Clyde's Gift, after she appeared to have died...
When students in the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts used to see me strolling down Pleasant Street with a white bird perched happily on my shoulder, they would do double takes or stop. Clyde would raise her crest, fluff out her feathers and give a light-hearted, "Hi Clyde!" and they would often laugh, look surprised and say "Hi Clyde!" back. But then the FAQ’s would inevitably start up and I would find myself feeling like a celebrity who tires of the same old questions.
"Is that your bird?"
"No, I'm her human."
"Can she think?"
"I don't know, why don't you ask her?"
"Is that bird real?"
"Does she feel?"
OK, perhaps you must be another pet-co-dependent to understand why I would get so uppity in response to their queries....
First off, I'm simply "wow"ed by these winged beings: Clyde could not only understand and use language appropriately, but she was extraordinarily attuned to her environment, including, in my opinion, the feelings, sounds, colors, and spiritual emanations of life around her.
Secondly, I just didn't want Clyde to be any more "othered" than she'd been during her former life behind bars (before I'd rescued her, she'd done 20 years for the crime of being wild. She'd pulled out here own feathers in frustration- something that never occurs in the wilds and something that I would make sure would not continue).
Like all chidren, however, there is a less glorious side to exotic birds as companions (I'm loathe to call us humans "owners"-- it was more as if Clyde owned me than I, her). And when I'd rescued her I'd had no idea what I was in for: Once Clyde burst into my life, she began a cute but devastating take-over. Yet, I simply couldn't pass her on to someone who would again abandon her. So, having been both smitten and anxious (like anyone newly involved) I opted for the well-worn path of denial.
Clyde played her part in our dysfunctional relationship. As bird-frog princess, she demanded (and was eventually granted) a seat by my plate. She failed to eat like a bird-- strewing bits and pieces all over the table and floor.
I admit to having further acquiesed to
this dominatrix's demands by granting her an occasional spot beneath my bed-covers.
Now, like most couples after the initial infatuation, Clyde and I began having problems-- particularly when I refused certain of her affections. First offense involved my rejecting her efforts to feed me. In avian social morays, regurgitating into your beloved's mouth is a high honor. (..."thanks hon, but I just can't get into your throwing up in my mouth").
Clyde didn't get it. Or maybe I didn't get it. After all, not only is this a form of birdie foreplay, but the method used by mother birds to feed their bappies in the nest.
Second offense.... Over time there devloped another problem: Clyde wanted to mate, and preferably, with a male homo-sapien, but she'd take what she could get. Having bonded with humans when she first opened her eyes and saw one, she was doomed to identify with, and lust after that object henceforth.
Poor Clyde. Poor me.
She never hesitated to begin her promiscuous seeking by trying to get the sex out of the way first. She would assume the prone position, and once on her back, lift a wing so her breast would be accessible for scratching.
That was cute, but it made me nervous when she'd try to mate with my knuckle by bearing down on it. I didn't know if this was flirtiing with beastiality, but since she had no other options and it didn't seem very sexy to me as a human, I asked a therapist friend of mine about it. She said glibly that as long as I didn't get off, I was not engaging in anything innaprpriate....
As if it's not confusing enough with humans, I admit I'm terribly confused about what does and doesn't constitue sex with birds.
Anyhow, besides being a hopeless romantic, Clyde was a gregious entertainer. Once, Gary, my/our actor friend who Clyde sometimes let me "borrow," included her in his comic rendition of Elton John's, "Crocodile Rock". For "Cockatoo Rock," Gary dressed in feather boas and danced as he sang while Clyde perched on his shoulder and strutted, talked and turned in accordance with his moves.
When the act ended, Clyde proceeded to bar-hop by bounding up and down the bar onto and off of the shoulders of customers seated there; punctuating each pounce with a victorious little squawk. Clyde was a mostly a hit--although some people nearly spilled their drinks. However, there is always someone who is afraid of wild winged beings, be they angels or birds (and as far as I'm concerned, there is not much difference). And when such a soul cried out drunkenly, "Oh no, a bird!" I couldn't resist cracking, "It's OK, I can protect her from you!"
