Good bye, Little Light

Jul 10, 2013 by

TweepsHe came to us in the usual way: unwanted. Possibly abandoned, mistreated and left alone for most of his life. He came without a single scrap of history. We didn’t know who he used to be, where he came from, what his life was like before he found us.

He was crammed in a cage too small for one of his size, let alone filled with seven of those just like him. He was smaller and huddled away from the others, making angry-baby sounds at them whenever they went near him. Screee screee! Screee! Screee! 

The fluttering and angry noises drew my attention. I stopped and focused on the source of the noise: a finch flock or single budgie cage crammed with seven cockatiels. Taped to the outside of the cage was a single page of white paper, written in hurried sharpie marker: “BREEDER BIRDS. $15 EACH.” I’m not sure if you know what breeder birds are. In general they can lead a pretty miserable experience as–with most people who breed animals–they’re in it for the money, not love for the animal. Petco sells their ‘teils for roughly $150 each last we checked. They’re often hand reared however and not afraid of humans, banded, and usually have some sort of paperwork and history. (Usually.)

Breeder birds though…They’re often crammed into cages and made to breed. That’s their soul existence–popping out eggs or fertilizing them. They might get seeds, pellets, or fresh fruit–but who talks to a piece of property they own? Who soothes them in their nightfrights? Who whistles and sings to them when they quietly peep at us, desperately trying to bond with their featherless, naked-odd giant birds outside their world of bars and cages? I suspect no one does.

I looked over that cage to my husband who was with me at that time. I looked over at him then I looked at the cage. I looked at him. Then the cage. Above a display of wooden bird perches he shook his head slowly and over exaggerated mouthing the word NO at me. I lifted my brows and made a sad face and said: “But…butbutbut…fifteen bucks. Plus, save a bird?”

His shoulders drooped a little bit and he screwed his mouth up in a little bit of a side-ways S; the look of a man defeated by his partner of many years. He held up a finger and said quietly, “ONE. You can pick only ONE.”  And so excited at the idea I literally skipped the last few steps to the cage. Sidling up to it I looked at all the ‘tiels waddling, shuffling and tweeting about. I bent down a little bit so I could speak to them in my I’ve-got-a-lot-of-pets-animal-squeaky-attract-dogs-and-cats voice.

“Hello little ones,” I said. Some of them raised their crests, unsure of me. Some of them ran away from my voice. Some of them side-eyed me curiously but only one roused from his fluffy nap to run to the bars of the cage and mash his little head against them and slide his eyes closed in silent demand for pets. I knew the behavior. I’d seen it many times when my other Cockatiel, Nugget, wanted scritches. I reached up and scratched his head in the cage watching amused as his tiny cheek feathers were poofed outward in pleasure.

Shawn swept by. “Guess we know which one’s coming home,” and off he went to grab someone to fetch the bird for us.

That was in 2010. I named him Tweeps because that’s the tiny sound he made when I scratched his head. Tweep. Tweeeeep.

Two days ago I rolled into the bird room where all 7 of my rescued birds hung out. (Yes, that many. I love bird poop and cleaning cages apparently.) I knew something was wrong. He was fluffed up and unresponsive. In the three years of him being part of my life I could always count on him being just as excited to see me in the morning as Nugget. He would stretch, then run excitedly back and forth singing, “Preeeety biiiiiird. Pretty prettty prettty pretttttty biiiirrrrd!” I haven’t any idea where he learned that from. Or who. Ahem.

That morning he did…nothing.  He did step up when I asked but he immediately went back to sleep. Or tried too. I did the only thing I could think of to make sure: I brought him to Shawn. You see….Tweeps never liked Shawn. Some birds adjust to many people easily. Most birds accept two or three and accept them as their ‘flock.’ Tweeps…well he only liked me. He would sit on Shawn’s shoulder all right–so long as Shawn NEVER EVER EVER NEVER moved his head. Or tried to touch him. Or make him step up. If Shawn did any of these things, Tweeps would Screeee! Scree! and then deliver a blood bringing bite to either Shawn’s ears or fingers. Two days ago when I handed him to Shawn’s finger to step up he did…nothing. Nothing but remain fluffed up and asleep.

That’s when it was cemented that he was very, very, very sick. The first thing I did was separate him from Nugget and put him in a clean cage of his own for quarantine reasons. If whatever he had was a virus he could easily spread it to all the birds. Then I went to work: he got a hot water bottle, fresh filtered water changed every few hours, crushed food…But he wasn’t interested in anything but the water. I tried offering him pieces bit by bit, but he would just tongue it. I kept the hot water bottle filled with warm water and his cage double-covered with blankets. I talked to Shawn about taking him to the vet–he agreed–but we’d need to do some credit card juggling and he had to get the time off from work and, I don’t drive. So we decided the next day? We’d take him.

Through out the day he remained about the same. Until the evening. I’d set his cage on the floor out of drafts right by my pillow on our bed. (Our beds on the floor because we just bought a house.) I made Shawn his supper, then decided to go lay down early with my kindle and a book to keep Tweeps company. When I lifted the blankets to his cage to check on him…Do you know that cliche my heart sank? Well, it’s a true cliche. I felt something in my chest be pulled down into my feet–Tweeps was laying with his head on the cage floor and his legs curled under him. I opened the cage and picked him up as gently, gently, gently as I could so as not to cause him anymore obvious stress. Oh no, my brain and heart said together. Oh no, oh no, no. 

I sang. I sang the song I always sing all of my birds everyday–

“You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you!
Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

I begged him not to stay. I told him I loved him so, so much and that I didn’t want him to suffer one more second. That if he needed to go, he should go. That I couldn’t stand watching him be so sick and didn’t want him to go through another day like this because we had to make him wait.

Then I whistled his two most favorite songs that he learned to whistle back to me. Mario Bros 2, and the Kill Bill whistle. I’d been trying to teach him the Final Fantasy Victory fan-fare, but he never picked it up/liked it.

His crest went up immediately and his eyes gleamed. He lifted his head off my chest to look at me square in the face. Do you know how hard it is to whistle when you are crying? I do. He looked at me like that for a split second and when I finished whistling he lay his little head back down and…he died. Without a sound, without any other movement. That was it. He simply was no longer my little bird and a little grey feathered lump that once held the biggest, softest, Shawn-bitey-est bastard of a wonderful, loving tiny creature I knew.

I cried so hard I couldn’t see it when Shawn came in to take his little body out of my hands.

The lesson of this heart break from me to you is this: don’t pass by the chance to love a small thing, a feathered thing, a furred thing. Don’t wait if someone you love is sick. Money is a thing. Unconditional love is the world. The lesson is, The Pinkatron is not programmed to deal with sorrow and loss very well. And while I am so glad to have known Tweeps, I am so torn that he had to go and like that.

I will miss him so much.

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  1. Phyllis Pence

    This is sooo good. When you write from the heart and describe all your real feelings, it is so vulnerable and so real and so wonderful. You truly have a gift and one that can share so much with such crisp visualization and acute use of relational dialect.

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