Loss

I’ve had a lot of losses in my life in the last several years, and I don’t really talk about it too much. It’s not something mentioned unless asked about, and they aren’t memories I like reliving.

It began in in June of 2008 when my father suddenly died from complications from type 2 diabetes. We had no idea it was coming, so it was one of the worst things I’ve experienced. A year later, my Grandfather passed. I was very close to both of them.

A month after my Grandfather’s passing, my Grandmother had a stroke that compromised half of her body. She remained lucid, and with physical therapy regained mobility with a walker. My mother and I cared for her for about seven years. With declining health, she too finally passed in August of last year. She was tired of going through all the health issues and being in the hospital. I even told her when she was still lucid that it was okay to let go, and that Mom and I would be fine.

I have no idea what happens when we die, or if any essence of who we are survives beyond this experience. All I have to take solace in is that none of them are suffering anymore, and that despite the loss of their unique sparks, life still remains here. Religion is not enough to convince me either way, and cannot answer any of the most pressing questions I have. Even scientific knowledge has it’s limits, as it has only begun to scratch the surface of all knowledge in the universe.

I suppose that makes me a pain in the ass when it comes to belief or non-belief. I don’t necessarily believe in a deity, but rather a system of multi-layered planes of existence we can’t yet comprehend. I don’t think of it as having a driver, but more like a river that flows through everything, continuing whatever processes life and death become. All of it is unfalsifiable in either direction, and yet, I still find myself hoping for whatever it is to exist. Only for the need to see my lost family again, to know that they still exist in some form. Maybe a part of their energy became part of the universe, making the cogs turn somewhere. How could I ever know? How could anyone or anything ever answer such a question?

Now I have lost yet another loved one. A companion of sixteen years, and my only true confidant. Riko ,a young quaker parrot, had been purchased from a breeder in north Florida in late 1999. I had to hand feed her baby bird formula every few hours, until she was weaned to solid foods. Quakers are named for the “quaking head” behavior when they are babies, and they often retain this trait into adulthood.

I was only fifteen when I got Riko, and we grew up learning and experiencing new things together. I read about parrots often just so I could continue to improve her life. I found out quickly that she loved to take baths in my bathroom sink, just like a duck to water. I had to cover the counter with towels to keep everything from getting wet by all her splashing. I occasionally took her in the shower with me where she’d bathe in the tub, or just sit on the towel rack and get some of the steam. When she was done, she looked ridiculous with her drenched feathers, but she really enjoyed herself. During winter months I would use my blow dryer on low setting to dry her off to keep her warm.

Riko after a good shower
Riko after a good shower
Riko on her cage door
Riko on her cage door

I always had Riko on my shoulder, whether watching TV, doing the dishes, painting, or writing. I always gave her a bit of my dinner as long as it was bird safe, and I often cooked veggies for her. In the last few years, I began taking her with me on dog walks. I made a perch for her carrier and strapped it to my back so she could get out to see the world with me. I sometimes got stared at, and I know I probably looked weird, but I didn’t care. I was doing it all for her benefit, and that meant more to me than what any passer by thought. There are so many nuances of life with this little bird that I can’t possibly list them all here. All the things I remember and miss through the haze of grief; all the funny moments, every time she bit me for some perceived offense, the way she smelled, the feel of feathers cuddled up next to my skin, a little beak playing with my hair, and when she’d tuck herself underneath my hair like it was a private hideaway. I still think I hear some of the calls and sounds she used to make sometimes, even though she’s not here.

riko-me-cuddles DSC05174

In 2007, I went through a very severe depression, along with a move out of state. I was suicidal, and had many days I just didn’t want to get out of bed. Every morning she would squawk for me to open her cage door, so like a robot, I got up and did just that. Her cage was right near my bed, so I returned to my bed to crawl beneath the sheets. I was so taken over by misery and despair that I didn’t hear or notice she had managed to climb onto the bed. There was a moment when she stuck her little head under the comforter to look at me with one eye as if to say, “What’s wrong with you? Get up!” I knew then that I couldn’t leave her or the rest of my family behind. Just by being there in that moment, she saved my life.

Fast forward to 2015. This is when I realized she had health issues I hadn’t been aware of. Riko sustained a broken leg after being startled by a Halloween decoration and landing hard on concrete on my front porch. After getting x-rays, the vet discovered she had a calcium deficiency disease that made her bones brittle. It had little to do with diet since she was getting a good brand of pellets, veggies, fruits, and nuts. That vet stated that it could have been genetic in origin. From then on, I was careful of where I took Riko, and of the surroundings.

