Posted by jdg | Thursday, May 17, 2007

Yesterday morning, Wood woke me to say there was a dead bird on our back stoop. There was another one, she said, a few feet away. She thought the second was alive but injured, because it did not move away when the dog ran out the back door. It just stood there and looked at her.

"That happens sometimes when you live in a glass house," I replied. "They think they can fly through to the other side. I had to clean up two dead sparrows just last week." And then I went back to sleep.

After Wood went to work that morning, I went out back and found the dead warbler. It looked like it might have been killed by our neighbor's cat and presented on our shared stoop. A thin conga line of ants approached and encircled the corpse, all headed for the eye sockets and their gooey fluid. I scooped the bird up with a garden trowel and tossed it into the vine-shrouded ground beneath a lilac tree. I looked around the backyard for a second bird, but there was none. Lucky bird, I thought.

When we went to bed last night, Wood reminded me of finding the bird, and told me she thought it was a bad omen. She described the bird's nest that had fallen in her parents' backyard last year, and how they'd attempted to nurse and feed the chicks inside, writing her e-mails every day about their progress. Ultimately, she said, they died. And a few months later, her stepfather learned he had acute myelogeneous leukemia and their lives haven't been anything close to the same since.

"You're being silly," I said. "We live in a glass house. These things happen. Shut up with the Julius Caesar shit already and let me sleep."

But of course, my mind was now on fire with thoughts of doom. "The thing is," Wood said, "We make choices, and we can make good choices and bad choices. We control what happens to us," she said, and we tried to sleep with one of mankind's greatest philosophical debates raging in our heads. The sordid image of that dead warbler would not dissipate with other thoughts. "Sometimes, in the morning," Wood said, "The birds are so loud outside I think they are Juniper calling to me to let me know she's awake."

I hear birds hit our windows a few dozen times a day. Our neighborhood would be like a M*A*S*H unit for veterinarians wishing to specialize in avian head trauma. Whatever he was, Mies van der Rohe was no friend to birds. I believe in glass walls, I told myself, not omens or fate. Still, I remembered the thoughts I'd had while driving across the eastern plains of Colorado last August, while Wood and Juniper both slept, leaving me to ruminate on our move in silence. I imagined the Juniper who would have grown up in San Francisco; I imagined myself as a wealthy partner at the law firm where I had been working. All of that future was behind us now, and I felt the weight of it. I heard the voice of a teenage Juniper, like the narrator of a Terence Malick film, asking me why we'd done this, taking her away from such certain beauty and security, heading into the uncertainty of unemployment and the East. "What fate is this you've chosen for me?" teenage Juniper asked, the wind blowing through a field of Colorado wheat in slow motion. I still have no good answer. It is overwhelming, sometimes, to realize that every thing that happens in her life will have its source in the decisions I have made, and the decisions I continue to make.