Of course, my attitude didn't set a good example to Clyde, who always tried to insure that people knew she was an not only an insider, but on a higher plane than us. If ignored, she'd fly to the highest place possible, puff out her chest, spread her wings widely, and let out a screech that was meant to travel a mile in her native Australian rainforest. "I am Queen and if you don't show reverence, I'll have you for dinner!"
My mother, who eventually stopped visiting, wouldn't cow-tow, but would cover her ears, wince, and complain, "She's so RUDE!" Most visitors didn't usually return to my home. Nor did they care, when I'd explain miserably that Clyde simply wanted to be included. They didn't feel guilty when I'd point out that they'd failed to return her greeting of "Hi Clyde". They didn't repent after learning that my child was as needing and deserving of love as any developing, two-year-old. (I didn't bother to mention to them that parrots stay 'two' for about 80 years. And they turned to stone when I tried explaining that she didn't know that screaming didn't endear people to her.
As people became scarce in my life, I thanked Clyde for helping me to sort out who my real friends were, and continued accommodating and denying. How could I overlook that my child was a genius? Clyde, along with her sidekick, Timmy (the male Goffins Cockatoo) learned to go into and stay in the trees behind my house, and to fly in for dinner and warmth at night. Don't try this yourself. Unless you believe in the philosophy posted on New Hampshire License Plates, "Live Free Or Die"..... Most civilized folks feel as my mom does: she once mentioned that whenever she sees that she thinks the message to her is to die.
Well, it wasn't always so great a philosophy. When I would be gone, Timmy became an expert at picking locks. He would escape the aviary and proceed on his mission of freeing her from her cage. (Goffins are known to become dangerously aggressive if caged together; although, in wider expanses, they will get along fine, as Clyde and Timmy did in the trees.) I stopped putting Clyde in the aviary when I observed that she would approach Timmy sexually and then, when he'd reject her, she would, understandably, try to kill him.
I'd return home to find dishes knocked over, flowers eaten, and banisters chewed. That was when I began whispering to my family about selling her. Whispering because, when I spoke of such thoughts, Clyde always turned her back and ignored me.
Ultimately, Clyde bypassed reasoning and got to my heart. From turning summersaults on her stand, to perching on my head and combing my hair with her beak, she tried her best to help. Her favorite was sorting laundry, especially socks: strewing each odd sock onto the floor and once they were going in the drawer, jumping in and throwing them on the floor.
Well, I guess a supernatural bird like Clyde couldn't go on like that forever, nor could I....
A breeder had warned me long ago that when you work with birds you are working with wild animals. Unlike cats and dogs, they are not acclimated to domesticity. He said, "sooner or later, you're going to loose one." We've only been working with birds for two decades at most. You just can't anticipate all the things that can go wrong.
Tragically, the breeder's words were to come true .... Clyde, who got into everything, died from a freak household accident when a vase fell on her in the confusion of moving….Yet, even at death's door she communicated a boundless affection:
After her vital functions had apparently quit, I'd wrapped her in my dark green wool poncho and carried her out to the woods behind my house. I placed her gently, with wings spread and head down, covering her lightly with leaves so I could spot her. I'd return when my grief subsided, along with my partner Jim, and give her a proper burial.
An hour or 2 later, Jim and I donned a flashlight and climbed the pine needle laden hill on which she lay, but we could not find her. We were calling to her, saying Clyde, we love you, Clyde we are sorry," when I finally spotted the white of her tail, yelling to Jim, "Over here!"
We no sooner got there when, to our astonishment, she lifted her head.
"My God, she's alive!" I called out, quickly scooping her up.
We frantically called information to find a vet and discovered an animal hospital that was open all night. It was an hour away.
The vet told us that she would, most likely, die within hours. I looked down into her face and thought, oddly, of a lion.
