah came along and meowed. Then, Sam leaped off my lap to be with his big sister. I watched as they began to play, in the manner, I was learning, cats do. Sam caterwauled and Hannah threw him to the floor with one flick of her paw. Sam scrambled back on his feet and tapped Hannah on the forehead. Then they were wrestling each other to the floor, teeth and claws everywhere. The next thing I knew, they were sound asleep.

Having Hannah, and now Sam, has evoked and resolved a lot from my trauma history. I think, as well, it has done the same for Hannah. She is a lot more social, and appears happier with Sam around, even though he follows her into the litter box, scaring her into a running frenzy. Sam is learning from Hannah how to be in the world as a cat. But Hannah is, in certain ways, starting to imitate Sam a little – the way he scrambles up the cat tree, or tumbles over onto his back on the living room floor, exposing his most vulnerable self to the world, seeking love with abandon. Hannah, too, is learning to let her guard down.

She is, we are, becoming free.


What have you learned from your pets?

Share your story, or comments, below!

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