Tuesday, September 11, 2007
REACH FOR THE SKY
“Oh Mommy LOOK!” Cadence scurries past the glass-fronted aquariums and cages to the bird perch. She is fluttering with excitement as a long awaited promise to visit the new pet store is fulfilled. The building is massive and the staff comprised of animal-loving college kids in maroon colored shirts.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO TOUCH THE ANIMALS, PLEASE ASK FOR ASSISTANCE, read the signs posted at every station, but Cadence is not much for reading and reaches in to the birds. I glance at the young staffer to my right and she nods permission. The perch is dotted with noisy, colorful birds of all kinds: rainbow colored Macaws, white Cockatoos, green, orange and purple Parrots and an African Gray. Feisty green and orange Conures take to bullying a quiet bird and Cadence climbs up onto the low brick wall that surrounds the perch to intervene. She scolds the bullies and holds her finger under the belly of the gentle victim. The quiet bird steps lightly onto her finger.
“Oh Mommy she’s beautiful!” she says, bringing the bird close. The bird is the color of the sky on a perfect summer day; round soft head with black eyes and a smooth triangular red beak. She is truly beautiful. I read the signs on the wall to find out what she is and discover that she is an Indian Blue-Ringed Parakeet, appropriately named Sky. “Hello Sky.” Cadence coos and brings the bird close in front of her face. Sky tips her head as if understanding and then walks up Cadence’s arm to find a comfortable spot on her shoulder. They sit cheek to cheek in conversation, as I remind my daughter that we are only here to visit.
An hour has passed and it is time to leave. “Good-bye Sky, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Cadence whispers placing the bird back on the perch. She walks to the car wearing a sweet, satisfied smile. “I saved her from those bullies, Mom. I think she appreciated it. We really made a connection.” she smiles up at me reaching for my hand.
“You sure did.” I squeeze her hand, my own heart feeling the longing in hers.
“Can we come back to see her tomorrow?”
The following day, begging and pleading win me over as we pass the pet store on the way home from dance class and we find ourselves visiting again. “I know I can’t have her Mom, but I saved her from the bullies and we have a bond. I promised to visit.” Cadence walks, almost skipping through the double glass doors.
Past the hamsters and the lizards, past the Guinea Pigs and the rabbits, Cadence swoops in the direction of the bird perch to Sky. Seconds later they are cheek to cheek in quiet conversation.
Inside of me, a dichotomy of voice banters loudly. Please oh please…I’ll take care of her…I’ll do anything, please! My animal-loving inner child is quickly silenced by the practical adult who says, I told you… we only came to visit. We have enough pets and this is too expensive! I allow only the adult to speak outwardly, as Cadence voices my child. “Just a visit,” I remind her, “it’s too expensive.”
Our visits continue following dance classes for the next several weeks; Cadence’s knowledge and attachment growing. One Sunday after church, Brad is craving ‘family time’ and offers the February afternoon to anyone’s suggestion. “Please Daddy, come to see Sky! You will just love her!” The boys are eager to look at lizards and snakes so it is settled.
We hold puppies and pet chinchillas but the main attraction remains the summer blue bird who sits quietly on Cadence’s shoulder. Shoppers stop to admire the bird and Cadence tells them all that she has learned, sounding as if she works in the store. Later at home, she approaches her father, the snap-trap mouse hunter whose love for animals is little, but whose love of this little girl is immeasurable.
“Daddy, I know it’s not my birthday or Christmas or anything, but I will give up all my presents for the rest of the year, birthday and Christmas and everything, and I’ll sell all my old toys to help pay for her Daddy.”
There is a pause.
Not a “NO,” but a pause and a pause means possibility.
Then there is an “If…” and an “IF” is almost a “YES”!
Cadence scurries to her room and begins to pull toys from her shelf to sell at her “tag sale.” The pile of discarded toys grows, along with her determination to bring her new friend home.
Realizing that I am married to a practical man, I decide to research the possibility of locating a Blue Ring Parakeet for less money, knowing that a good deal could be the straw that might very well break him. I discover that another local pet store has two Indian Blue Rings, a little bit younger and a good bit cheaper, so I bring Cadence in to look. The visit is short, her face blank and she is not interested in holding the birds. “Don’t you at least want to hold one to see if you like him? They cost less money so Dad might be more willing to say yes.” She shakes her head no and asks to leave the store.
She is quiet in the back seat of the car, taking her time to let her heart guide her voice. “This is not about any bird, Mom. This is about a special bird. It is about Sky.” She looks down at her hands, twisting her fingers, searching for a way to make me understand. Head up, voice shaky and eyes glistening, “I know these birds are cheaper, but you can’t put a price on Love. We have a connection.” she says in a strong voice squeezing hard at the water in her eyes.
In our subsequent visits to the pet store, she tells the staff and shoppers that her Daddy is going to buy Sky for her when his tax check comes. I gently remind her that he has not actually said yes, and that someone could buy Sky at any time before the tax check comes and she would have to understand. It was secretly the hope of her father that this very scenario would play out and he would be off the hook.
