I Was a Teenage Bird-feeder

Prompt Day # 67: Walk around your house and make a list of three common household objects from three different rooms. Now–choosing one item from the list to fill in the blank–create a new piece entitled “I was a teenage _______.” If the first stab doesn’t work, try again with a different object. If it still doesn’t work, try “Attack of the 50-foot ________.” instead.

Ok, I admit that I sort of went outside the lines with this one. I walked in the room and the first thing I saw was the bird feeder right outside the window. As soon as I saw it, this story popped into my head. I mean the entire thing. I didn’t even have to think about it. What could I do? King Crow wanted his fable told. I suppose there is a moral there, maybe a couple, I don’t know. He knows though. He’s watching me right now, making sure I shared this with you all.

“I Was a Teenage Bird-feeder”

The day after I turned sixteen, I woke up and noticed a small pile of birdseed on my pillow. I thought it was strange but by the time I’d finished getting ready for school, I had forgotten all about it. I went about the day as usual until gym class when we were playing basketball and I got bumped a little too hard. I fell to the floor and hit my head; I both heard and felt the gravely sound of more seed coming out of my right ear. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed but they were already off after the ball. I got up and brushed myself off, pushed the seed around with my foot and went back to the game. The seed continued falling out of my ear as the day progressed. I would first hear the sound, like a rain stick, and then feel the little pieces of millet and cracked corn rolling down my ear canal. I managed to keep it a secret thanks to the warning noise; I’d lean my head on my hand and catch the seed, collect it in my desk and throw it away in a rumpled up piece of paper on my way out of class. At the end of the day, I was standing around chatting with the guys when Audrey, a girl I’ve been flirting with, came up behind me. She giggled and brushed some seeds off my shoulder.

“Hey, there Adam, what’d you eat for lunch today? One of those hippy granola bars?” I feigned ignorance.

“Huh? What are you talking about?” I’m a quick thinker.

“You had a bunch of bird seed looking stuff on your shoulder.” She said.

“I don’t know, probably some asshole put it there in Bio.” I said. It was possible. She looked at me for a second then shook her head and walked away. I shouldn’t have sworn. I’ve been trying to impress her for two years now; I just really needed to get out of there before someone saw it coming out of me.

That night, at dinner, I decided I needed to tell my parents and get a doctor’s appointment made. Somehow, I had gotten an ear-full of seeds and it would need cleaned.

“So the weirdest thing happened today.” I started. Both my parents stopped eating and immediately looked up at me. I rarely got that kind of reaction, when I talked about my day.

“What happened? Are you feeling ok?” My mother said, getting up and coming over to me. She put her hand on my forehead like she did when I was a kid.

“I feel fine, I’m not sick, Ma, get off me. It’s just somehow, and do not laugh, somehow I got a bunch of bird seed in my ear.” I pointed to my right ear, “and it’s really bugging me, it kept falling out all day at school which could have been totally embarrassing if anyone had seen it. Anyways, I guess I probably need to get an appointment with Dr. Passarella and get it cleaned out.” My mother looked at my father and I saw them exchanged worried looks. My mom grabbed my ear and looked inside, and then, she stuck her finger in it!

“Hey!” I shoved her. “Knock it off. Geez, Mom, what is wrong with you? It’s just some seed.” I said.

“It’s only coming out of your right ear?” She asked, “Not both?”

“How would I have gotten bird seed in both of my ears?” I asked. She shrugged.

“Just making sure.” She said and then looked at my dad again. “Bill, when was the last time we put feed out for the birds?”

“It’s been awhile, just sort of slipped my mind” He said quietly as if he was in a lot of trouble for not feeding the birds.

“Hello? Remember me? Your son? Can we focus on my little problem? Can one of you guys call Dr. P tomorrow and get me an appointment?” I said, slightly irritated with their sudden ADD.

“Yeah, sure Son, I’ll take care of it.” My father said, never taking his eyes off my mom. They were weird. And getting old. I was a late in life surprise baby after they’d been told for twenty some years that they couldn’t have kids.

