Archive for October, 2011

When I was a very little girl, I wanted to be a cat. One Halloween, when I was almost three years old, my mother made me a cat costume. She used black felt to make a body suit, a feline-shaped head “hood,” and a tail, which she safety-pinned to the back. She added white felt patches to the belly and paws, a red and white bow “collar,” and some black mascara-painted whiskers to my face. She told me to “act like a cat!” and as I meowed and stroked the air with my paw-hand, my mother took my picture. I insisted on being a cat for Halloween the year after, and the year after that, at least.

Me, almost age 3, in my cat costume on Halloween

Hannah and Sam are my first real cats. I’ve been tempted to dress them up in style for Halloween but of course cats are not like dogs – they don’t go trick-or-treating (at least not usually) and they would not tolerate any kind of costume. Also, Hannah looks at anything “pumpkin” with disdain, though Sam shows curiosity when I wear the Mr. Pumpkin “waving” pin my mother gave me one Halloween when I was a kid.

This Halloween, I wonder if the garret neighbor’s cat, who has been appearing on our fire escape “balcony” (I put “balcony” in quotes because it’s really nothing but a flimsy grate), will come to our window and meow maniacally, and hiss and spit like a horror show.

Hannah shows disdain for Mr. Pumpkin

Although I have told my neighbor that the cat has been terrorizing Hannah and Sam, nothing has been done to curtail the way this feline roams. For a time, I resorted to hanging tin foil on the metal rungs that attach her “balcony” with the garret’s, which, for a while, did help to discourage the cat from coming by. Perhaps I should put out a sign saying we don’t have any candy. Ahem, I mean catnip.

Scary neighbor's cat on garret's so-called fire escape/balcony.

But the truth is, we do have catnip on hand in the garret, and, because the vet has said we need to watch what Hannah and Sam eat (less grazing, no treats), that will be the only candy in the house this Halloween (isn’t catnip zero calorie?). Readers, have a safe and happy Halloween!

And stay tuned for news about the fate of Hannah Grace in the weeks ahead…

Trick or Treat!



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Hannah & Sam, en route to the vet

Where do I begin? Hannah’s little brother Sam had his one-year exam with the vet this past week. The day before, I was working on Hannah Grace, the book, when I heard Sam meowing in brief from the bathroom. When I walked in, I found he had deposited a piece of poop, with a 5-inch long object protruding from its middle, on my new plush blue foot rug.

“Ohhhhh!” I said aloud as I did the time I caught Sam with a mouse. “Ohhhhh!” Quickly, I put on gloves and scooped up the turd with a paper towel, staring at this thing that looked like a piece of spaghetti – I thought perhaps Sam had swallowed yet another inedible object – was it a twig or a leaf stem I had accidentally brought in from outside? I wondered as I disposed of it in the trash.

The following day, when I took Sam to the vet for his checkup, I brought along a stool sample, because he’s had the tendency to stink up the entire garret with just one visit to the litter box, ever since he was a kitten. No longer a kitten, it seemed odd to me that he was still producing something so smelly. As a kitten, Sam was diagnosed with several parasites, including roundworm, which can cause such odor. He was fully treated, his system rendered clear. However, into his adulthood, his poop continued to have that pungent kitten stink. The vet said most likely he was simply sensitive to Hannah’s prescription duck and green peas, the a la carte daily meal. We could try a probiotic. But first, we should test his sample.

The next morning I got the call: that thing protruding from Sam’s stool? An adult roundworm. It was imperative to treat Sam right away, as well as Hannah, as she had been exposed. The strongest medicine came in the form of a one-time pill. Because I had, when she was gravely ill, failed in my attempts to “pill” Hannah, I decided the best situation for all involved would be to bring both cats back to the clinic for the deed.

I placed Hannah in a soft zip-up carrier; after an initial struggle, she bowed her head politely under the carrier top.  Sam, however, ran and ran and ran around the garret as soon as I took out the new plastic crate the vet recommended for “difficult carrier cats.” Once I got him in, he thrashed his entire body against the sides of the carrier, and pushed his nose up against the metal grate, scraping himself as he howled. I carried them both twenty feet to the car, hearing their voices echoing down the street. “I know,” I said, the adrenaline pumping through my limbs. “It’s not fun for me either.” As if they could understand me.

While we waited in the clinic for the vet tech, Sam looked at Hannah in her carrier, as if for direction. He continued to let out intermittent howls, then quieted, as if to follow his big sister, who huddled quietly. Then the vet tech appeared and carried them away.

