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The Little Bird Who Changed My Life
It was a cold day. The kind where you wake up, even after being snuggled under the covers all night, and you’re still cold. Before long after waking up, I realized that it was a snow day. It happened to be the 16th of March. That’s kind of odd, I thought to myself, but I wasn’t going to complain. You have to appreciate having a snow day in mid March. This day started like any other snow day. The usual, going around, announcing to my parents and exciting my sister that neither of us had to go to school for a whole day, which, considering the fact that it was a Friday, meant we had a three day weekend. Then I continued my usual snow day routine, in waking up the family pets, and the most treasured friends of me and my sister, our birds, Cleo and Cloe.
Cleo and Cloe are a little different than other birds. First of all, they are parakeets, or their real specific name, would be budgerigars. Cleo, who is actually a boy who we thought was a girl, and then accidentally named Cleo, is yellow. Always active and a repetitive talker he had always seemed healthier than Cloe. We had always had a sense that something was off about her. She always seemed to have her feathers fluffed, a sign that they are cold, and never liked to come out of her cage. She had also been known to from time to time ending up crashing into walls in my bedroom. Whether she knew where she was going is a mystery to us to this day.
When we had brought her home, two and a half years earlier, we had a strange feeling that the man had grabbed the wrong bird to put in the cardboard box that we would be bringing her home in. At the time, we had thought that we picked out a bird that was almost exactly the color of a sea green crayola colored pencil. When we got home, we were shocked to find that the bird we had gotten looked nothing like the little green bird we had wanted, but was the color of the sky on a clear day with spots of brown, black, purple, and white on her as well. It didn’t really matter, though, and we hardly ever thought about this because we loved both Cleo and Cloe dearly and couldn’t imagine life without them.
To understand the importance of my birds to my family, you must first understand the relationship between my family and our birds. In my family, Cleo and Cloe were tremendously important. Anna, my sister, and I would both play with the birds all day and share secrets with them as well. When we let the birds out of the cage, they are allowed to fly around my bedroom as they wish. They are well trained to do a variety of tricks. Cleo can talk. He seems to have his own vocabulary ranging from “pretty bird” and “Cleo” to “what’s going on” and “this is boring.” They can both throw these little ball toys with a bell in the center of them off of my desk. They could also shake your pinky finger with their claw. Cleo and Cloe would never bite those they trust, in other words, they never bit us at all. Every day, I would spend tons of time with the birds. They kept me company while I did my homework, sometimes sitting on my shoulder and nibbling on my handmade jewelry. Aside from being an important part of my family, Cleo and Cloe were very trusted friends as well. Without my birds, my life definitely would not be as great as it is now.
I carefully unwrapped the towel that was over the cage, finding both birds safely perched on their swings parallel to each other. This was no surprise, considering the fact that they always sleep that way. We had never known why this was so, but each night, when my mom, my sister, or I took out the worn, pink towel they hopped right up to their designated swing, even before we covered the cage.
Cleo eagerly jumped from his swing, thrilled to start a new day. Something seemed off, though. It suddenly hit me, Cloe was ill again; all puffed up, with her head snuggled in her feathers. They seemed rugged, like she hadn’t taken the time to groom them, they seemed forgotten and distant.
Since we were snowed in, and my mom didn’t really want to try to drive anywhere, we decided to spend the day at home. This suited me just fine, I was happy to have some time to be with the birds and relax. In the back of my mind I remembered that I had a project that I was supposed to be working on for school, so I thought I should be working on that. My mom had noted that Cloe wasn’t well and perhaps I should spend my time with her instead.
Being the caring bird lover that I am, I retreated back to my bedroom at the top of the stairs. After turning the heat on a little more I sat on my daybed and pulled out my knitting, the start of a baby hat I was making for my mom’s friend’s baby girl. Since I had taught myself to knit, and then to do so without looking at my hands, I peered over at the bird’s cage that was in full view from my bed. I saw that Cloe was looking cold and wobbly on her perch and Cleo was perched nearby, like a protective bodyguard, an idea hit me.
My view diverted to my desk, and I saw a small, blue fleece purse that I had hand sewn a few days before. Reaching for it, I carefully picked up Cloe from her perch and placed her in it, placing a scrap of purple fleece over it like a blanket and tucking it carefully in around her. She seemed to look at me with tired and sad eyes. They were grateful, yet sad all at once. We connected, and I knew what she felt, but I refused to admit it, or believe it, but in the back of my mind, looking back, I could see that was coming.
I proceeded to put the little blanket in the bottom of the cage on top of a layer of paper towel. Cleo hopped down and sat on a lower perch, his eyes never came off of her. Always watching out for her, and helping her. I slowly walked back to my bed and continued my knitting, but when I had gotten back, Cloe’s basket of fleece had tipped over, so I had no choice but to hold her on my lap, her eyes closing occasionally to nap as I knit and the snow fell from the sky and the day ticked by like the stitches on my needle.
