It's 7:25 in the morning, and I am dressed in what is just above the line of acceptability. These days I stumble down the stairs before another monotonous day at work
begins, in search of something quick to fill my tummy, hair wet and in tangles, clinging to my neck. If my stairs didn't wind the way they do, or if carpet burn
just didn't exist I'd likely just lie down flat on my back against the stairs and let gravity
do the rest. I'd feel the edge of each step press against each knot in my spine and probably like it, as tired and sleepy as I'd be. I'd be happy just to be lying down. This is how every morning starts.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I turn right, towards the kitchen and proceed to toss around a couple of waffles, stuffing them in the toaster, making sure that they come out still a little cold. I like them like that. My mother's always telling me to set the toaster to 5, but I argue that it damn near burns my Eggos. I can't have my Eggos burnt. It makes me edgy, having to crunch into my Eggos. I always look to the same spot in the kitchen, though, as I'm blindly buttering my breakfast. I've always, in the back of my lethargic before-9-AM mind, wondered why it is this spot that attracts my glazed gaze, as it is not straight ahead of me or in another spot my neck would naturally turn towards. It is more than a 90-degree angle, where my eyes are drawn.
It is unusually quiet in the mornings. It's been quiet like this for over a year, but only lately have I thought about what makes it so. The missing white noise is the happy, chipper morning sounds of my cockatiel Sam, preening, drinking, stretching her wings. Her cage stood against the wall where my eyes now involuntarily find empty space.
She was a good girl, and in fact, her death makes me laugh a bit, though not in a vengeful cackling way that I might laugh, say, over a mosquito I had killed that was trying to infect me with the West Nile Virus. We'd always had a good relationship, and if I should have died that day instead of her, I'd expect nothing less than for her to crap on my forehead. If she were human, we'd have competed for guys, we'd have competed for clothes, and who'd get shotgun.
Anyway, the day started off buzz-buzz-buzzing with excitement. It was my graduation day, and I had spent the greater part of the night before memorizing my lines. My friend and I were to represent the Music Department. We were even elected to do the job by our peers, something which still baffles me. On and off during the day, I'd answer questions using bits of my speech, shaking off the confused looks I received in return. My grandparents flew in a couple of days before, and they'd been up since 5 straightening up our house as if it were theirs. After running a few errands, the time had come to put on the black. The outfit underneath the gown would be simple enough. Black shirt, black skirt, black fishnet tights and sensible black shoes. Going to an art school, this was pretty much what we called "concert attire;" black was an essential color in our closets, the music kids and the goths. Going to an art school also allowed for craziness, as far as non-uniformity goes. It was accepted, sort of, and almost expected that someone would wear lime green tennis shoes under their gown and every year there would be two or three with ice blue hair or glittery purple tights. It was Arts Magnet. We were "artsy." I, however, lived under the scrutinizing, watchful eyes of my mother who wouldn't have it, even if I had simply entertained the thought. Yes, I had some bright red tights and pair of ratty black Chucks that would have been perfect for the occasion, but 'would have' was as far as it got.
At the sound of my name, I trotted down the stairs, hoping that everyone would have already used the bathroom so we could just head out the door. One could outgrow their clothes waiting for my grandmother to use the restroom. Her hair never looked curly enough, poofy enough, flat enough, hairy enough. Instead, at the foot of the stairs, my mother stood with a disconcerted look on her face, a face she reserved for difficult bowel movements. "Something's wrong with Sam," she said, "Go look at her." I hurried to her and found her huddled in a corner on the floor of the cage, stiff, eyes half closed as if in mid-blink. She was frozen in a position that signified that a great beast had threatened her eggs, those eggs that she laid every month like a period, but treated like she would soon become the Cockatiel Madonna, hatching from an unfertilized egg the Cockatiel Messiah.
Good God, what had she seen, I wondered.
It's been a while since I'd seen a puma, or kimodo dragon in the city, much less something that was tall enough to peer down into her cage. She was grotesque, shriveled up and angry-looking. I was immediately saddened, but had little time to think about it, as I had at that moment 20 minutes to push my family out the door, into the car and make it backstage at the symphony hall where high school would officially end. It is downtown and I live a good 15 minutes away.
Word spread to the living room where my grandparents sat and right away my grandmother began the funeral arrangements.
She's kidding, I thought, but no such luck.
We mysteriously found ourselves gathering together the various items we needed for a proper burial. I gave up the notion of being on time for the line-up when my mother knelt on the small patch of grass we like to call our yard and started digging with her tiny shovel. We are completely unprepared for these kinds of things. If she had not found that thing lying around in our patio, she would have had to dig with a fork and I might have missed the ceremony altogether. Even my mother was beginning to get nervous about the lateness of the hour, but Memau took her time, taking steps toward the hole in the ground as if she were a bride meeting her groom. Step.....together.....step.....together, with the shoebox balanced on her upturned hands like a tray laden with glasses full to their brims with drink. 16 teens had become pregnant somewhere in the world in the time it took Memau to reach the hole. The prayer, which she also delivered, was long and laborious. I could my feel my skin sizzling as I stood in the Texas heat with my eyes squeezed shut, daring myself not to look at my watch. "Amen," I repeated, secretly resenting her, my bird, as she had chosen the worst possible day to die. Who did she think she was, that she could just die and steal my thunder? She was lucky I wasn't getting married that day, or else she would have gone down like Hank, my goldfish.
Since that day, I've wondered why my grandmother was so adamant in giving Sam such a burial. I mean, of course, I wouldn't have done anything else when it comes right down to it, but my uberSouthernBaptist grandmother seemingly wanted to "save" the bird, to make it "right with the Lord." She'd always been hesitant in her answer when asked by my younger cousins whether their deceased pets will be with them in Heaven. She manipulated her answer to be something like "Everything that makes you happy will be there with you, everything you need, and nothing you don't." I attributed her stutter to simply not wanting to hurt their feelings, but now I'm not so sure. I was 18, I didn't need to be spared. She could have told me that there was a separate, special Nymphicus Hollandicus Heaven and I still would have judged for myself if I believed her.
Now, as we all get ready for work simultaneously, I water my bamboo content with the notion that if this one dies, it'll be all my fault.