Finally, one Monday evening in early March, Cadence’s persistence wears down her father’s resistance and he consents to putting a deposit on Sky. “Please Mom, can we go right now??” It is 7:30 pm and surely the store would be closed, so I agree to go early in the morning. Cadence is all wiggles and dimples at bedtime, unable to contain her excitement. It has been two month of wishing, hoping, pleading and praying and she doesn’t know how she can stand to wait one more night! I tuck her in with assurance that she will soar in the sky in her dreams this night.
The following morning I am greeted by a staff member who recognizes me right away, as we have spent a ridiculous amount of time here. I tell them I am here to fill out the contract and to put a deposit on Sky. They tell me to wait at the desk and my stomach tightens as I see one staffer speak to another and then vanish. I walk quickly back to the bird perch and am instantly relieved to see Sky among the feathered array. I return to the desk to finalize my daughter’s dream.
“I’m afraid I have bad news…” the manager of the store stands before me. “Someone came in last and bought the bird.”
“Are you sure… Because I just saw Sky in the back.” I ask, unable to believe this could be true.
“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry. They’re not coming for the bird until later today but they paid for it already.” He looked down to avoid my eyes.
“I can’t believe this.” my mind was racing, “My husband finally said yes last night… she’s so excited. I have showed her other Blue Rings that were actually cheaper, but she only wants this one. She said you can’t put a price on love.” I looked desperately at the maroon shirt before me.
“Could it have been your husband that came in and paid for it?” He asked, hope in his eyes. “It was just before closed at 9:00.”
“No.” I answered, thinking back to 7:30 when we assumed the store was closed. Timing is everything. “Who bought her?” I asked, hoping there was still a way to work this out. “Is there any way I could call to see if they would consider a different bird?” I asked him.
“I’m sorry.” he answered and I saw that he really was. “I can’t do that.”
I left the store with my stomach swirling and thought about the weeks of hoping and loving that I would have to look in the eye at the end of the school day.
If we had gone at 7:30…
If we hadn’t said yes at all…
The bus pulled up at the usual time and Cadence came hopping off full of joy. “I’m ready!” She chirped. “Can we go see Sky? Did you tell her that we are buying her? Did you make the deposit?” she asks, flinging her backpack the floor.
I paused and Cadence knew that this time, the pause did not mean possibility. “Honey, sit down for a minute. I have to tell you something.” I said.
She stood rigid before me. “Someone bought Sky.” She said flatly, her eyes filled with horror.
“I’m so sorry.” I said, feeling like I was announcing a death. “I went to the store and she was still there but someone had paid for her already and they’re picking her up today.” She stood motionless for a long moment.
“I need to go say good-bye.” she said through quivering lips, eyes wet with loss. I explained that Sky could be gone already and that if she was still there, saying good-by might be very sad and very difficult and perhaps we should just let her go.
“I need to say good-bye and tell her I love her and explain what happened. I need to tell her this is not what I wanted. We have a connection” She said with a small but certain voice that was succumbing to a sob.
She walked solemnly through the store to the perch where Sky sat with the rowdy parrots. Without speaking, she placed her on her shoulder and sat on the brick wall. She walked in circles and sat again, attempting to explain to her friend that this was not how she wanted it to be. She rolled her lips together and squeezed hard at the tears now forming in her eyes. A shopper stopped with her husband to pet a parrot. “I think something is wrong with that little girl,” she told the staffer, “she looks scared.”
“She’s fine.” I stepped in, “She’s just saying good-bye.” I gave a brief synopsis laced with guilt and sadness, as I watched the painful scene. The young staffers, now invested in the drama, agreed to give me the high sign when the new owner arrived. In what was probably an hour, although it seemed like seconds, the nod came, alerting me that he was there. I began to tell Cadence that the time had come to say a final good-bye and the staffer shook her head and asked me if it would be OK for Cadence to meet the man herself. She said she wanted Cadence to see that Sky was going to a good home, but I think she held hope that the man would melt with the tears of a little girl. I watched from the distance as Cadence bolstered herself, shoulders back and hands trembling.
I could not hear the conversation, but later learned that the staffer introduced Cadence as the little girl who came to say Good-bye to Sky. Cadence stood bravely before the tall man with gray hair, trying to keep the tears from spilling. He did not speak to directly to her, but quietly agreed to take the bird last after collecting his supplies.
It is a quiet ride home. Cadence stared out the window, knowing the first great sadness of her eight years. The manager told me that they were going to be getting featherless baby Blue Rings in April and that if we purchased one, Cadence could be part of the hand feeding. I offer the news as consolation; her silence speaks volumes.
We make several visits to see the babies when they arrive, but nothing tugs her heart strings. Finally, she admits that this is not about getting a bird, it was about that bird.
I recognize my offers of a baby bird are an effort are to ‘fix’ the problem; to mend her broken heart; to smooth her rumpled feathers. I am surprised at her honesty and her truth to self; not settling for the consolation prize.
This was not about acquiring a new pet for the sake of having one.
It was about love and connection.
It was about a bond and a destiny.
Now, it is about a bittersweet memory.