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Bird Cage

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One of my very first memories takes place in the back yard of my New York home. As it is with most memories, this one consists of a frozen image. My father is holding a bird cage in front of him. There is a small creature inside the cage that obviously doesn't want to be there. The cage is too low for it to stand up, but the poor little guy doesn't quite understand this. His head hurts because he had been extending his legs, but for some strange reason was not able to stand at full height. My father holds the bird cage in front of him, ignorant of the pain and neglect that the life inside is feeling. He smiles the smile that portrays pure glee. His posture explains that he is proud of being able to get the oversized thing to even sit still, never mind being able to get it in a cage. But the wrinkles around his eyes are strained; his pupils are a little too small. He leans heavily in one direction as to counter the weight of the enclosure and its captive. He is staring right at my mother.

In this moment, my mother has a camera raised to her face, which is twisted into raw disgust. She had been pleading with my father to put the cage down and open it up. She doesn't believe that trapping anything for any reason is justifiable and has been announcing her discomfort with the situation. She sees that being in the cage is a painful experience for the little guy, but my father assures her that it's alright. So she looks at my father through the viewfinder; she just looks on. She will take the picture, I know because I've kept it to this day. In that simple act she would not only allow my father's actions but would, in her own way, encourage the behavior.

During this frozen frame my eyes are full of tears and my face is contorted into a scream for help.

"Mum-mee!"
She's too busy looking through the viewfinder. When I look at the picture now, I can see that I am crouched down and having trouble keeping my balance. I re-experience the confusion and the pain that I experienced then. How was I standing with the ground so far beneath my feet? How was my mother so nearby, yet so far out of reach? Why wasn't she helping me? The fact that my mother was out of reach didn't stop me from squeezing my arm through the bars and holding out my hand toward her in the vain hope that she would respond to my displays of need.

I don't really know why I keep the picture. It haunts me in a way. I think that I don't get rid of it because in a single camera click my entire childhood was predictably captured and summarized.



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