I love my cats. Little fluffy muffins of sweetness and joy. Deep melodic purrs and soft insistent face nudges. A calming influence in a mad world. But then there's the other side. Murderous mayhem-y beasts. Ruthless ferocious felines who spend their days eviscerating smaller animals, apparently for the sheer joy of it. They kill with no rhyme or reason, and then, as if in some biblical tableau or Caravaggio masterpiece, they bring me the heads. Sometimes with the spinal cord still attached. I am their mother after all. They have imprinted on me. And because I am their mother and they love me, they like to bring me the spoils from their nightly pillages. That's the animal kingdom, Baby.
The other morning, I was making coffee quite early when I heard the sound that I know so well - but always hope is something else. It is a low throaty growl. Full, bloodthirsty, menacing. And somewhere below that timeless rumble of the predator, or sometimes above it, often comes a small shrill desperate squeak or a bubbly blood-soaked chirp. On this fine morning the chirp was a little less "goodbye cruel world" and a little more "but I'm too young to die" so I ran to investigate. Artemis (or Bella as she is commonly called) had a bird stuffed unceremoniously into her mouth. The bird was upside down, its head pointed down to the floor, one bent wing hanging pathetically out of the cat’s maw. I sprung to action, jumping loudly in Bella's direction and startling her. She opened her mouth in surprise and the bird fell out. I scooped Bella up and banished her to the basement where I told her to wait for me and to repent for her sins. Then I went to tend to the bird. It was a sad sight. This was a gorgeous bird, but not more than a baby. The poor thing was obviously in shock and its wing was still poking out, at a sickening angle, from its body. It looked like a tiny uprooted beach umbrella in a storm, toppled and off kilter. I grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and wrapped the bird in it, leaving its head and damaged wing out. I peeked at the bird’s feathers and then went to Google for answers. Turns out, based on its size and color pattern, that this was a young blue jay, one of my favorite birds. But it seemed to be fading. Its trembling body (under the misleading fluff of adolescent feathers) was the size of a walnut and basically weightless. Its eyes were closing up, the lower lid rising to cover the eye and sealing it shut. I was watching this bird die what looked like a slow and unpleasant death and I hadn't even had my coffee yet. "Oh my God!" I started to say as some sort of talismanic chant. "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod." I turned in a circle in my kitchen, holding the tightly swaddled bird away from my body with straight arms, as if death were contagious.
Suddenly the bird opened its miniscule beak and made a garbled cheep. I ran to the everything drawer and found a toothpick which I dipped in water and offered to the bird. At least he will be well-hydrated when he dies, I thought to myself sadly. But then Buddy (as I had christened him in a rhythmic "come-on-buddy" urging) started to squirm a bit. Rustle about. He opened his eyes and began to twist his tiny little head on his tiny little neck. I felt a flicker of hope run through me.
Next to my house there is a small meadow that my cats can't get into. I brought Buddy there and unwrapped him. I was exhausted. Completely wrung out. And my heart was still pounding up at the base of my throat, not where it belongs. Buddy sort of glanced around, fluffed his wings (the "broken” one miraculously snapping back into place) and hopped. He hopped once and fell over. Then Buddy hopped twice more and he was gone. He flew bumpily at first, then assuredly, up and up, eventually coming to rest in a tall pine tree. I didn't know birds that young could fly. But there he sat, fluffing himself repeatedly, turning his face to the bright sun, and eventually chirping. It looked like he was going to be okay, the mornings events amazingly forgotten. My first thought was one of pure joy. And relief. Then the idea came to me that Buddy was an ungrateful little brat. I had just saved his life. I had rehydrated him. I had worried. My heart rate had skyrocketed. AND when I thought Buddy was dying, I had (almost) shed a tear. Where was my thank-you? Where was his gratitude? Now I was going to be late for work, Bella was locked in the basement, and there were feathers all over my kitchen. So I wallowed in that for a bit…and then I started suddenly wishing that I were Buddy.
I imagined myself as that little bird, replaying my death scene over and over again. Sitting there on my little blue jay bar stool, drinking vodka out of a honeysuckle blossom, telling everyone the same sad traumatic story of my near death over and over again. Gaining sympathy and pity and attention while endlessly retelling the tragic tale. MY tragic tale. And, if one of my birdy friends were to ask me "what about that lady?" I would answer "what lady?" feigning ignorance. "That lady! The lady who saved your life. That was a miracle. If not for her help you were a complete goner!" Then, because in my own life I tend to focus intently on the negative, I see myself lifting my wing, taking a drag of my Marlboro red, and with a sincere and knowing look telling the assembled crowd, "her saving my life is not an integral part of the story".
After cleaning the kitchen, freeing Bella and running to work, I calmed down and thought about Buddy and his apparent ability to forget his own almost-murder as soon as it had happened. And then I reflected on my own habit of living in the past and the future. My propensity for focusing on the dark, not the light. My ritual of replaying unpleasant thoughts, events and memories (past, present, and future) in a never-ending, exhausting loop. My inability to be in the present.
Suddenly, in an attempt to distract myself from myself, I picked up my phone and saw that it was still open to the Google search page on blue jays. And there I learned that seeing a blue jay is considered to be a very good omen. Lucky. “I saved one's life!", I crowed to myself, "that must be worth more good luck and two good omens!"
Recently I've been devising ways to keep my adorable, albeit perversely carnivorous, kitty cats away from the wildlife around our house. And it's working. Ish. But I am grateful to Bella for bringing me the blue jay that day. I feel that it was lucky. That little blue jay taught me a lesson, one that I hope not to forget: that it is possible to move past painful memories and to live in the present moment, leaving trauma (even something as traumatic as almost being eaten alive one morning for breakfast) far far behind.