Two years ago, spurred on by the pug-loving obsession of my then-girlfriend, I asked God to help me learn to care about animals.
Last night, my family’s lovebird, Chirp, died. He was seventeen and a half.
I have never been a big ‘animal’ person. It’s not a fear – despite four years as a paperboy – and it’s not a dislike, just more of an apathy. The only pet my family ever had growing up was this lovebird, who I tended to describe as being ‘like a budgie, only it chirps a third as much and three times as loud.’ The bird who was the bane of my existence whenever I was attempting to work on a writing assignment and had to deal with the focus-destroying shrills of this oblivious, tiny trumpeter.
(I am aware that a trumpeter is also another kind of bird. Where I grew up, all the streets were named after birds.)
I was always the one to not-so-jokingly suggest letting the bird go free to fly about and inevitably get eaten by a nearby cat or raccoon. The usefulness of this bird escaped me. Heck, you couldn’t even hold the darn thing or have it perch on your finger unless you were VERY careful and a little lucky, or didn’t mind painful bites from a needlesharp beak. And the bird loved perching up on people’s shoulders… and then attacking their glasses. I was always afraid he would go after the mole on the back of my neck.
When cleaning his cage, I would need to distract him to go elsewhere so I could reach inside the cage without him attacking.
I don’t believe in the idea that he is now off in some heavenly jungle, flitting free. Chirp was a bird. A long-living bird, yes, but still just a bird.
He was a beautiful bird, though.
When I moved away from home nine years ago, I cherished the relative quiet and distraction-free atmosphere of the university dorms, compared to my tiny family home with nocturnal parents, a shared bedroom, and the supersonic bird.
Yesterday evening, when I was visiting at the family house, Chirp pooped on my brother’s arm, and he asked me to take the bird while he cleaned it up. Now, for the past few months at least, Chirp has been getting calmer. Rather than tearing paper bags to pieces the instant they touch the bottom of his cage, he has been curling up in them to sleep. And he has become a nuzzling, warmth-seeking creature. Despite this, yesterday evening was the first time I had held the bird in months and months, perhaps even years. And he curled right up into warmth of my hands, the softest little creature on earth.
I was the one to put him back in his cage. I was probably the last person to hold him before he died.
I just realized I have just switched to using gendered pronouns for Chirp, rather than just saying ‘the bird’.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But I suppose that’s sort of the point.