A lone red-breasted bird in my yard uses his beak like tiny tongs to pick up wet, rotting maple leaves. The leaves stick together, but he manages to flip over these soggy pancakes, and delve into the underneath. He must be looking for something–bugs, maybe–because he’s very diligent and focused. He doesn’t notice me watching from the window of my office. Of course. Why would a bird notice me?
Today I awoke hating myself. The sky is gray, but the drizzle’s not mean-spirited, more half-hearted really, so there’s no good reason for me to feel depressed. I even worked out, ate salmon, and spent time with two lovely ladies. I have no right to be down, but sometimes sadness is inexplicable.
I want an explanation. I want something I can put my back into. If I knew The Why, I’d attend to it, with purpose, like that bird. He knows why he goes about uncovering. He finds a beetle, maybe, or a worm. A thing that sustains him. He doesn’t loathe himself or what he finds. He’s a bird.
I try looking for my thing, the whatever-it-is that makes me want to cry and curl up. I replay a week’s worth of memories. I remember shoveling out the soiled shavings from the chicken coop, taking a walk with my husband, watching Silver Linings Playbook at the theater, a dinner out with my family, a late night phone conversation with a friend about writing. None of these are it.
I keep uncovering. There was that trip to the grocery store when I forgot to pick up dish washing detergent, but that’s not really a self-loathing offense. I keep looking.
I look outside for the bird. At first I don’t see him because his brown back and red belly blend almost perfectly with the dark rusty leaves. His movement catches my eye, and I am glad I see him. Still there.
I wonder if he has a friend who he nestles his wing up against at night and rests his head on while he sleeps.
My husband and I don’t see each other all day and by the time he gets home from his job and a lengthy commute, it is dark. I’ve missed him, but he is tired. He’s been flipping leaves all day. Well, his version–the industrious labor that keeps our bills paid. I am grateful.
But I don’t seem like it.
When he walks in the door, I’m bursting with talk about birds and the quality of the rain and why people get sad. He wants to eat and sleep and prepare for flipping leaves, which is a noble and necessary pursuit.
What do I do? What good is time spent analyzing and anthropomorphizing birds? Or feeling sad on a bleak day? Or wishing for a warm wing to nestle up against?
How can that bird go all day, by himself, flipping leaves over his head without wondering if there’s something more? Maybe he does wonder. To himself, while he’s flipping leaves. Maybe that’s enough for him.
I want that to be enough for me, too. I want to be self-contained. I don’t want to need.
Sometimes, I pretend I’m like that guy who could slow his heart down and withstand long periods of time in icy water. I slow myself down. I try to stop talking, interacting. What’s the very least I can need, but still exist?
I try to kill the need in me. The need for connection, for relationship. The desire for a warm other to rest my head on while I sleep. If I didn’t have that, I would be stronger. Impervious. Nothing could make me sad.
But I can’t hold my need in for very long, and when I let go of it, it’s like the guy in the icy water. If he lost control of his mind and body, his heart would speed up suddenly. The water would feel colder, shocking. How terrifying. His fingers and toes would begin to pulse with pain. Maybe his heart would stop or he would freeze to death.
Today the cold is getting to me. I feel like I’m thrashing around in a tank of icy water. I barely have control of myself. I look at a photo of my husband and think, YOU! You put me in this tank! even though I know that’s not true.
There’s no tank of icy water.
There’s just me, in my office, looking out at a bird.