I went to bed that night feeling better about the bird seed problem. I figured most of it had fallen out anyways and the rest would be out before much longer. That night, I had dreams of birds circling my head, pecking at me, and one large black bird in particular that seemed to be trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand him. All I could hear was “Caw” echoing in my head. I woke up with a bad headache and a stiff arm. In fact, my left arm was so stiff I couldn’t move it at all. My elbow was bent at a 90 degree angle and even my skin felt stiff and hard. There were millet and sunflower seeds all through my bed too. I got out of bed and made my way downstairs. Mom was in the kitchen making tea.

“So, I think I’m gonna need to see the doctor today, I can’t move my arm” I said. She jumped and spilt the hot tea all down the front of herself. It had just come out of the kettle. My arm was forgotten and my mom got to see the doctor instead of me. She ended up with second and third degree burns on her arm and stomach. We spent the rest of the day home together watching old Hitchcock movies–mom’s fav, not mine–and eating ice cream. Dad had to serve us since we each only had one working arm.

“Now that you’re both taken care of, I’m going to go call Dr. P, and see if we can’t get you in.” Dad said and took off to his study. He returned with bad news, for me, that Dr. P was on vacation and would not be back until the end of the month. He said the office agreed to write me an off-school slip anyways until I could get in to see him. It was fine with me. I wasn’t in any pain, it more annoying than anything really.

“Bill, I think you need to go get those bird-feeders out and filled. Why don’t you head to the store and get some of that expensive feed we used to use. And better buy a few more feeders too.” Mom said, glancing at me. Dad nodded and headed out promising to be home in time to feed us dinner.

By the time Dad got back, I could no longer stand. My legs were useless, they felt boneless. Mom was frantic. She was yelling at him to get the feeders out right away and what the hell took him so long anyways. Dad took one look at me and ran. My father is sixty. I haven’t seen him run since I was a kid, yet the man ran. He put up dozens of feeders; specialized ones for hummingbirds and oriels, suet feeders and ones full of dried worms. I watched from my chair by the window, it was all I could do. You would think I would be frightened by the changes that were happening to me but I wasn’t. It all seemed so natural. In fact, the more things changed, the more the old me felt unnatural.

When all the feeders were up and full, Dad came back in and sat down with us. We all watched, waiting for some feathered friends to discover that it was Thanksgiving at Bill and Karla’s. I fell asleep. I dreamt I was sitting on the front porch swing watching all the birds. There were so many of them and so many different kinds. Some would even come sit on my lap and pick at the seeds that had fallen from my ears. I liked how the birds trusted me. I was their friend and they were mine. The big black bird came then. He flew right up to my head and then he leaned far into my ear, his whole head fit in it somehow. He was trying to tell me something. I listened very carefully.

“You belong to them for now. They need you. As long as they care for us, they will care for you.” His voice was soft and hoarse but at the same time, it had a power behind it. He was calm and comforted by the bird king’s words. He felt a warmth flow through him, he relaxed.

“Adam! Adam! Wake up! Adam! Can you hear me? Honey, wake up!” I was jarred out of the dream. I was being shaken. I opened my eyes and Mom’s face was right there.

“Ah!” I screamed.

“Oh Thank God!” She sighed. “Adam, we thought, well, something is happening to you and we thought maybe you…” She started to cry. My dad came up behind me and I felt his hand on my head. Except it didn’t feel quite right. I reached up and moved his hand. My head was smooth. There was not a single hair there. I turned around and my hair was everywhere. All over the chair, just none left on my head.

“Son, your mother and I, well, we need to tell you something. A story I guess you’d say, and when we’re done, you might think we’re a couple of loonies or maybe you’ll be angry. And either way, you’re probably right. But no matter what, you need to understand that we love you and always will. We’ve made mistakes, what parents haven’t? We just, awe, Hell Josh, I need to shut up. I’m no good at this stuff. Your Ma needs to take over. Karla, you gotta tell the boy before it’s too late.” I looked at my mother. She was sobbing quietly. Her eyes were puffy and red, but she nodded, sniffled and cleared her throat.