In 2016, I had to rush her to an emergency vet after she started having difficulty breathing. She was put on oxygen for 3 days, given some intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. I thought for sure I was going to lose her, and I was inconsolable. Blood tests came back with an elevated white blood cell count, but everything else appeared to be okay. Eventually, she came home once she did well enough to breathe without oxygen. Upon recheck with my usual vet, she was given another round of antibiotics just to be on the safe side, and from the tests, and my account of what had happened, he concluded that it was likely teflon exposure. I threw out every piece of non-stick cookware in the house, and have stuck to stainless steel, and aluminum for cooking. So, life returned to normalcy, or so I believed it would.

A few weeks after this scare, Riko began egg laying. Something she’d never done in all the years before. She never had any trouble passing the eggs, but I imagine it still hurt quite a bit. She laid a total of seven before she was done. She had to have an injection given in order to prevent further egg production, as it is such a stressful process on birds. It not only tires them out, but it depletes the calcium from their bones. I had to give crushed eggshells for a while just to make sure she had extra during this time. She never showed any maternal behavior toward the eggs, and most of them had cracked when they landed. She had laid them from high up on one of her perches.

In early April 2016, Riko had been more cuddly than usual in the past few days, often snuggling into the crook of my neck. Late one evening, I got up from what I was doing and took a look at her. She was panting, so I tried to get her to step onto my hand. She tried but nearly fell, and started having a seizure. She was still aware, but couldn’t right herself. Deep down I knew she had been through too much already, and that she might not make it this time. I rushed her to the emergency vet again, they put her on oxygen again, and then came in to discuss what they thought could be happening to her. They didn’t want to do too much because she was already in a fragile state. I knew I might have to make the decision, but I really didn’t want to. I didn’t yet know if she would recover or not, and I didn’t want to rob her of that chance. Within minutes, fate made the decision for her, and she passed. I knew that it could happen, but not so soon. I thought we would have many more years together.

They brought her body in a towel for me to hold one last time. I touched and kissed her little head , her lifeless eyes still open.

That night I went home both in pain and numbed from it all. I arranged to have Riko cremated so I could have her ashes with me. The following week, I picked them up from the ER vet. She’s in a cherry wood box with a plaque with her name and “Beloved Companion” underneath. They also made an imprint of her feet on a piece of plaster for me. I can’t tell you how much I miss her little feet. All I have left besides that are some of her tail feathers, and some of her toys.

While I am in pain, something in me has shut down on expressing it with others. I get that some people don’t view pets as family, or even as something worthy of being attached to. So, I’m wary of who I express my emotions to. I’m not someone who opens up easily during times of grief. I shut down, go numb, get angry, and in private moments, cry. It’s similar to the process I experienced in losing my father; the initial shock, sadness, anger, and then crying. I couldn’t cry for the first six months after he died.

Just knowing there are people around that see me as pathetic for being attached to a bird does make me angry, even though I know they have a right to their opinion. That’s where the anger stems from. No one’s even said anything to me like this, but I have a sense of people who feel that way in my extended family. I don’t care for them much anyway, but it still bothers me.

One of the most significant reasons I was so attached to Riko was that for a long time, she was the only friend I had. I went through a period of my teenage years with little to no friends, and all I had was that little bird to come home to and love on. It’s sad how when you need friends the most, they can’t be counted on. It’s a similar case when dealing with depression. People often shy away from someone so sad, and don’t really want to help or be around you. I can’t blame them in a way.

As a result of that experience, I stopped relying on the company of others, and didn’t go out of my way to make any friends either. I had my Mom, Dad, and Grandparents, and for a long time, that was enough. It hurt sometimes being alone otherwise, but I dealt with it. I had my little buddy, and as long as she was happy, I was too.

In the last few years I’ve gotten a little better at reaching out, and making acquaintances. I still have apprehension, but I’m okay. I still go through moments of sadness that I bottle up, and then eventually I release it one way or another.

It’s going to be a long time dealing with Riko’s absence, let alone all the others that came before.

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A Prologue From A Long Time Project

It’s been too long since I updated, but I’d like to share something I’ve been working on for a while. This is only the beginning. I would honestly like feedback on this if anyone’s willing to give it. Without further ado…

 

 

Prologue

The dark gray eyes of eleven year old Daya Evanoff glared icily at the home now occupied by the murderers of her family. She had a score to settle with these men.

It had happened three days before. A war was just beginning, and Daya had only heard hushed whispers of it between her parents. She was too busy thinking of how to convince her father to let her get a dog. Avi, her sixteen year old brother, laughed at her attempts to sway their father, as he already knew the outcome. At the dinner table, Daya inquired on the subject for what seemed like the millionth time.