Seeing that the basket would not fit on my lap while I knit, I realized that the sweater that I was wearing that day had a pocket in it that went all the way through to the other side; I carefully placed Cloe in it with the small square of fleece over it. Her head poked out one end, and the tip of her tail out the other. It was near four o’clock when I finally got up from my knitting rhythm and fully focused my attention on continuing to helping Cloe the way she had helped me all those times when I was sad or lonely.
I sat on the rug in my bedroom, her small body in my hand and my other hand over her, keeping her warm and making sure she was ok. She seemed unusually tired. I had seen her this way before. But never like this. Usually she would turn her head around and put it in her feathers to take a nap. This time she almost seemed too tired to do so. This time she kept wobbling around. She seemed like she had to work just to keep herself from falling over. She almost did. I lay her down on her back in my hand, so she didn’t have to work as hard to keep her head up.
Moments later, I lifted her back up, trying to make sure she was ok and since she could not lift herself up, I was trying to figure out if she was more comfortable sitting up than being on her back. Her legs seemed to go limp; she did not want to stand. I lay her back down on her back and her eyes began to close. Her legs continued to go limp and folded back against her tail. Her head relaxed and tipped back towards the heavens. She looked like she was about to fly off somewhere beautiful. At this point, she couldn’t even move any of her body. I did not believe this was happening to me.
“Don’t leave me,” I whispered to her, but she did not hear me. Cloe’s eyes continued to close. Suddenly, her eyes opened again and our eyes met, so much was conveyed to me. Her eyes were not all of sadness. Some was, but not completely. In them I saw fear, a knowing that everything was going to be ok, relief, but most of all, I saw that she was grateful and knew she was safe. That simple glance also told me some sort of signal, a sort of good bye that couldn’t really be captured in words. A signal that had no physical sound, yet so loud in my head. But I understood. Then slowly, they closed, and I knew she was gone as I burst in to tears. They were the kind that can’t be held back and that only happen when something life changing happens as fast as the tears rolling down my cheek.
Sometimes I question that night. That night had been full of sleeplessness where I could only see her face in my mind. No matter how hard I tried to not think about it, I couldn’t stop. My mom often told me in the days that followed not to think about it. She suggested I write down my feelings so I could relax and not think about it, so I did. To commit that moment to paper and to capture it was near impossible. I tried my best to write it out, but to recall it in a meaningful way that completely captured my feelings was hard. I still can’t quit capture them as it was too powerful to be put into words. I did my best, and then sealed those memories for nearly a year without looking at them. They remained in my head, untouched like a dusty box of photos. No matter how I tried though, I could not erase her face in those few moments from my mind.
My mind poured over those moments all night. I even began to blame myself for it. I thought that maybe if I hadn’t let her lie on her back then she wouldn’t have passed on. I was afraid. Could I have prevented that from happening? I did not know. Was it even in my control?
I tried my hardest not to think about the memory of her sad and tired eyes as she looked into mine and I knew how she felt for a long time. Now, over a year later, I can still picture that as vividly as that night when I sat at my desk, pen to paper by the light of a candle in her memory, pouring my heart out with words of gratitude for someone so small that changed me so drastically. My mom told me frequently how it is a good thing that Cloe moved on, I knew it was true. She had suffered so much while she was alive considering that most of the time she was sick. She was a wonderful bird, who had an unfortunate twist of fate and got stuck with a body that was not well. Even though she had poor health, she had a soul that was pure.
That snowy day in March was a blessing all of its own. I have thought long and hard about what would have happened if by chance we had only gotten a delay that morning for the snow. Or what if it hadn’t even snowed at all? Chances are I would not have gotten to say good bye to Cloe. For that alone I feel blessed. As I count my blessings, I am also so tremendously thankful that she was with me to her last second. Many believe that you cannot pick when or how you die, but sitting on my carpet in the center of my bedroom with that delicate little bird sitting in my hand, trusting me with her last wishes and thoughts made me think otherwise. My mom strongly believes she did that for a reason. I do not think that I could be any more grateful for that.
Though her death caused me much sadness, having her for even two and a half years was a blessing also. Who could ever know such a small animal could affect me so much. I never knew that I could love such a little bird as much as I did Cloe and continue to do for Cleo and Clara either. She was so expressive that I knew what she was trying to tell me even though she could not speak like Cleo does. Those few moments when our eyes met and such a strong message was translated to me were so indescribable to me. They were so hauntingly beautiful that I will never forget how they changed me forever.
Now, it still hurts to think about her. My loss for the end of her suffering, I know that she is better off now. Sometimes, I can still feel her presence around me, watching out for me, like I did for her that day. Even now, when Cleo who is now seven and a half years old, and Clara, my little green bird who is almost one are with me, I can almost hear Cloe’s chirps flying through the air with them. A free spirit of her own. And now I know that she is in a better place.