He loved this trick! Then, in full, direct light…
I saw it. A miniscule, gray star. Byrd's mahogany brown eyes were no
longer clear. Light sparkled mockingly from the gray-purple orb in each of
his eyes—depriving me of staring into his soul—depriving him of his greatest
sense, of his greatest protection. In Stroud's book, euthanasia was advised
for a bird with cataracts. I followed Stroud's direction as precisely as possible
in the past. Not this time. When I looked at Byrd in his old age, I still saw
the same baby bird that I encountered on that Ravenna sidewalk so many
years ago.
Time further ravaged his sight, and in doing so, ravaged his spirit.
He stopped even landing on my finger. More food was scattered about the
bottom of Byrd's cage. After throwing his food all over as he normally did, he
was having a hard time finding the morsels. I noticed Byrd's blind stabs about
the cage bottom. His beak missed food morsels or his near-misses pushed
them aside. If he stepped on one, he picked it up more readily. As months
wore on, Byrd was having difficulty flying to the perch at the top of his cage,
his favorite place to nap. He stared upward from the bottom perch, and then,
jumped. Sometimes, he bounded over the top perch, landing on the cage
bottom with a few clucks of complaint. Other times, he skimmed the cage top
or bounced off of it, landing with a slight thud, and again, a few complaints. I
placed my hand in front of his feet regularly, and after he climbed on, guided
his feet over the top perch. Byrd began to stay in his cage rather than burst
out of it. When he did leave the cage, he first stuck his beak through the
cage door to ensure that it was open. Perhaps, he accidentally flew into it
in the past. He was sleeping more often and anxious to furiously bite at my
fingers when I came close to him. Byrd couldn't realize why he didn't see the
ring, clearly identify my finger, find food more readily, run from beneath my
feet before they were upon him. He couldn't realize how his environment had
changed so drastically. After another year, he began to nip at the shadow of
my hand passing over him from a yard away. Byrd was essentially blind.
Byrd was broken and I was broken. In another age, a baby on the
sidewalk opened his beak to my shadow. I was filled with the anticipation
and pleasure of watching him grow. Now, I was filled with the dread and pain
of watching him die. His days of proudly performing were over, replaced by
tentativeness, fear, anger. After miscalculations led him to collide with the wall
and with the window, he no longer vaulted to the top of doors or lit upon the
windowsill. He simply stopped flying. If I placed him on his favorite windowsill
in the afternoon sun, he hopped around nervously. Byrd was probably trying
to gauge the width of the sill, the distance from the floor or whether a crow
may be too close for comfort. He reached the point of completely losing his
desire to leave the familiarity of his cage. When I opened the door, he either
remained in place or sulked away to the furthest corner.
Mealtime was heartbreaking. After placing his yellow bowl in his
cage, Byrd would lash out at my fingers. He may have felt that I was going
to remove his food. He may have just needed to vent his anger on anything.
I tried to curb his aggressiveness by gripping his lower beak as he attacked
my fingers. Even the futility of immobilization didn't stop his biting. I quickly
discontinued beak-catching. It was a negative, emotional response that didn't
do either of us any good. When I fed him waxworms, he entered a frenzy.
After eating the first, and thereby making the realization that I had waxworms,
he'd lunge his beak randomly, sometimes into the air while walking in the
opposite direction of the waxworm in my outstretched fingers. At other times,
when perhaps he could detect more of my physical presence, Byrd bit my
fingers crazily after each quick swallow. The deprivation of his blindness
seemed to accentuate the pleasure of waxworms to the point of madness.
Feeding him his favorite food became a joyless experience. Because of my
agony and his agitation, I seldom treated him to waxworms.
Under the circumstances, withdrawal of my attention and leaving him
to decay in solitude were easy options, but not one in which either of us
would find comfort. Byrd deserved better. I had to return to the time and
place in which I found him, and then, find him again.
The journey began with a change of roles and a change of attitude.
Now, I had to be Byrd's protector and he would have to be the protected.
Since he couldn't see well enough to quickly react, I had to always be extra
cognizant of his whereabouts in order to avoid stepping on his toes or kicking
him. Awareness also ensured that he would not trap himself for an extended
period of time in a dark corner in which he could no longer see an escape
route. All furniture was not moved from the last position in Byrd's memory. I
felt that consistency in his environment bred confidence. I began to always
leave Byrd's cage door open. If Byrd wasn't flying out of his cage on his own,
I placed my hand in front of his feet and nudged his toes until he climbed
aboard. Even if he was madly biting at my fingers, I cemented them in front of
him until he stepped upon my hand. Then, I lowered my hand to the floor and
he tentatively stepped onto familiar carpet. Often, Byrd only dashed beneath
my desk or zigzagged his way to the security of shadows in the kitchen or
bathroom. However, I still felt that exercise and a change of surroundings
would do his spirit well. Hours later, I made sure that he ate. I placed food
in his beak at the kitchen counter. Since I didn't know how much food Byrd
would eat during the day, I used the same patience as when he was a baby.
When he would take no more food, I rested my hand in front of him, nudged
his toes until he climbed aboard and carried him into his cage with his bowl
of food.
At this time, the inevitable had to be considered. Years ago, I found
a black, nylon, hand-sized, drawstring pouch. At the time, I washed it and
stashed it in the back of my nightstand drawer. I checked the drawer. The
pouch remained where it was left.
As the years continued, Byrd accepted his lot and we became even
closer in his old age.