All Those Birds

Every time I move and go a new eye doctor for the first time, I have a litany of shit to tell them. My mother’s macular degeneration comes up. Then there’s my light sensitivity on account of my incredibly light, blue eyes. Then at some point I have to tell them that I am not from the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. They look at my tests, back at me, and ask if I’m sure I’m not from anywhere near the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. I say yes, I’m sure. I’m from Kansas. But not chicken-farmer Kansas. I’ve never lived on a damn farm. Then they look confused and I say, “Listen, we had pet birds.”

I have an eye condition called Ocular Histoplasmosis. It’s from a fungus commonly found in the dust and soil of the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. You can contract the disease by inhaling dust with the fungal spores, usually carried and spread by chickens and other types of birds. If it is inhaled early in life, it can cause a usually symptom-free and self-limited infection throughout the body. But it may affect the eye by causing small areas of inflammation and scarring of the retina, which it has done to me.

There isn’t really a problem, not now anyway. But it’s something that the eye doctor has to continually check, to make sure it isn’t getting worse. Mine is not. Thankfully. And they are usually adament that pet birds won’t give it to you, but I have zero other explanations for it, except well, pet birds.

My mom likes pets that are self-contained. She’d probably be great with a pet turtle, if it weren’t for their sliminess. She likes caged animals. With minimal smell and hassle. Enter birds. Le sigh. Here is my mom with her first pair of birds from the early 1980s, just before I was born. These are the birds of my childhood, Fred and Barney, who in fact turned out to be Fred and Wilma, but we never changed their names.

Listen, I hated Fred and Barney. When I was really young they’d peck at my fingers when I tried to put their food bowl back, or fill their water. They LOVED my mom, hated me. Though they hated other people more than me, so I guess I was tolerable to them. They really didn’t like my sister, or any person who came into the house being loud. They didn’t like loud. I didn’t either, so it was good when my mom would yell at visitors, “Shhh, be quiet or the birds will start!” Cause trust, you didn’t want the birds to “start.”

Fred and Barney died one day. It was a sad-ass day. I remember being sad because of how sad my mom was, but I felt no real attachment to these birds, so I was like good riddance. Meanwhile, my mother grieved, as one does for a beloved pet. I gave her a hug, shrugged my shoulders, and went out to play. I thought that shit was finally over. I was wrong.

A few weeks later a friend said to my mom that she knew these two birds, they didn’t have names, just called Blue and Green, and did my mother want them. They were free. And came with their own, very nice cage. Did my mother want them? BRING THEM HERE NOW! she screeched. I think. I think she screeched that. It was like some backroom bird deal. She ran them over under the cover of darkness. I was half-asleep and very confused. I saw my mom’s face light up and I was like, “Shiiiiiiiit.”

The only thing I remember about these two, besides their constant squawking, fighting, and mildly displeasing nature, is that they could not be trusted when you opened their cage. They were escape artists, and more than once I found myself screaming down the hallway, running into my room and slamming the door, while my mom ran around with a towel screaming for me to help her “Catch the damn birds.” Jesus. “No,” I’d scream from under my blankets, “They’re your birds! Not mine!”

My mother was convinced her birds were always much smarter than we thought. She said she taught them tricks. Though to be fair, Fred and Barney knew how to “kiss.” My mom used to say to me every morning when I’d wake up since I was a toddler, “Kiss, kiss, Missy” in which I’d sleepy walk to her and give her a morning hug and kiss. She noticed one morning when she said it, the birds pecked each other. I thought she was nuts, but when she turned her attention to this, and really tried to work with them on it, they eventually got it. Yep, they knew “Kiss, kiss,” but they didn’t know “Shut up, you damn birds!” which would have been more helpful, if you ask me.

The birds were always a source of amusement for my friends who would come over. No one else had birds. My friends all had two-parent households, with two cars, and homes that they owned, and usually dogs and cats. You know, normal fucking pets. My friends were in awe of these birds. They’d sit and watch them, whistle at them, watch me feed them, that sort of shit. I despised it. All of it.

Then one day the second set of parakeets died. My mom cried, as she had the first time. And this time, so did I. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect somewhere around middle school I started to be comforted by these little assholes. When my mom was out at night, and I’d be nervously waiting for her to make it home safe, I’d sit in the living room with them and talk to them. They were good listeners. In fact, as long as you were paying them attention, you could talk to them all day. They’d just sit on their stoop and listen. Cock their head back and forth, occasionally interject a “SQWAAAA!” here or a peck on their bell there. Maybe they weren’t so bad.

I left Leavenworth not too long after the birds did. The next time I came home to visit my mom, she had a new bird. A friend had called. In the dead of the night. Saying that she knew someone, who knew someone, and did my mother want a Dove? Did my mother want a Dove?! You bet your ass she did! It was free, and it came with it’s own cage and everything. Her name was Baby, and she was the worst of the actual lot. But my son loved to visit with her, listen to her sing. pet her, yeah this bitch let you hold and pet her. She hated me though. Pecked at me every time I came near the cage. Eh, such is life.

Baby died last year. It was perhaps the roughest loss on my mother. No friend has called yet. Her house now sits silent. Lonesome. Maybe one day. Until then, RIP to the birds who have come before. They live a long time, in case you didn’t know, even “used” birds live longer than you’d expect. And they carry diseases. But that’s neither here nor there.

M.

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