“Dad, come on,” she pleaded innocently. “We’ve never had a pet, and other families have dogs all the time.”

Her father just smiled kindly, saying, “Daya, this is a rough time right now, and we can’t afford -”

That’s when the men with guns burst through the front door.

One of them shouted, “GET ON THE GROUND NOW! EVERYONE! NOW!”

One of the men walked forward, having noticed Daya’s brother, Avi standing in shock, and shot him in the head. Everyone started screaming. Daya’s mother stumbled over her son’s collapsed body, crying and screaming. The gunman grabbed her by her hair, and pulled her up to his level. He held her with the gun to her head, and met eyes with Daya’s father.

“Just so we understand who’s in control,” he said gruffly. “I’ll be holdin’ onto Mom for a while. In the meantime, we’ll be taking any food, medicine, anything you have. Don’t be stupid, and everyone walks away alive.”

Two of the men tied Daya’s and her father’s hands behind their backs, and shoved them face down on the floor. It was then that her mother began screaming again as the men tore off her clothes. Daya felt a hot rage boiling inside her as her father shouted in anger. Each of the men took their turns raping and sodomizing her mother.

Unbeknownst to Daya, her father had managed to cut the cords binding him. She remembered the hunting knife he always carried. He quickly whispered to his daughter, “As soon as I cut you free, I want you to run. I don’t care what you hear, keep running.”

Daya witnessed her father become a blur of motion, effectively dispatching two men with his knife. She stood frozen, and he turned for the last time and shouted. “Go!”

She ran for the door, and out into the forest nearby. She had wanted to stay and fight alongside her father. She knew he was a war veteran, having served once when she’d been very young. He knew what he was doing, but that didn’t make her any happier. A fair distance away, Daya could hear echoing gunfire. Deep down, she knew her parents were now dead.

Two cold nights she waited, drinking from a stream and eating tubers like her father once taught her to find. She also found his weapons cache. She never cried aloud. Over those two days in the forest, a cold rage began to seep into her bones, replacing what was once fear. A decidedly more predatory part of her had awakened.

On the third night, Daya spied her home from safe distance, watching, and waiting. She noticed one of the men wandering out of the house carrying a beer. Clearly drunk, and preparing to take a piss on the trash pile that littered the area just a few yards away from the house. Silent as a shadow, she slid out of the forest. As he emptied his bladder with a sigh of relief, Daya leapt onto his back.

A shard of broken glass dog deep into his throat from behind, robbing him of any death cry. As he fell to his knees choking on his own blood, Daya slid the shard across his throat to finish it. The man fell to the ground, his body twitching in desperation for breath that wouldn’t come. With one man down, she could begin what she came for. She had not come unprepared.

Among the many things her father taught her and her brother, one involved the mine cache. Just this year, he had taken them both out to the cache in the forest, and trained them on how to use the mines. Avi had already been through the procedures, but he went along to help Daya learn it just the same. A safeguard in case things got ugly, her father had said. The mines were little more than black discs about an inch thick and seven inches wide. It was only when the holo-controls were activated that they appeared more complex.

Daya crept up to the side of the house, just underneath an open window. Carefully, she peered around the corner to the backyard. Laying a few feet from the back door with three bodies piled like day old trash. In the darkness, she didn’t need to see any detail to know it was Mom, Dad, and Avi. A present, but distant sadness arose in her. There were no tears left to cry, and only one thing left to finish.

Under the open window, Daya layed out three mines; each one for a life taken. Activating the holo-controls, she programmed a thirty second delay to allow for her escape. No hesitation when she threw the mines through the window with all her hatred. She darted back to the safety of the forest, and waited.

Silence hung for a moment, then fearful shouting rang out too late. The first mine detonated with a thundering crack and vivid flame so intense it sent a shockwave that shook the trees. Daya ducked down to brace herself, she had to see this through to the end.

In the five seconds that followed, one screaming man ran out of burning home, he himself covered in flames. He didn’t get far before the second and then third blasts expanded out, propelling debris in every direction. A piece of the house impaled him, and he collapsed in flames. If there was anyone left screaming, their cries were drowned out by the roaring flames.

With only minor cuts and bruises, Daya watched the inferno consume her former home. In that moment, her bloodlust was sated. She managed to kill every one of the fuckers. She would’ve started grieving right then if only she could feel anything. Only a cold, numb emptiness seemed to take its place. Mental state aside, surviving the next few days would have to take priority.

