The first pet I ever had of my own was a fledgling mockingbird I named Brighty. I found him while I was staying at my grandmother’s in Texas one spring. I rescued him from the dive bombs of blue jays and the prowling of Aunt May’s feral cats. I was out playing bat-and-catch myself—hitting the ball as high into the air as I could hit it, then dropping the bat and running after it.
At some point I must have come too close to his hiding spot in the hedge, for he launched into his full-throated cries, squawking and scolding and flapping his barely feathered wings, his eyes wet and huge. Utterly flightless, he spun in circles in the leaves. He was clearly doomed—ants would find him soon—and I scooped him up and ran back to my grandmother’s to show her my prize, my new playmate.
For the next day and a half we kept him in a large cardboard box, fed him little rolled-up pills of white bread dipped in milk. His cries were still raucous but they were shouted now with confidence rather than fear, and any time he perceived we were near, he set up an even louder racket and began throwing himself at the high walls of his enclosure, leaping and squawling and waiting for the next communion.
He lasted thirty-six hours, and when he died—perhaps simply from not having the warmth of others in his nest, or perhaps from dehydration—it seemed to me that my grief was bottomless. I was aware of my grandmother’s own grief for me—her helplessness to dilute it in any way, even while knowing it was something I needed to pass through—but not even for her sake could I temper mine. If I could bring him back, I would, she said.
We are drawn to animals, and always they soothe our loneliness, they buck us up in what is sometimes a hard and lonely life. What if the superior eye of “another”—able to influence our lives, as we influence the lives of certain animals—gazes out at us with similar yearning, hope for companionship? What if that “other”—powerful enough already—is made even more whole by the responsibility of affection, the responsibility of love?
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