In a last ditch effort, he gave her an injection of steroids to reduce the swelling in her head. At our insistence, he returned her to us, warning us that birds can't be expected to survive head traumas. Jim and I sensed that if anything was keeping her alive it was our connection with her. Like a string on a kite, our affection seemed to be tugging her in, pulled against death's willfull winds.
But even at such times, birds are ingenious at "keeping things light". Back home, in my bedroom, she had an indescribably serene smile on her face, impossible to explain in physical terms, as she lay on my chest, breathing shallow contentment.
"Clydo, we love you! What a bird! Stay with us! You can do it!" we begged.
Tonight, lamentably, there were to be no ardent protests; only acquiescent grunts when we were naming Clyde's closest people. When I named Gary, she grunted louder. And at the mention of my son, Julian, I could feel her heartbeat increase and felt a slight shiver pass through her. All night, she lay on my chest with that blissful look that transcended all physical constraints. Her good nature emanated through her breathing and a deep peace filled the room as she rested, sometimes with eyes semi-open and other times closed.
We were begging her to stay with it, not to go, when it hit me that perhaps it was selfish to wish this on her. What did she want?
It is a fact that when a storm is approaching, eagles will sense it and perch on the highest branches they can find. There, they allow increasing winds to help lift them high above the dark clouds. They soar above the storm, returning to Earth only after it passes.
As the dark clouds of our grief had gathered, Clyde seemed to be patiently waiting out our storm in a transcendent state that soothed our resistance to her final flight.
During that long night that couldn't possibly last long enough, we reasoned: Clearly, she could not remain in that twisted body… Wasn't it enough to have these last hours together with her…She seemed to be gliding into some invisible expansion of space. Sensing her gentle rapture, we felt blessed, and finally even resolved. By the time we finally drifted off at daylight, our dread had changed to acceptance.
At 7 A.M. I opened my eyes to see Clyde lifting her head from my chest, opening both eyes wide, and looking right at me.
I thought, "My God, she's recovered!" as she flapped her wins once--hard. And then-just as suddenly-her body stiffened.
I knew then, that she was gone.
What remained was no longer beautiful. Her mouth was open and I could see blood. I turned to Jim to tell him she had just died but he was not listening— not to me, anyway.Instead he was having a vision of Clyde: having flown out of her lifeless body with that one final flap of her wings, she took off like a shot. Then, returning briefly, he watched as she joyously circled our heads, before taking off for good.
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|Reviewed by Stefanos Tiziano
|Tova: Like other readers I enjoyed your story. The humor and sheer involvement with Clyde and the human brought the story to that special place where only a pet lover can be so neurotic and insightful.
I felt as though I knew very little about the narrator. The POV is clearly inside the narrator's head from a past prospective, thus making physical descriptions of self and actions easier. The POV gives the story a finished feel and little sense of urgency until the end, as I wait to see if Clyde is to die or not (I am fond of urgency).
I found two passages to be memorable "Like a string on a kite, our affection seemed to be tugging her in, pulled against death's willful winds." and "As the dark clouds of our grief had gathered, Clyde seemed to be patiently waiting out our storm in a transcendent state that soothed our resistance to her final flight."
The characters sense of memory and sentimentality are gracious and endearing.
I hope I helped.
|Reviewed by Michelle Mills
|I can't recall reading a story on AD in recent memory that made me laugh so hard, and then spun me around and made me feel like bursting out bawling to balance out the laughter. This is a delightful piece. We have two cockatiels, and your description of Clyde's mating habits had me in stitches! Our little Annabelle thinks that my husband is her mate. All he has to do is whisper to her and up comes her butt! ha ha! Bless you for writing such a delightful piece about your beloved friend. Michelle|
|Reviewed by Carol Chapman
|This was incredibly moving, thank you a 1,000 times for sharing such an intimate time with us. Your ability with words made it twice as moving. Clyde would be proud!