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Rachel Paz Ruggera writer

Bat Summer

by Rachel Paz Ruggera

When they hit the mist net, they seem to be floating. Tangled, their fleshy wings crumpled and held tight against their bodies—flightless. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight. Not the hopping, drifting, falling from tree to tree of a sugar glider or flying squirrel, but true flight. Batman would carefully untangle one from the net as it thrashed and squeaked in his hands. Holding it up to the light, it would flash its fangs and tear at his leather glove as he bared his teeth in a smile of his own.

I first started working with Batman, as all the interns affectionately called him, in my junior year of college. My philosophy professor was the one who introduced us. We happened to be talking about our summer plans when she mentioned her unusual pastime of walking through the cemetery-turned-wildlife-sanctuary a few blocks from her house at night carrying around a bat detector and doing citizen science work with a professor from a nearby university. 

It was the perfect coincidence. I had been looking for some sort of field work experience at the time. Anyone who had any career plans at all was, and I was swept along in this same wave of ambition. On the first night that I arrived at the cemetery, it was nearly dusk, the perfect time to walk transects around the ponds, mosquito repellent liberally applied and headlamp strapped to my forehead making a funny indentation.

This is where I first met Batman. Among the imposing, stone crypts as big as traditional style housing on a college campus, holding the stately remains of renowned writers, governmental officials, and historical figures from the Revolutionary War. 

Batman was known for being constantly on the move. I remember him walking up and down the paths crisscrossing the cemetery grounds, a cup of convenience store coffee in hand, without a flashlight, without a map. Not because he never got lost, he got lost plenty of times as he would reluctantly admit, but because this was how he worked best, on the fly and constantly adapting the plan.

I have never met anyone as enamored by bats as he was. His excitement was infectious, a quiet hum in the air that traveled through the group of high schoolers, college students, and citizen scientists as one by one our heads were drawn up to tree-level where the first bats of the night were zipping by. I thought they would look like birds when they flew, elegantly soaring, but they’re much more like moths fluttering and staggering in the dark.

That’s what I was. A bat hopelessly tangled in a net I couldn’t even see, strung up from tree to tree with thousands of gossamer threads, that I would spend the next year struggling to untangle myself from.

I realize I’m searching for the perfect metaphor to find meaning in this story.


Take four years of a college science curriculum, and you will learn how to take yourself out of your writing. The author will be impersonal, unbiased, and keep their opinions from marring the scientific integrity of their work. All claims will be backed up by evidence, corroborated with the literature, and thoroughly reviewed. You will learn that the highest authority that exists is a panel of old, white men in academia. 

I was twenty years old, female, and an ambiguous shade of not-white. He was a professor, published in scientific journals, respected by his peers, an expert in his field. I had no evidence.

Let me tell you my story anyway.


It was late summer. We were sitting outside the barn, huddled in our coats and scarves after the relentless heat of the day. The grass was wet with dew forming in the few hours left before dawn, and the cuffs of my jeans were damp from pacing back and forth.

In that long moment of silence, a bat flew into our net with a resounding thud. I got up to put it in a brown paper lunch bag and carry it back to the processing table. He held it up to the light spilling out from the barn door. That’s when I saw its wings. The metal band clipped onto the bat’s forearm was digging into its skin, slicing an angry, red gash into its flesh.

I remember the sharp focus he had when he handled the bat. It may have been past two in the morning, my legs stiff from sitting in a lawn chair bent over a clipboard the whole night, but my mind was suddenly clear. In the circle of light cast by his headlamp, I could see him cradle the bat in his two cupped hands. He didn’t take his eyes off of it as he directed me in a low and even voice to his toolbox, to find the pliers, to wedge the blade between the bone of the wing and the metal band and pry. Then slowly, millimeter by millimeter, the band loosened until I could pull it off with two fingers. It was rusted and caked with blood. We had gotten it off in one piece. Without breaking the wing.

I like to pretend I know what I’m doing. I like to play the part of the scientist. But that night, I was completely out of my depth. No one had said it out loud, but we could all see the truth. The bat would either get an infection from the open wound gouged in its wing and die, or we’d try to remove the band and break the fragile, toothpick bone of its forearm and it would die anyway. I could see it in the hesitance and bated breath of the other field tech. In the quiet tension that had replaced the sleepy-mind-wandering downtime only moments before.

The three of us looked at the bloody band, at the bat in his hands, still beating both wings, and let out a collective sigh of relief. There would be no death tonight.

In my mind, I can see this moment take a different turn. I can see the different pathways branching and the probability of each outcome and all these probabilities at the tip of each branch being multiplied together to get the result of this night. In other words, I can picture him walking to the back of the barn, turning off his headlamp, grasping the head in one hand and the body in the other, and pulling back until the sides of both closed fists meet.

But I must constantly remind myself of which path was taken, of what really was the truth, and that no matter how unlikely it seemed, I saw that bat cling to his open palm as he raised his arm to the black sky, then suddenly the bat was gone too, melted back into the night.

Whenever I find myself thinking that I must hate him, I come back to this night. The focus, the intention, the care, the exhilaration of holding another life in my hands. The waver between uncertainty and assurance in my own capabilities. The beauty of the bat leaping from an open palm. And yet he was there too.


My dad called me yesterday to tell me he saw a mouse run out of my closet. Whatever it was my mom sent him upstairs to find was completely forgotten with the quick scurry of a four-legged thing, a flash of pink tail and whiskers.

It’s comforting to know that while I’ve been gone, something living has moved back in. Reclaimed the dusty corners and moldy cardboard boxes, the cluttered drawers with a lifetime of old schoolwork, the empty spaces I’ve made with my leaving. But the real surprise wasn’t the mouse. I can’t remember the last time my dad picked up the phone to ask how was my day, what classes am I taking this semester, what are my plans for Thanksgiving?

