Archive for January, 2012

{Writer’s Note: I’m pleased to announce that my nonfiction story, “The Wreck,” has been nominated for the upcoming Pushcart Prize. Winners will be announced in April.}

Yesterday, I did something I’ve never done before. I injured my coccyx. Was I doing something heroic when it happened, such as saving a cat caught high in a tree? Or exercising my athletic prowess by doing a deadlift or squat, or climbing a mountain? No. I was teaching a humanities class.

I left the garret early in the morning, with Hannah and Sam meowing “stay home, stay home,” ready for the first day of my new professorial gig at Lesley University, where I am teaching humanities and creative writing classes this semester. When I entered the classroom, I saw a sea of quadrangle tables linked together to create ten separate clusters of octagons. With an attendance list of fourteen in a room made for 100, I quickly began to rearrange the tables to form a horseshoe-shaped “desk” to fit my students into more of a shape conducive to discussion. Still nursing a torn ligament in my wrist, I forgot to think about the rest of my body, and I backed myself into one of the quadrangle tips. Hard. Within a few hours, I developed a large bruise on my butt. In the evening, I sat on a tray of ice.

This morning, Sam climbed up on my bed and began to tiptoe over my body, from my feet to my legs to my hips, paw after paw, his face inquiring. So I got up. It hurt to sit, walk, laugh, sneeze, and bend over.

Because the garret stairwell is not large enough to fit the loveseat to which she grew so accustomed over the years, Hannah has made the living room floor her petting palace. This morning she nudged my calves but I was in too much pain to lower myself to the ground. “I’m sorry, sweet girl,” I said. “I can’t bend down.” Hannah looked up at me, then whined.

I went to the doctor, whose office is located at the local hospital, a place I was trying to avoid. Ever since my mother passed away a few months ago, hospitals aggravate my PTSD: I tried to breathe deeply and to not look at patients and gurneys and death, so as to avoid dissociating. After the examination, my doctor told me I definitely bruised my coccyx, also known as the tailbone. She told me the story of another patient, a woman my age, who came in presenting a bruise the size of one full buttock, swollen into a raised triangle. “You’d be surprised how often this kind of thing happens,” she said. “You’ll have to buy a donut, you know, one of those butt pillows.”

To rule out fracture or misalignment, she ordered an X-ray. I had to travel down to registration for that, at which time I had to update my emergency contact information (I had listed my mother: “She’s passed away,” I managed to say, then swallowed and tried not to think). I was directed to a waiting room, where I was to change into a gown and sit for twenty minutes amidst people who were fully-clothed. I googled “donuts” to pass the time. I wanted to see my options.

Finally, I was called by a young tech, who had an intern by her side. “How’d you do it?” the intern asked, then covered her mouth as I almost tripped over an unconscious man on a gurney. “Oh, you don’t have to say.”

I told her that’s okay. I’m an open book. “Do you have a donut?” I asked, trying to get one for free, not wanting to have to endure the pain of walking to the store.

In the end, I had to take the bus to a medical device outlet, where I bought my donut, from an actual donut salesman. I have to sit on this thing for the next four-to-six weeks. Hannah and Sam are afraid of it. Sam has tried to sniff it a few times. Hannah simply won’t come into the room. She’ll forgo petting, she says, until this thing is gone.

I have a feeling Hannah and Sam will come around. They’re cats, afterall. It’s the humans that concern me. I’m going to have to bring this thing to class, in the car, on job interviews, and dates. I asked the salesman if he had a different color, perhaps something less conspicuous, or inflatable, but all he had was a big black square, which he said was for someone with a larger rear. This is going to make for some great introductions, I know. Perhaps I’ll stand until spring.



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Hannah (right) & Sam (left), with the garret portable radiator

Do you ever wonder what your pets do, exactly, when you’re not home? Do they sleep? Play? Destroy things? Read the books you’ve neatly stacked on the shelves? Recently, I was away from the garret at a nine-day writer’s residency at Lesley University. I returned most nights to find Hannah and Sam lingering in the hallway, between the door and the living room, looking stressed, meowing “hello!” and, more importantly, “where’s dinner?”

Hannah, who is more independent than her little brother, methodically took in the scents of my day, sniffing at my clothes and hands as if to decode where exactly I had been and with whom. She looked into my eyes and snorted quietly and pleasurably when I rubbed her forehead with my thumb.

Sam, however, ran into the bedroom and hid there, as if I were an imposter, until I opened a can of wet food in the kitchenette. Then he was by my side, meow-meowing incessantly and making gurgle noises in his throat while he circled my feet, bumping his body into my calves, until I finally put the dish down in front of him. When it was my turn to eat, Hannah warmed herself by the portable radiator and Sam tumbled over onto his back before me, showing his belly, purring from deep within.

Hannah stole Sam's laundry basket perch

Although I did come home nightly, Hannah and Sam both showed signs of stress during my absence. One day I arrived home to find the foot-tall cat condo had been half-demolished by Sam, who has a carpet fetish: individual pieces of carpet had been plucked off the sides and top and deposited in a pile on the floor. I hoped he hadn’t ingested any.

When I sat down to give both cats my undivided attention, neither wanted to be second, and Sam pawed and nipped at Hannah whenever she came close. Hannah, on the other hand, became aggressive in her need for affection. She practically toppled me over as she rubbed her whole head around my knees and pushed in. She even (gasp!) attempted to sit on my lap, something she has never done, then decided that curling up right in front of me with her head propped on my thigh was a safer bet. Around the food bowl, she displayed great hesitation. I frequently had to pick her up, holding her close as I carried her back to the bowl, encouraging her to eat. Secretly, I think she wanted the extra physical touch.


Hannah stole Sam’s perch atop the laundry basket. Then, Sam began to sit on my lap, something he has not done since he was four months old. He alternated between my lap, and sitting on top of my feet, as if to make me stay put, the vibration of his purring warming my toes.


What is it like for you, and your pets, when you are at work all day or away on vacation? Share your experiences below!

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