And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s not a secret that I am scared of birds. I don’t even think the word “scared” is appropriate here. “Terrified” is much more accurate. Last summer, I believe the terror crossed over into the phobia department when I was attacked three times by red-winged blackbirds during different walks. Two occurred on Waukesha’s lovely Fox Riverwalk. I’ve only been back once since then, and my fear and constant scanning of the immediate area for those telltale red-striped wings ruined the experience. The worst one happened after I switched to walking on city streets, thinking that would keep the birds away. A red-wing on a street sign saw me and plunged itself into the back of my head repeatedly. I ran and tripped and ended up face down on the pavement with my arms over my head as the bird swooped and pecked. It was my nightmare come to life.
Last Saturday, while working on summerizing our third floor deck, I let my cat Edgar come out with me. Edgar is not a worry on the deck. At 18 pounds, he is too big to fit through the railings. He also has extra toes, extra kinks in his tail, a too small head for the rest of his body, and a distinct problem with balance, so he never jumps on anything. Our vet calls him a genetic anomaly. We call him sweet. Instead of being cat-like, he is a very special cross between a dog and a bowling ball. He is round, heavy, comes when he calls, and is very gifted at the plaintive silent meow. When he does make noise, he sounds like a raptor from Jurassic Park.
So Edgar and I stepped out, I checked on my hibiscus, and then I turned to go back inside. And there was a bird on my table. A black and gray fuzzy-ish bird. A bird that, granted, looked more like a baby than an adult. A bird that opened its pointy little beak and made a sound very similar to Edgar’s.
I trace my fear of birds back to two distinct events. The first was watching Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, at the tender age of eight. When that red-wing chased me flat-faced on the pavement, I became that little boy being attacked by a seagull. The other event was before I was afraid, when I carefully carried home a dead bird so I could have a funeral and bury it. My mother smacked that poor bird out of my hands, sending it on its last flight, then she pulled me down to the laundry tubs and scrubbed my hands for what seemed like forever in very hot water and strong soap. All the while, she told me how birds are full of diseases and bugs, crawling with maggots, and that I would be very lucky to not become horribly ill from touching the bird.
And now a BIRD was on my TABLE and it was only about a foot away.
I ran into my house and slammed the screen door shut. The bird lowered himself to his tummy. He seemed prepared to stay awhile.
And then Edgar, bowling ball-dog Edgar, became a cat. He stalked, his eyes zeroed in, his pupils widened to the size of marbles.
“No, Edgar!” I yelled. “Leave the bird alone! Come here!”
And Edgar ignored me. Like a cat.
I didn’t want the little bird to be hurt. But I didn’t want to go near it either. I yelled for Olivia, and I asked her to get Edgar to come in. Like me, she stood in the doorway and yelled. “Go get him!” I said.
“Mom!” she said. “I’m scared of birds too!”
Edgar was now at the bench behind the bird. One ungainly, un-Edgar-like leap, and he would be within reach. I ran out and grabbed him, yelling the whole way. The bird, in a weird flutter-flappy fly, managed to get from the table to our outdoor light, next to the deck door. Livvy ran screaming into the house. I bowled Edgar inside too, slammed the door, then stood at the window and looked at the bird, who looked back at me.
“Hi,” I said.
I began a series of phone calls. To the humane society, to a bird rescue that turned out to rescue only domestic birds, to a wildlife rescue. I was on my way to the grocery store when a very nice woman at the wildlife rescue called me back. I texted her a photo and she said it was a fledgling grackle. She said it likely had just left the nest, got caught in an updraft and carried to my deck, and now it was trying to figure out what to do. “It’ll be gone, later today, I bet,” she said. “No more than a few days.”
By the time I got home, the bird was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief, that it was gone, and…that it was okay.
Which led me to my moment of happiness. I don’t like birds. But I don’t want them hurt or dead either.
Once, years ago, I got into an argument with my father. He yelled, “The problem with you is that you believe there is good in everybody!”
And that was true. Even when I write my novels, and I’ve written some pretty difficult characters, I try to write a separate short story in the “bad guy’s” point of view, to better understand, and to find something that is redeeming, that is human. When I wrote Rise From The River, I stepped aside to write a short story from a rapist’s pov. Hardest thing I ever did.
But I did it.
In the last few years, with all the divisiveness going on, from race to guns to masks to presidents, I’ve wondered if I lost that need to find good. If I was starting to hate too. To condemn. To judge. To see life only through my glasses, whatever color they are, and no one else’s.
But now, there was this bird. Who scared the holy hell out of me. And who I wanted to live and be okay.
Someone said to me last week, “You always want to see the good in everyone. That’s amazing.”
Amazing. Not a problem at all. And yes, I even extend it to birds. Just don’t make me touch one.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.