When I first saw him, he looked ordinary–one of many birds that flit around in countless pet shop cages. I was unaware that they had distinct personalities. He was a brilliant turquoise blue with a yellow head. My daughter had had a succession of failed pet experiments, including a goldfish disaster of 2992 that I still shudder to think about. “You mean you have to feed them?” Fish and crabs had all died. We already had a cat that didn’t express interest in children. So this parakeet was the next step.
Since parakeets are social, and he didn’t have a friend, I took upon myself to give him attention. I put him in the home office and he would sit on the window ledge and talk. He emitted a long unmelodious series of chirps, squawks and warbles. Some of the sounds were vaguely human words. The bird would climb up my arm and sit on my shoulder. He pecked at my hair like he was grooming me. He licked the salt off my skin after a workout with his rough tongue. I found it soothing to have a bird perched on me.
I was one of his flock.
Neptune had special skills. He liked to fling his toys off of the top of the cage. He would spin his Ferris wheel. He dropped things that hung in his cage to wake my daughter up when she failed to arise soon enough to let him out.
After a year, my daughter decided that Neptune needed a friend. She saw the bright yellow bird in the store and had to have her. My daughter named her Saturn. After that, Neptune bonded with her more than people and started to talk “bird” more than “human.” They had conversations together and chattered nonstop. The first thing upon waking, Neptune would go straight to her cage.
These two birds lived for years. But recently, I found Neptune puffed up and lethargic. He squawked in pain whenever he had to move. His leg was limp. I realized something was seriously wrong with him, so I took him to a vet.
The vet suggested $900 worth of invasive tests and procedures, but if he was really that sick, the procedures would not prolong his life much. I took him home, not sure what to do. I hated to see him suffer.
He flew into Saturn’s cage, but all he could do is huddle on the bottom. When I checked on him later in the evening. I was shocked to see his limp body. I took him out and put him in a paper towel by his own cage, with the faint hope that he wasn’t dead. I was sad, but relieved that he wasn’t miserable anymore.
In the morning, he was in the same state, so I put him out on the patio. I don’t usually cry, but his death was unspeakably sad, touching some deep melancholy inside. The reaction reminded me of how I felt when I went back to the vacant house I had lived in for eighteen years and saw the empty hummingbird feeders. My ex had left me and I was stuck with a house that I had to sell. Seeing the hungry hummingbirds reminded me of the sense of abandonment and loss and the inevitability of change. Like then, the intensity of sadness that came out of nowhere surprised me. Neptune was a connection to my old life that was gone.
I had to tell my daughter that her beloved pet was gone. When I told her, she started crying and so did I. Neptune meant a great deal to her, and she missed him.
I often wonder why humans are so fascinated with animals and form such strong relationships with them. Maybe we don’t want to be alone on the planet and animals are part of our world. They bring us joy, love and peace. A strong nurturing instinct makes us want to help them if they are sick or injured. Unassuming small creatures hop into our lives, steal our hearts with their antics and have a huge impact. This ordinary parakeet wasn’t so ordinary after all.