So what does he do when he hears the news—when he’s so desperately worried about his only child? What does he do but call to say there was a mouse in my closet?


I watch for him. Every time I walk past the tables outside the dining hall, some part of me expects him to be there, waiting for me. I watch for his car—dark blue and speckled with dents and scrapes along the sides. When I see a car that looks familiar, I have to peek into the window to make sure it’s not him. Every time my phone buzzes, it’s him, asking about my day, when we’re going to meet next, and can I call him to talk now? He took every minute of my free time to the point where I would drop a class and not tell him at first, just so I could have that hour to myself. He’d tell me to drop classes because they seemed too hard for me. He chipped away at every ounce of my resolve until I’d just say yes to avoid an argument, to avoid the questions, is everything okay? what’s going on with you? you know you can talk to me, right? 

You can talk to me right? 

You can talk to me. Talk to me. Talk.

Are you fascinated by a good story? 

Am I telling you a story? 

Am I a story? 

Bats are the only mammals that can fly. 

Bats are the only mammals that can fly. 

Bats are the only mammals that can fly, can fly, can fly away. 

We were alone together in his car, driving back to the city at two in the morning. I was barely awake but he wouldn’t stop talking, telling me how special I was, how we had this connection, unlike any of his other students, we had so much in common. Teachers were supposed to be good and kind and trustworthy. Teachers were not supposed to put their hand on your thigh and lean over in a dark car while driving you home.

It was tangled in the net, wings held tight against its body. 



After I told someone for the first time, it felt like time had stopped moving. Or maybe during the past year was when it had stopped, and now the clocks were finally ticking again. I walked across campus with my head down, staring at my shoes as they carried me further from the biology department. My eyes were red and bloodshot. I hate how easy it is to tell when I’ve been crying.

The mallards sound like they’re laughing

from behind the trees.

I left campus and kept on walking through the residential areas, past off-campus housing, the ancient looking seminary with its pristine brick walls and spires. I didn’t know exactly where I was going until I got there.

Laughing at me for my somber mood

on this day that was freely given to us.

I looked around at the empty park benches, the murky pond with freshly painted three-story homes surrounding it, the cormorants basking in the low-hanging sun, and I thought to myself, of course, I’ve been here before.

On this day, where catbirds

fight to be heard over car alarms.

Two years ago now, in early fall. I’ll always remember this place. This is where I go when I don’t want to be anywhere anymore.

Where the rumble of someone rolling out

their trash bin tries to imitate the thunder.

My roommate asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping this weekend. I didn’t understand the question, it didn’t feel like I would still be here this weekend, or the next, or even tomorrow. I was suspended in this one moment. I didn’t even have the energy to get up from this park bench.

Can’t they see the time for beautiful things

is over?

I’m telling you this not so you’ll pity me or hate him. I would rather tell you any other story, yet this one seems to keep repeating itself. In fact, I can’t seem to tell you any other story until I get this one down. Until I’ve given it some semblance of order by writing it and given myself some fragment of peace by claiming it as my own.

The trees agree with me, their trunks almost black,

still wet from rain and appropriately gloomy.

How do I understand my memory of him? How can we hold so many memories within us? Some of them contradict each other. Some of them overlap and blend and transform.  

It is time for the bleak mid-winter.

It is time for icy sidewalks that catch you at your worst.

How do I understand that people are not always good? That I am not always good? That I am a victim and everything that entails but not only that.

It is time for bare branches, gnarled and knobby

like the arthritic joints of an old man’s hands.

Surely I can’t be both. Surely the old gray-beard-poets contained multitudes, but who am I to try to be everything I am all at once? Do I even dare?

It is time for the mallards to fly away

to wherever it is they go when the pond freezes over.

My performance is over. I’ve retold my story too many times. I could rattle it off like a script, complete with exposition, rising action, a dramatic climax. I’m tired. I’m done talking. Haven’t I done enough.

Yet here they remain,

laughing at me and my foolishness.

I want this to be the last time. Let me sit alone in the woods and listen to birdsong.

They have always known how to tell me

the truth when my mind will not.


I am afraid that all this summer was, everything that happened, was meaningless. What’s the moral of this story? I’ve been searching this whole time and I can’t seem to find it. What have I lost? What was gained? Maybe I’ve misplaced it. Maybe it’s time to go looking elsewhere.

I go to the woods to be alone. Not even here is it completely silent. I can hear the muffled white noise of cars behind the trees and the distinct groaning of the Green Line shuffling along its track. There’s the crunch of dead leaves as people walk by chatting about their innermost lives or else nothing important at all. There are the dogs, off-leash at last, with noses glued to the ground as their owners call to them. I go to the woods to be alone and find that I am surrounded by so much life. I wander until the skin over my knuckles is red and cracked from staying out too long in the cold.

I am constantly surprised at the impossible kindness in people. I wonder how life can be horrible in one moment and wonderful in the next. I’m learning how to notice the good things when they come around. I have a lot to learn.  

I study the world to find meaning in it. I’m beginning to think this is also why I write. To find meaning in what would otherwise be nothing more than sleepless nights, skipped meals, and resentment. I question myself if some things are better left unsaid. I question myself all the time. But I know there are also things that can’t be contained within the body. Maybe some stories are like pain leaving the body. I have told my story many times. That’s why I feel so much lighter when I put down my pen, stand from my desk, and open the door. The telling makes room for something else. (I’m beginning to find out what that is.)


Rachel Paz Ruggera is a research technician in a developmental biology lab and holds a BS in Biology from Boston College. Her work is forthcoming in Atticus Review and Outrageous Fortune.