Friday, September 19, 2008

Bird Watching

Sometimes I think my dad is a bird.

I live within the Baltimore City limits, but our property and neighborhood are vastly different from the cement backdrop populated only by electrical poles and storefronts you typically think of when you think of a city. Indeed, I have told people time and again that I believe I have a patch of the most fertile earth on the planet.

We’re constantly pulling up or cutting down new trees that spring up in our flowerbeds and lawn: oak, pine, mulberry, and holly trees and Japanese maples, to name the repeat offenders. On our meager 50’x150’ lot we have a holly tree, pine tree, pear tree, cherry tree, and dogwood. We have yellow flowering bushes that line both sides of our property and azaleas in front of our house next to several other bushes I couldn’t name if my life depended on it.

Our house is not atypical on our street – all the other houses are surrounded by mature greenery, a canopy of tree limbs embracing the center of our block entirely. That’s what I liked about the neighborhood when we first looked at the house. Lots of trees.

Because of the trees, we also have a lot of birds. I’ll never forget seeing this one distinct bird who I assumed lived in our yard, because I could recognize him – he was long and gray and wearing a black toupee. I laughed every time I saw him. I later found out he was a catbird, and all catbirds are long and gray and look like they too are wearing black toupees.

I’ve seen doves sitting together in our cherry tree that’s just outside our bedroom window. We see bright cardinals and bluebirds and of course more of those funny looking catbirds. I never realized how fascinated I am with birds until living in this house. I often find myself cross-armed on the window sill of my bedroom, bed half made or me half dressed, watching a bird build a nest, feed her babies, or just sit on one single branch for what seems like an eternity.

I actually had a bird incorporated into the partial sleeve on my right arm at my request – it’s a barn swallow, a fat little bird, but it isn’t true to nature, since barn swallows are usually white and gray or white and brown. Mine is brown and red and orange. I love the way nothing on him is a solid line – it’s hundreds of fine tattoo needled stokes making his plumage look soft and delicate. The tattoo was complete before my dad passed away, and he loved it too – especially the bird. He was a bird watcher, with a bird book in the kitchen, a constant supply of bird seed, and an ever changing ploy to do this or that to the bird feeders, so the squirrels couldn’t capitalize on the seemingly free snacks.

Not too long ago I got really angry after hearing repeated stories in different situations about people thinking their dead loved ones had come back as this or that to see them. I have a twinge of the psychic – it’s something that’s always been more of a burden that a gift, so if anyone should be able to connect to a dead relative, it should be me. Knowing I haven’t ever had any sort of “close call” or “strange encounter” or feeling that my dad was ever “back for a visit” and other people have had these experiences really pissed me off for some reason, and the anger stayed with me for a week or two.

I had gotten into kind of a low place, not having completely dealt with grief, I suppose, and it all came to a head one afternoon this past summer, just several days before the anniversary of my dad’s death. J and I were preparing to go to a friend’s house, and I was watching something on TV where yet another person was telling about how they felt their dead relative with them. Yelling at the TV, “Fuck you!” I began to wonder why in nearly 2 years I had never had any indication, not even a glimpse, that some part of my dad was still around and watching over me.

I’ve been conflicted since his death. I don’t believe in heaven and hell, but after seeing someone after they’ve just died, you know something is missing. The person’s energy is missing. Some people say it even has a weight – 40 grams, and you can see the difference if you place a dying person on a very precise scale and watch it as the person dies (because the 1st thing I thought in the ICU was “get me a scale!” Don’t even get me started on how absurd this is or if anyone’s actually ever done it.). Regardless, I am now open to the idea that there is not nothing. Even if it’s energy, it has to go somewhere, even if we will never know or be able to conceive where it goes. That, and I mentioned the psychic bit earlier, which has always caused a conundrum within my Atheistic view.

I found myself believing the stories I’d heard, the people on TV. I just couldn’t see why I wasn’t worthy enough to come visit. I know if anyone needs it, my mom needs it more, but throw me a bone here!

All of these thoughts were swirling around in my head that day – my own little side conversations indicating I was fed up with being ignored. We had already left the house to go to the barbecue when I told J to swing back by the house so I could change my shirt (my arms felt too fat that day). On the way there, I gave my dad an ultimatum in my head: give me a sign. I was so angry.

As we pulled up to our house on that dreary and rainy afternoon, I jumped out of the car, and a bird, colored just like the one I have tattooed on my arm, greeted me with some of the loudest squawks I had ever heard. It was perched right on top of our porch, above the stairs. I know it sounds crazy, but that bird looked right through me.

Could it? I thought. I ran inside and changed my shirt, gave the dog a pet, and ran back outside. The bird was still there, his gaze following me all the way back to the car. On the off chance it was, I acknowledged the bird by making the “click-click” in the side of my mouth as I made a gun out of my thumb and forefinger and pointed it at him. He stopped squawking.

I don’t have any proof that the bird was my dad, but I also don’t have any proof that it wasn’t. In the 5 years we’ve lived in our house, I had never seen a bird colored like that one before. And even if it was just a bird, it did hold some significance for me that day, because I still remember it clearly now. The cool thing is that ever since then, I see that type of bird (a robin, J says) almost on a daily basis, and the bird reminds me of my dad, which is something I needed, because lately it’s getting harder and harder to remember those fine details like the pitch of his voice or structure of his hands. Just like those fine delicate lines that make up the barn swallow on my arm are fading because of time, the once memorable details fade as well.

But every time I see a robin in my yard, I smile.


Flux said...

This entry made me cry a little, but I was smiling at the same time.

Cindy Lop-her said...

I'm never sure if I should post the personal things like that here, especially if they're a bit sad, but I sometimes get in the mood where if those things can't come out, I can't write anything else. I'm glad it made you smile!