What he lost in energy and mischievousness, he gained
in peacefulness and gentleness. Although he was restricted by poor vision,
he still heard me and felt my presence. As I read while sitting on the floor,
he cocked his head every which way, probably trying to discern light and
dark surfaces. Eventually, Byrd would amble over and sit on my book or
newspaper as he did in younger years. I set an old section of newspaper
nearby with a desk lamp over it. The paper and the heat usually lured him
away from the piece that I was reading, but within arm's length of me. He
was no longer drawn to the shadows. If there was a patch of sun near me,
he spread his wings to enjoy the heat. Baths were still fun. I tapped his soup
bowl of hot water so that Byrd had an auditory clue to its location. He still
flung water every which way. As I worked on the computer, he sang from
his cage beside me with a new tone—soft, but more beautiful than ever. He
whispered ribbons of gold. On some mornings, he would surprise me by
gathering his fleeting energy and fluttering from his cage to sing for me at
my bedside. Most mornings, he sang from his cage. These early morning
sonatas took the place of his circus performances. Byrd knew that I was
listening to every recital. And I was happy to hear that we would spend
another day together.
Byrd swallowed a tiny amount, and then his little head fell lifelessly between my thumb and
finger, eyes still open.
Don't Leave Me, Byrd
Byrd at 16 years. Although this photo shows white facial feathers, Byrd molted them
to retain his normal coloring throughout his life. 2008.
Over the next few years, Byrd's typical day did not change much. He
couldn't fly to the perches in his cage, so he settled for nestling on the floor
newspaper, which I kept clean and dry. Byrd's cage door remained open.
Very infrequently did he throw himself into flight. When he did, he fluttered a
few feet, hovering until his claws settled upon the carpet. Sometimes, Byrd
cackled the entire way down—“bababababababah”—complaining about
how the world had become so opaque. After settling, he'd turn to find my
shadow and then fine tune the angle of his head to listen for the details of
my whereabouts.
Even though I cheered him on during his bold flying efforts, he
depended upon me to remove him from his cage. I'd stick my hand inside
of his cage and nudge his toes ever so slightly. Byrd nipped a little bit, just
to locate my fingers for easy perching. He'd climb upon a finger, then teeter
before balancing himself. When I'd lift my hand, Byrd would again teeter until
he fully sensed that my hand was resting upon the apartment floor. He'd step
off to jog beneath my desk or gravitate to the heat of a patch of sun. When
Byrd was anxious to come out of his cage, he would stick his beak through
the open door or pace a bit. When he wasn't in the mood to come out, he
walked away from my hand. In that case, I pursued him until he stepped onto
my hand. His continuing daily exercise and the accompanying change of
scenery made both of us feel better.
The morning of Saturday, January 30, was different. I made an
exception for his exercise. Byrd not only stood stiff in his cage that morning,
but his feathers were puffed very slightly and his body quivered with the most
subtle of tremors. I lifted a morsel of food to his beak, but he wouldn't take
it. I kept an eye on him during my morning chores. His unresponsiveness
concerned me.
Byrd was never sick before. He never had any nasal discharge,
labored breathing, diarrhea, skin conditions, constipation or lethargy. In the
past, when I heard him sneeze repeatedly, I mixed a pet store remedy in his
water. Within a day or two, the sneezing passed. As a testament to his robust
health, Byrd ingested approximately six remedy solutions in his entire life.
Since his slight quivering was stable throughout the morning, I decided to go
to the gym for a short workout in the early afternoon.
Upon my return, 90 minutes later, Byrd hadn't moved from his original
position. I stuck my hand into his cage and repeatedly nudged his toes with
the side of my hand, but he wouldn't step up. He was too weak to step
upon the back of my hand and too weak to retreat to the corner of his cage.
Risking additional stress, I decided to hold him. The only time that I held
Byrd was when I trimmed his toenails. He fussed during those moments of
restraint. No fuss today. His feet dangled as I cupped my hand around his
back and wings.
Byrd accepted an unfamiliar position: I placed him in the palm of my
hand. The last time that I had held him this way, he was a speckle-chested
baby, sleepy after filling his craw with worms. I sat on the front room floor,
trying to keep him warm by holding him close to my chest. I stroked his
feathers gently with my free hand and with the side of my face. I talked to him
soothingly, comforting him by repeating “It's all right, Byrd. I love you, sweetie.
It's all right, Byrd.” I kissed his soft back feathers. He was a baby again. After
holding him for a prolonged time, I thought that he may be thirsty. I mixed
a weak solution of bird vitamin water and picked him back up. I dipped my
finger into the solution and brushed it against the side of his beak.
Byrd swallowed a tiny amount and then his little head fell lifelessly
between my thumb and finger, eyes still open. I held him close to my chest,
big tears rushing from my eyes. “Don't leave me, Byrd. Don't leave me,” I
pleaded. I massaged his still-warm chest and puffed breaths into his beak.
But his spirit was gone. Large sobs overwhelmed me. My crying was so
violent that my nose began to bleed profusely. I again held his body to my
chest, rocking back and forth to the metronome of sorrow.
Byrd was more than a best friend, more than a constant companion.
He was a piece of my heart. And along with Byrd, a piece of my heart died
the moment that he died.