Archive for July, 2011

Hannah & Sam, July 2011

Hannah and Sam have asked to write this post. Because I’m teaching in an intensive creative writing program for high school students, drafting and revising more of the Hannah Grace book, and healing from a dislocated wrist (long story), I’ve agreed to let them.

In the form of two home movies, Tails from the Garret: Parts One and Two, Hannah and Sam will share their latest adventures. First, there’s a new birdie string toy in town, and Hannah and Sam show how to play fair with your feline sibling (click here). Next, Hannah will speak (succinctly, with just one meow) about her little brother’s obsession with the birds out the back garret window (click here). Stay tuned for more…


As always, I enjoy hearing from you. Please share your comments, questions, requests, or personal pet tales in the space below!


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Hannah, at garret window

Before Hannah and I moved to the garret, we left our tiny studio quarters to live in a one-bedroom attic apartment in a spacious family home. During our first summer there, Hannah’s behavior, once that of a traumatized cat, took on a meditative quality. Her actions were infused with a mindfulness that comforted her being and fed her soul. As I watched her, I wondered if I would ever master that kind of peace.

Hannah in summer, before the garret

Most mornings, enamored by the sound of chirping, Hannah crouched beneath the windowsill and hunted the blue jays, cardinals, and sparrows who flew across the yard and tagged tree, and tree, and tree. When they quieted, Hannah turned and galloped towards the high back window, sitting on the floor beneath it, atop the staircase landing, looking like a pointer dog, her attention focused upward, outward, poised for all the world would offer.

In the late afternoons, when the sun shot its rays through the back window, the carpeted landing its bulls-eye, Hannah spread her body out like a blanket, relaxed her head between her paws, softened the muscles of her whole being, and fell asleep as she took in the light and warmth for as long as it lasted. She awakened to a dish of wet food, which I placed before her, for dinner. Licking at it with pleasure, she took time to enjoy the taste and texture. Then, having consumed all she wanted, leaving leftovers, she smacked her lips, dampened the white of her front paw with her tongue, and methodically cleaned her face.

Now, three summers later, in the garret, Hannah spends her days with her little b(r)other Sam. When I come home from a day of teaching creative writing to high schoolers in Boston University‘s “Summer Challenge” program, I find my two cats hanging out in one of two places: if I have left the air conditioner on in the living room, they are camped out in my bedroom under the bed (now sitting/dozing just six inches away from each other! this is progress!); if it’s simply a fan blowing, they’re in the living room, soaking up the sun in the brightest spot on the floor. Sam still has his kitten curiosity and never sits still for long, but Hannah laps up the sauna-like heat as if it were tuna juice.


Hannah & Sam, the garret, Summer '11

Postscript: So much has changed since I brought Sam into Hannah’s life, especially Hannah’s sense of herself. Recently, I took some home movies with my phone to capture it in action. Here, you can watch Hannah playing with a string toy like I’ve never seen her before, with great passion, fervency, and, above all, lack of post-traumatic trepidation. (I’ve also never quite seen Sam let her take the lead in this way either! For a video of just Sam, click here.)

How do your pets behave in summer? Post your comments and thoughts below! Read more about the Hannah Grace book here!

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I’ve been away at a creative writing MFA residency, but not really away. For nine days, I vacated the garret at a very early hour, traveled to where I needed to go, then returned quite late at night, leaving Hannah and Sam on their own much more than usual.

Each late night, before tumbling into bed, I gave Hannah and Sam their dinner, and then, for Hannah, a good brushing and a game of chase. Sam, who dislikes bristles, received lots of hugs and thumb-to-nose rubs and verbal responses to his meow-full chat about the day.

Exhausted, I slept hard, waking early each morning to find Sam sitting in my bedroom doorway staring at me like a bar bouncer, his paws crossed and tucked in his armpits. When my eyes grew heavy and closed, he meowed like an alarm clock, only sweeter: Rise and shine.

Sam, at the shelter, 7 weeks old

Last August, at seven weeks old, Sam was thrown from a car on the highway, picked up by a Good Samaritan, and brought with multiple physical injuries to the Animal Rescue League of Boston* where I was volunteering in cat socialization. Despite his horrific experience at the hands of humans, after a long and tentative gaze at me, Sam rolled over on his back, put his paws in the air, and showed me his belly, purring like a motor.

I was taken by his spirit’s stronghold: love.

When I brought him home, in the beginning, there was plenty of conflict. For both Hannah and me, the PTSD ran amok. I wondered, was I ready to open my heart – my life – to this tiny being? Was Hannah?

Unlike Hannah, Sam was removed from his traumatic environment very young, and, immersed in the safety of the garret, he more wholly left behind his world of violence. Over the next ten months, Sam taught Hannah (and me) how to do the same. In the process, he showed us how to re-acquire some of the basic foundational elements often taken by long-term trauma: how to find safety in closeness, how to play, to laugh, to love, free. And how to seek passion in the pleasure of hunting (mice) and even, much to my alarm, tasting and sometimes ingesting inedible things. Some days, I caught Hannah imitating Sam’s uninhibited moves, trying them on for size.

That’s not to say Hannah didn’t teach Sam a thing or two. Sam did not know how to groom or knead, and learned by watching Hannah. For a while, he was a real copy cat (though he still doesn’t knead).

A couple of weeks ago, as I was talking on the phone, Sam sat beside my feet, rolled over, and fell asleep on his back, his paws dangling in the air, his most vulnerable self opened to the world, and me. For several minutes, he lay there with total ease and trust in his surroundings. I was awed by the way he relaxed his body and mind. Without fear, he rested with contentment, satisfaction, and peace.

Happy 1st Birthday to Sam!

On this July 4th, Independence Day, Sam turns one year old. On his birthday, I reminisce with happiness about how we came into each others’ lives.

I’ve never met another being who has extricated himself from the life-shattering events of the past so joyfully, who has embraced every moment of every day as if it were a gift. I’m told kittens are this way, but I think with Sam it’s more. I marvel at his independence and his hard, enduring engagement in the world.

As I embark on a new chapter of my journey, I strive to master his art of living.


*The Animal Rescue League of Boston will hold the 2nd Annual Happy Tails BBQ on Saturday, July 16, to celebrate the animal-human bond, with the animals adopted from the shelter and the people who love them. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and support the care and adoption of shelter animals. Please contact Michelle Chandler 617-226-5638 or mchandler@arlboston.org for more information.

Writer’s Note: I’m pleased to announce that my nonfiction piece, “The Wreck,” is a finalist in the Solstice Fiction/Nonfiction Literary Contest, and will be published in Solstice Literary Magazine later this month!

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