It is no secret that I am coping with PTSD. Since my mother’s death six weeks ago, my symptoms have flared a bit. Sam’s parasite diagnosis triggered the return of a contamination phobia I battled a couple of years ago. The idea that Sam could have had this chaotic parasite for months without detection made my stomach turn. In my mind, there was not enough bleach in the world to clean the garret. I wanted to burn everything. Not to worry, dear reader – I refrained, though I was tempted.

I did, however, ask a lot of hypochondriac-type questions: how easily is roundworm transmitted to humans? I asked both the vet and my primary care physician. What if I walked barefoot in the bathroom, somehow picked up some fecal matter, and it made its way into my mouth? Could invisible parasite eggs, as I’d read on the internet, have contaminated the entire garret? I don’t know if I was more embarrassed by my phobia or my questions. As long as I washed my hands after cleaning the litter box, I would be just fine, they all said. I was, however, warned that I would likely see “a lot” of those worms appearing in the coming days.

The vet tech returned with Hannah and Sam tucked back into their respective carriers. Sam, the tech said, was scared to death but let her pill him easily. Hannah, on the other hand, put up a fight: “She’s a fiesty one,” said the tech.

When we returned to the garret, Sam ran under my bed, where he took his dinner and stayed for the remainder of the evening. Hannah ate everything in sight, her usual reaction to a vet visit, then sat in the living room. I stood in the middle of the garret for a moment, and wondered where to begin. Chaos seemed to surround me. The smoke detector malfunctioned, a male voice yelling from the speaker, “Error! Error in master bedroom! Consult manual,” and the garret closet door fell off its hinge. I put these items on my list of things to fix (I was not going to call my landlord), after I disinfected the bathroom.


Have you had any cat-drama lately? Share your experiences, thoughts, or comments below!

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It’s been a while since my last update. Dealing with my mother’s death (“Hannah & My Mother“), along with getting used to my new post as liberal arts faculty at the New England Conservatory, has made my days very busy and stressful. I have felt as if I have been walking around in a fog. Hannah and Sam have been my grounding spirits.

Take the other day, for example. Entrenched in managing my mother’s affairs, I suddenly became aware of a ruckus occurring behind my back: Hannah and Sam were jointly hunting a rather large fly.

Hannah & Sam Hunt Mr. Fly

Together, they took turns attempting to catch it – bam! Finally Hannah’s quick paw struck Mr. Fly dead.  She shuffled the corpse close to my bedroom doorway, then began to eat her catch. As the good sibling she is, she shared half of the delicacy with her brother Sam, who enjoyed his portion immensely. Satisfied, they both licked their lips and went to sleep. I thought about reciting Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died,” but instead I simply decided it was time to call it a night. I got into bed, glad I would not have a fly buzzing in my ear.

Last weekend, while penning the final chapter of the book, as I was in the middle of deep concentration, I heard another ruckus occurring, this time at the garret’s back window. When I went to investigate, I saw, looking in through the garret’s precarious balcony window, a raccoon-colored cat, wide-eyed and insistent. She was hissing ferociously at Hannah, who crouched low. Sam sat atop the laundry basket, watching the scene unfold. Instinct took over my intellect and (I admit with chagrin) I hissed back. Nothing. I got the spray bottle. Gone. For a short while, anyway.

Hannah & Sam, Post-Cat On A Garret Roof

Because my mother used to tell me that, if she died, she’d like to come back as a cat, and because I have never once seen a cat on the balcony in the two years I’ve lived in the garret, at first the sight of those wide yellow feline eyes brought on sheer shock. But then, peering out the window, I saw the balcony next door was shrouded in a veil-like flimsy net, which had a wedge of clear tape hanging off the edge, flapping in the wind. Apparently my neighbor thought her cat would like to go outside, three flights up (and did not anticipate the cat would want to wander off the lone two-by-two balcony grate?). How did I find this out? I tried to ring my neighbor but there was no working doorbell. I left a note, but there was no answer. However, late at night, the main fire alarm in the house went off, and my neighbor emerged in a panic. Of course that’s more than my landlord did (see “Mr. Fix-It“). But that’s another story for another time…


Writer’s Note: I’m pleased to announce that my short memoir piece “The Drive,” has just been published in South Loop Review, available at your local bookstore. Also, my short-short piece, “Cashier,” is currently appearing as part of Drunken Boat‘s Nonfiction Portraits issue (click here).

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