My Kinship with an
American Robin
Douglas M. Del Zotto
Dedicated to those who willingly give their hearts away.
© 2012 Douglas M. Del Zotto
The little yellow bowl is still on my kitchen counter top, tucked into the
corner. When it wasn t in Byrd s cage, the bowl sat in that same corner for
18 years. Although the bowl is clean, the inside has a muddy discoloration
and the outside is faded. It sits atop a round, translucent, plastic container
lid—the same lid that I used to cover Byrd s crunchy bird chow for so many
years as it soaked to softness in a red container in the refrigerator. I notice
the little, yellow bowl everyday as I prepare my own food. The bowl has been
untouched for over a year. I can t move it. I can t touch it. The bowl is his. The
space is his, too.
I don t know what to do. If I neglect to write Byrd s story and simply
pack his bowl away, he will be forgotten and die again—his spirit pushed
into a cold, lonely, insignificant whirlpool of darkness, screaming to escape.
Conversely, I fear that my narrative will conjure him if he is resting peacefully
in his grave. The story could be a ‘Monkey s Paw, an amulet that will capture
me in the past; a sharpening of my desire to unleash Byrd from death; an
invitation for his spirit to haunt my dreams and torment me for disturbing his
sleep. I also fear that a narrative, raw and irrational, will expose my life in a
harsh light. If such a large portion of my heart was given to a bird, what kind
of a person am I? Am I one who has difficulty bonding with humans? Am I
socially awkward and drawn into unnatural attachments? One day, whatever
my emotion, I ll have to move that bowl. But I fear moving it. It s his. The
space is his, too.
Byrd wouldn t want it this way. If he could speak, he d tell me to put his
bowl away. He d tell me to live more bravely, just like he did. He d tell me to
remember the times he sat napping on my lap, the tricks he performed, the
songs he sung. He d laugh at my reactions to all of his mischief.
However, I can t follow his will at this time. As I search for the release
of both of our spirits, I am reminded every day of my loss as I glance at the
little, yellow bowl that I cannot move.
Into this World
In the most difficult period of my life, when nothing made sense and all was
lost, a small being beckoned.
I had recently graduated from Kent State University with a Master s
degree and two Bachelor s degrees, but it was a miserable 1990 economy and
I was among the unemployed. Still, my blessings were many. Any college debt
was minimal due to military education benefits and a paid college internship.
A harvest of happiness and prosperity depended only upon enthusiasm for
future employment in a new stage of life, both of which were expected within
months. Consequently, my rural apartment didn t seem so dumpy. Even the
booming  that  radiated  from  the  gymnastic  studio  in  the  apartment  above
mine wasn t so annoying. My brother and my parents loaned me money for
rent and other expenses. My girlfriend of three years wanted to marry, and I
loved her passionately. After a year of job fairs, resume revisions, networking,
contacting prospective employers, and responding to bogus classified ads
from employment agencies and schemes from the likes of Amway dealers,
drought set in.
Decent  job  prospects  evaporated  while  others  never  materialized.
Uncomfortable  living  arrangements  became  uncomfortably  permanent.
By the end of 1990, I pursued any work available. A turnstile of temporary
employment  included  work  as  a  school  janitor,  cemetery  caretaker,  data
input for an insurance consultant, and bookkeeping for a local gym and for
a local antique shop.
During my ongoing job search, I noticed an advertisement from an
area art museum for a position as curator of art and encouraged my girlfriend,
a recent college graduate herself, to apply. Even though the job fit her fine
arts background, she did not want to apply because she felt underqualified.
After more of my prodding, she applied and was offered the job. She found
temporary employment for me in the museum janitorial department.
My enthusiasm for life was waning, but at least, I still had my girl. I
nicknamed her Bird because of her stature. At a height of four feet and ten
inches, she was small and cute. As I began to apply for career opportunities
a distance away in Cleveland, she showed a reservation toward our future
together. Bird enjoyed her museum job. Although she knew how important
children were to me, she decided at that time that raising a family was not
her desire. I was crushed. Our love withered and we parted as friends.
In the summer of 1991, my parents decided to stop loaning money
to  me.  They  believed  that  I  should  apply  for  welfare.  That  prospect  was
terrifying.  My  parents   evaluation  of  those  on  welfare  was  ingrained  into
my  psyche.  Welfare  recipients  were  lazy  parasites  who  were  a  drag  on
every hard-working taxpayer. Although my working-class parents told me
that I was not one of thatkind, a few words couldn t overcome a lifetime of
indoctrination. In addition to the embarrassment of being unemployed, I was
now a hated parasite. After filling in an application for general assistance
at the county government building, I departed via the main entrance. The
nearby flagpole invited me to hang myself from it. My world turned barren.
Public assistance left me in a quandary. The monetary aid provided
a small monthly check, but far from enough for the rent of my downtown
Ravenna dive. Since the paltry, sporadic money that I earned from odd jobs
would reduce any assistance, I had to become a welfare cheat in order to
survive. Food stamps could pay for three weeks of groceries, but the stigma
of using them presented additional humiliation. When exchanging the stamps
for groceries, I could feel the contempt of the people in line behind me. One
shopper was obnoxious enough to sigh loudly at the sight of a steak among
my fruits and vegetables. In spite of my education… in spite of my drive to
succeed… in spite of my upbringing… I was an object of scorn, reduced to
fraud. The shallow goal of sheer survival lead to the meaninglessness of all
around me, even my own existence. If the condition persisted into the winter
gloom, I considered killing myself. Walking the streets at night was a cheap
respite from troubled sleep.
One of those many walks changed my life. In August, local friends
invited me to join them for late afternoon doubles tennis at an area park.
Although they offered to drive me to my apartment after the match, I declined.
On the walk home, I approached what appeared to be a lump of mud on the
sidewalk. When my shadow passed over the lump, it opened a tiny beak. I
bent over for a closer look. A puffy, yellow-chested, baby robin inspected
me with inquisitive, brown eyes. When the robin peered upward, the black
speckles on its chest grew larger as it inhaled. A second later, the tailless,
brown-backed, feather ball opened its tiny beak again, exposing a reed-like
tongue and a cavernous gullet. A demanding chirp instantly followed. I looked
around. No mother bird. I attempted to pick the baby up. He flapped stubby
wings, propelling himself a few feet to a hedge in the front yard of a small
home. I gathered him onto my tennis racquet and placed a hand towel over
his back to prevent him from falling off.
Perhaps, I picked him up in order to fill the loneliness in my life, the
loss of my love. Then again, perhaps I saw myself in the failed exploit of a
being capable of flight, but now vulnerable and seeking help from anyone
kind enough to offer comfort. He hungrily squeaked a bit more as I walked
home, his head peeking from under the towel. That would be the first day of
the rest of my life for the next 18? years.