Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rescuing Gracie

The phone call came yesterday. "I don't think this is your bird. She doesn't have tail feathers. The vet I took her to said she's not even a conure." Not a conure? Somehow, this didn't seem right to me. I needed to see this bird. I knew it was Gracie. "You're going to be disappointed," stated a woman's voice with a Romanian accent, or something similar. I told her that I needed to see that bird regardless of what she thought. I wrestled the address from her. This wasn't going to be easy. I grabbed Imanya and off we ran, racing to Campo and Medina, getting lost, backtracking, finally locating the driveway.

This lady had parrots in a cage outside, and she seemed very suspicious and evasive as soon as she saw us. She repeated the "it's not a conure" refrain, but she allowed us into the kitchen. There she was; it was Gracie. She peeped in recognition and clung to the bars of the tiny cage. I let her out, and she immediately cuddled up to my neck and made all of those little noises that form her language. Imanya smiled. "That's definitely Gracie, " she said, and I thought "case closed." But no. It was not going to be that easy. "All those birds cuddle like that. They're famous for that" (all CONURES are famous for that, I thought, but I kept it to myself). She proceeded to show me how much Gracie loved her, and was rewarded by a hard bite to the hand. Gracie proceeded to kiss me. The Bird Lady then grabbed Gracie and attempted to show me that she never had tail feathers, so she was NOT my bird, and not a conure. There was nothing to say except, "I don't know why Gracie lost her tail feathers, but that's our bird." The Bird Lady insisted on showing me a REAL conure, the one she kept in a cage with a huge Amazonian parrot. The "real" conure was another variety, a sun conure, and he was bald from plucking out his own feathers. He looked miserable.

This dance went on for awhile, both of us repeating the same lines. Finally, I started to cry. I don't like crying in front of strangers, but it was becoming clear that this woman was not going to return Gracie to us. Although I was crying, I did manage to bring up the fact that I was the daughter in law of the Valley's biggest lawyer. That seemed to soften her stance somewhat. Finally, I convinced her to relinquish Gracie. I hid her under my Pierce jacket and ran for the car like a madwoman, followed by Imanya. The Bird Lady was still talking to me, handing me bird newsletters and wanting to continue our bizarre interaction, but we took off down the hill with Gracie on my shoulder and safely arrived home. Gracie was returned to her huge cage by the window, and I took off for lunch.

Gracie is not quite the same. Her voice is crackly, and her tail feathers are entirely gone. Ty clipped her wings after a wobbly and dangerous flight around the living room. She looks ridiculous and very small without the glory of those crimson feathers. She loses her balance when she tries to eat toast from her perch, and she almost drowns when taking a bath. Her dignity has taken a huge hit. She's alive, however, and slowly readjusting along with the rest of us. Even Ty, who had made his position clear, seems genuinely relieved to have her home. Perhaps it's because she looks so terribly pathetic, but he almost appears to like her. As for me, I'm still in shock at her return. I had said my goodbyes to her, believing that she was truly gone. I was attempting to make peace with the new reality, but hurting terribly and not sleeping well. I thought I was supposed to accept "the facts," and instead Gracie and I get a second chance. How often does that happen? It seems like a crazy and undeserved present.

I prayed so hard for Gracie's return, crying until I felt like my heart would explode. All the while I never believed she would be found; it seemed too much to ask, a tiny detail that shouldn't matter in such a huge sea of human and animal misery out there. Why should I be allowed to have my bird with me again when other people pray for much more serious matters and feel ignored? I have no answers for that. There are no answers. The entire experience has changed me. While I was searching for her, the family united in the quest, selflessly working for her return even when their feelings for Gracie were either ambivalent or negative. We walked together all over our neighborhood, building up our muscles and noticing the fantastic variety of bird and animal life all around us. I started getting up at 7 AM and walking the streets, calling for Gracie, and noticing how beautiful the world is at that hour. I met so many neighbors on this journey; I felt for the first time a sense of community as I put up fliers and called out to my bird. I was quickly known as the "Gracie lady," and dog walkers would ask about my search.

Gracie's disappearance was the reason that Ty and I sat down and had a true heart-to-heart talk about our marriage and our feelings for each other. As it turns out, we learned that we loved each other more than we ever even suspected. That one conversation created an even more intense intimacy between us and cleared up some false assumptions we had carried around about our mate.

Our little bird's absence created a community in our neighborhood and brought our little family together in a common goal. The challenge now is remember the lessons of Gracie's vacation: we can't give up, ever, when we love someone. We can't forget how important we are to each other, how much we really do love each other in good times and bad. We must strive to connect ourselves to our community and to each other and combat our tendencies to isolate ourselves. As I said in a previous post, Gracie opened up the universe to me. Even in her absence, she continued to do so.

Thank you.


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