To say my 23rd birthday had a plot twist was a bit of an understatement. First, the original plans we had for the day had to be postponed and rewritten due to rainfall (which we desperately need). Instead of going to the Common Ground Fair, I grumbled my way through more organic chemistry and then we went on another adventure, to a local, delicious restaurant called B. Good (that I am wholly obsessed with and was more than happy to share the obsession with my parents), as well as looked at laptops – because my baby, Skywalker, is on its last legs. It may not have been what was planned, yet, it was every ounce of fun and relaxation needed.
And then we came home.
I had decided that a good way to end the night was to clean my hurricane of a wreck of a room.
Here is where I should backtrack a bit. See this little guy?
This is Pele. Sometimes called Master Pele or, even more fitting, the spazz or Mister Attitude (all in love, of course), he is full of quirky, independent ‘tude. A kickboxer in another life, Pele was a never ending source of energy and entertainment. When he felt he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved, like when you are trying to have a conversation near his cage and he wasn’t a part of it, or you try to leave the room for five minutes, he gave you hell. Squawk, squawk, squawk!
For that matter, who needs an alarm clock when you have this little guy waking you up at the first sign of morning light? (That whole “put a blanket over your bird and they won’t make a peep till you uncover them” trick that bird parents all know – that didn’t exist in Pele’s world.)
A shelter-born Parakeet, he was the smallest little guy I’d ever seen, but had a personality and vitality large enough to compensate. After months of (stubbornly) refusing to bath in any water we put in front of him, he chose the time that was right, on his terms; a refreshing dive into my dad’s glass of water.
Fear was not a word in his vocabulary. Despite the fact that he was incredibly tiny and my dog’s teeth incredible huge, he was insistent on finding his way to them every time he was out. He’d crash-land on the ground and scurry to wherever they were. Sometimes, I’m certain he thought he was one of them. The other times, he just wanted to bury his face in their fluff. (Thank goodness fear is in their vocabulary and they ran the other way as if he was a Doberman).
He had a love-hate relationship with his toys (he spoke sweetly to them one moment, whacked them violently the next) and was in terribly need of flight lessons. He knew how to run around on the ground, kicking his toy balls and getting stuck in paper towel rolls long before he learned how to turn on the brakes while mid-flight. He preferred it that way. He chose to climb when, you know, birds are supposed to fly.
And, let me tell you, he was a ham for the camera. He’d waddle all the way across a room for a close up!
To put it simply: he’s quite the character.
True to male parakeet fashion, he wasn’t keen on having his toys changed in his cage and he was even less inclined to snuggle. In fact, trying to hold him to clip his nails or even just trying to stroke his feathers resulted in squeaker, death-warning noises that you just knew translated to “don’t you touch me, don’t you touch me, don’t you touch me!”
One of the only people who could get away with touching him in any other form than him perching on your finger (I say “get away” loosely), was my dad, who, after his accident a few years ago, spent every day with Pele on his shoulder for hours while he was working from home. They were birdie buddies.
We didn’t have the snuggly-best-buddy relationship I wanted with my bird, but, I loved him, even if he preferred his perch to my shoulder. We always found our own ways to have fun.
Due to house construction, Pele has been my downstairs companion for the past several weeks. Normally, he doesn’t like that, because I don’t have the same view of the bird feeder as he has upstairs, but this time around, he was incredibly pleased. He would talk to me a lot in-between homework and even happily exit the cage when I opened it for him, so he could fly around the room, take a seat on my shoulder for a while, or, his personal favorite, perch on my laptop monitor. At night, when I would be getting ready for bed, he’d hop onto my finger, then my shoulder, and take a snooze with me. Because he can be moody and temperamental, going through periods of “please, let’s be friends!” and “don’t you dare come near me, I just want to hermit in my cage!” I was thoroughly happy to have him be my little buddy.
When I got home on my birthday and began cleaning, Pele began squawking and jumping around the cage – his tell-tale giving of hell for not giving him attention. I laughed. I apologized for being forgetful and not taking him out sooner and then I took him out and placed him on his play gym. Just as he did every night, he eagerly took flight, to do a few un-even laps around the downstairs. And just as he always did, he crash landed. The little tumor on his chest, the results of a love of seed and refusal to eat the healthy, lower-fat diet his vet insisted upon, plus his weak wing muscles always made for a haphazard flight pattern.
This time it was different.
He scurried over to my hand when I bent to help him up, just as normal. Yet, after a moment of perching on my hand he lost balance and fell backward into my palms, limp, and unable to pull himself up. With no way to reach our vet until morning, we tried seeing if he needed food or water for strength, he refused. We stopped trying. We tried to make a comfortable spot in his cage for him, but he wasn’t impressed by it and preferred being out. We let him sit on the couch between us.
That was his pattern for the rest of the night – wake up, stand up, squawk, fall over, sleep, repeat. He continued to keep his ‘tude and refused comfort cuddles with his expected sass. He even sassed the couch a few times, for coming out from under him.
That is, until he passed away in my dad’s hands, surrounded by love and comfort.
At first I felt horrible. I went through the normal “what could I have done?” questions. I felt terrible that I had let him out and this had been the result. But the more I let it sink in, the more relief I felt and the more I began to find things that I was grateful for, amidst that sadness.
From the moment he began acting off, my biggest concern was something happening to him at night while we were asleep, or him hurting himself when he toppled over. That didn’t happen. He was calm, surrounded by love and safety. I was relieved that we had been home; our original day plans may have left us getting home much later, possibly returning after he passed away. He had been able to get out and soar – just one more time – and had been so happy about that. For years, he had been suffering with this tumor, of which there was no help for, and which affecting his balance and kept him from being able to do some of the games he loved. There is relief and joy in knowing he is free of that restriction.
The next morning, we cleaned up his cage and all of his toys and brought them into the animal shelter.
His first home.
They took every piece with gratitude. It felt good – right – to give back what we could after losing what we had. Although he wasn’t exactly one to share, I think Pele’d approve.
The point here is that in every sorrow, regardless the size, it is possible to find some gratitude, even if it takes a little effort to find that inspired perspective. Some people would find the fact that Pele passed away on my birthday tragic. But my cousin framed it in such a beautiful that captures just how events in life are a matter of perspective. “I think that he and God chose this day – your birthday – for him to pass on, because it is such a special day. He is now flying free but has made sure you will never forget him and hopefully remind you to also fly free – to soar as high and as far as you can, as much as you can, for as long as you can until you meet again.” Not only were we able to be there for him, he was able to fly one last time, and he was freed from circumstances he hated, he left me with this beautiful reminder, courtesy of my cousin Kelli.
Certainly, there is sadness and there were tears. His quirky personality is missed. It’s strange not having him chirp to alert the dogs to bark and announce my dad coming home from work every night. It feels a bit empty every morning, opening the living room door and not having his tweets to greet me or warn me that I better open my windows for some sunlight, else I am not his friend any longer. Those are the melancholy little nuances that we remember fondly.
Oh, but, boy, are there smiles.
I’m so grateful that he was mine, if only for a little while.