So: a way long time ago, circa 1979, when I was a student at the University of Texas, I was seeing a girl named Susan, who had a roommate whose name I forget, who had a boyfriend whose name I forget. The boyfriend was a volunteer with a wildlife rescue organization, and he took care of injured and orphaned birds—primarily raptors. He’d come in and out carrying these birds around—a red-tailed hawk, a golden eagle. One day he had the eagle sitting on a tether in the backyard, and the eagle killed an old lady’s cat that chose the wrong time to wander by. I was totally pissed off—said that I’d kill the eagle if it killed my cat.
That’s the origin of the story. Bad eagle kills good cat. I carried the idea around with me for years, and then when I was writing my MA thesis I pulled it out and tried to do something with it. The end result was the basic draft of “Wildlife Rehabilitation.”
Where I live in Texas the hills level out and rise into the plains and the sky opens up to swallow everything. In the fall and winter fronts blow through, cold dark clouds and wind rattling the brush and pushing birds down from the north—most notably, great numbers of hawks and eagles. When I was a young man, people hated those birds. It was not an uncommon thing to see dead eagles and hawks strung up on fenceposts along our roads, shot dead and left to rot, a warning to all other varmints. Crows and buzzards would drift by and pick at the carcasses, and most of the dead birds' feathers would float off into the brush, and finally, after a few months, by summertime, all you'd have left to see would be maybe a skeleton with one wing and a head, hanging there from a clawed foot like a grim vision of the future that awaits us all. It was something to see, all the dead birds hanging from fenceposts, but it's not so common anymore. In fact, it's not something I had seen in years, or even thought of, until my cat—his name was Festus—was killed by my neighbor’s golden eagle.
And no one liked it. My fellow writers in workshop were dissatisfied with the ending and with what they saw as the sentimentality the story as a whole, and my thesis director thought the ending was absolutely dreadful. He thought the story sucked too much to go into my thesis, and it didn’t. I kept working on it, though, adding more and more, making it increasingly complicated and dense—one version actually cracks 50 pages, and has fun and weird scenes of drugs and sex and arson and kidnapping. I came up with at least four different endings. And I didn’t like any of the changes.
But I still believed in the basic story—no kidding, I liked it! I thought there was something there!—and I submitted it to a few journals, and was rejected, and then I presented it at the Western Literature Association conference in 2007. Twister Marquiss of Southwestern American Literature was there, and he liked it a lot, and offered to publish it, and so about a year later it came out. Other people liked it, too. “Wildlife Rehabilitation” was later chosen as an honorable mention for the anthology Best of the West, edited by Seth Horton.
So, in the end, with a lot of help, this story found an audience….