“Well, you know that when we first got married, we were told we would never be able to have children. We considered adopting but it just didn’t seem right, we weren’t sure we could love that child like our own flesh and blood and we knew if we weren’t 100% sure then we couldn’t do it. So, we resigned ourselves to living childless. Bill got himself a couple birdfeeders and we found that we really enjoyed the birds and started buying more and more feeders. We would sit here in these chairs and watch our birds. They became our children, Adam. We loved every single one of them.” She was staring out the window watching a memory. There were no birds at the feeders now.

“Your mother and I sort of got into making bird feeders and houses and such for them.” Dad took over when he saw Mom lost in thought. “One year, she came home with this big, round gourd she’d bought at the Farmer’s market. You know how at the end of the season they do the last few with all sorts of pumpkins and fall goodies? Well, she comes home and asks me if I can’t drill a couple holes in the sides of it. She had an idea she said. Well, she explains her idea and I put a couple half dollar sized holes in the thing. It’s all hollowed out, and she paints the sweetest little face on the thing.” Mom snapped out of it and turned back to me. She stroked my cheek and smiled.

“I made some overalls and a shirt for him and stuffed him full of straw and tinsel—the crows love sparkly things like that, they put it in their nests—and I bought him a little pair of work boots and some gloves. I posed him so his hands rested in his lap and I poured some seed in them. Then your dad filled his head with bird seed and we put him on the front porch swing. Oh, he was such a sweet looking little thing. And the birds all loved him. Especially the crows. Sometimes, I would sit out on the swing with him and talk to him about the birds. And I admit, sometimes I even pretended he was my child.” She touched me again. I could barely feel it.

“Here’s where it gets a little strange, son. This is the part where you gotta suspend your disbelief and try to understand” my dad piped in. By this time I had a pretty good idea what she was going to say. I nodded.

“That night, I had a dream. In it, one of the big crows came to me. We called him King Crow because he always seemed like he was watching over the other birds and he was so much bigger than the other crows. He told me that because we had been so kind to them, they wanted to give something back to us. He said he would give me my gourd boy to love as my own. He said as long as we continued to care for them, I could keep him. Well, I woke up the next morning and by the time I headed downstairs for a cup of coffee, I’d forgotten all about the dream. I was standing at the coffee pot when I saw you sitting out there on the porch swing, just swinging away, watching the birds. You turned your head and looked at me. You smiled and waved. Then you said ‘Hi Mommy’ and came running in the house, as if you’d been with us all along. I thought I was still dreaming until your father came down and of course he was just as shocked. I pulled him aside and told him about my dream and how I’d found you when I came down.”

“Well, of course I thought she was crazy, but there you were and our little gourd feeder was gone so I had no choice but to believe it.” Dad said.

“You know, Adam, we never meant to forget to take care of the birds. It’s just the further we got from that day, the more like a dream the whole thing had become and the more we came to believe that you were our biologically born son. Life got busy all of a sudden, and one Spring, we forgot to fill the feeders. Nothing happened so soon, we took them all down. Still nothing. We just….forgot. Honestly.” She said, tears falling down her cheeks. I reached out my right hand, the only extremity I still had use of and wiped it away.

“It’s ok Mom, Dad. I have had a wonderful life. A life I wouldn’t have had at all if it weren’t for you. I understand. But a deal’s a deal. I have to go back now, I think. But you know, it doesn’t hurt. It sort of feels good in a way. It feels more…natural.” I said. I asked Dad if I could use my lap top and decided to write my story down before I go. I’d like them to be able to read this anytime they start to forget again and think maybe I was just a dream too. I hope they remember me and in doing so, remember the importance of keeping a promise, especially to those who’ve come to depend on you.

Mom, Dad: I hope you both know how much I love you and how thankful I am to the King Crow for giving me to you even if only for a little while. I hope the birds come back so you’re not so lonely.

I finished my story just in time. My arm is starting to stiffen up. I think I’ll ask Dad to take me out to the porch swing where it all began. But before that I have just enough strength left to pluck a piece of tinsel from my stuffing. I’m going to leave it here on my keyboard. They can keep it close to their nest, a shiny reminder of what love can do.

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