For roughly a week, Daya stayed in the forest, subsisting on little each day. Days and nights seemed to blur, making her question whether or not she existed in some suspended dream. Something needed to change soon. After bedding down next to her father’s cache for one final night, Daya lay awake among the sounds of owls and howling coyotes. The cache held supplies other than the mines. Crates buried under a tree contained food rations, and medical supplies. Daya could stay here if she was stubborn, but eventually, someone else might come along wanting what was here. Alone, she wouldn’t stand a chance. She had to find a better option.

She set out at daylight into the nearest town, unsure of what she would find. Abandoned, and collapsed buildings were common sight. Broken asphalt to piles of rubble. Not surprising considering the toll of war, but still startling to see in the flesh. It was why her father had chosen to live so far out of town, nearer to wilderness. Even that forethought hadn’t saved them.

Her thoughts stewed until hunger gripped her stomach painfully. Cold winds of an approaching winter blew through her mop of unkempt brunette hair. The clothes she wore barely kept her pale, thin form warm enough. A numbness not from the cold had already made itself at home inside her.

A ruckus of crows nearby caught her attention. Daya turned off the asphalt to follow their chorus. She wondered if they were the same flock that roosted in the forest with her at night. For all their squawking, they were the only familiar company she had left. On occasion their calls had alerted her to food sources; trees bearing fruit or edible flowers. Once, they’d chased after a swarm of grasshoppers, almost as if to dare Daya to try the same. It hadn’t been the best meal she ever had, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

Presently, she found the flock tearing apart the remains of a wooden house. As she walked closer, the resident termite infestation became obvious. Some of the black birds were snapping up mouthfuls of the bugs, while others used sticks to dig further into the hive for grubs. Daya took her own handful as a quick snack, eating them quickly so as not to be bitten by the angry drones.

After watching for a few minutes, she recognized one of the birds; a crow baring a small white patch on one wing. This was the same flock from the forest after all. Just as they appeared sated with their share of termites, the crows took flight toward the heart of the town. Again, she would follow the murder of black birds.

She noticed more people passing her on the streets on the way. If the old stores were still open, they might have some stale bread, or dried meat. As she rounded on the old shopping square, she realized they were barely functioning, if not already abandoned. Busted windows, empty shelves, and a smattering of last minute scavengers told of a wave of looting now days over. Daya entered one of the stores, empty of anyone, and found a small bag of dried fish meat that had been kicked underneath shelving during the fray. She sat outside on an old bench eating a few pieces of the jerky.

Once more, the voices of crows drew her in again. Something was different about these calls. They were desperate and frantic. Sounds she had never heard before. Driven by instinct, Daya searched them out again. Near the side of one of the shops, a teenage boy kicked violently at a helplessly flapping crow. Already injured by previous blows, the bird couldn’t escape his attack. A spilled bag of old bread lay on the ground nearby, its contents being pillaged by members of the flock. Some of the birds dove, swiped, and pecked at the boy to no avail. A enemy proving too enraged to stop.

In an instant suspended in time, a white patch of feathers flashed from a battered wing.

The boy screamed and shouted angrily. “Stupid fucking animals! Stealing everyone’s fucking food!”

That’s when he he brought his foot down to stomp down hard on the bird. Daya took in the blood gushing from its mouth, and even more pooling beneath the pulverized body. None of her actions seemed to register after that point. Somehow, she was on top of him, bashing his head in with a brick. Blood spattered on her face and clothes, and brain matter clung to the brick each time she brought it down on him. When she stopped, she realized that he had been easily twice her size. How had she moved so fast she would never know. She stood, kicking the twitching body away. She picked up the dead crow, cradling it in her arms, and ran away as fast as she could from the square.

She buried the bird in a nearby park she often visited with her mother, and sat underneath a large oak tree. The bird hadn’t really been a friend, but she had grown fond of it over the short time she’d become familiar with the flock. The crow had only been trying to survive. Like her. Like the boy.

Daya couldn’t fathom the exact reason she killed the boy. Maybe, in some small way, to make up for what she couldn’t do for her family. At no other point in her life had she ever been so driven to kill. That night, she returned to her makeshift home in the forest. Eventually, she nodded off to memories of a better time with silent tears running down her cheeks.

A series of vibrations shook Daya from her slumber. A loud engine whine coming from the sky, booming overhead, and fading into the distance. She stood up, not quite afraid, but alert. Another aircraft zoomed over the canopy of trees. A copter-jet, black with white foreign lettering. There were several in the distance, all heading toward the center of town. She could see them start descending fro where she stood. Daya ran in their direction, knowing they could be carrying food and medicine. It was a chance she had to take if she wanted to keep herself alive. The will to survive seemed to be the last of her possessions.

When she arrived in the town square, she saw soldiers unloading medical supplies and food from cargo crates. Many of the town’s orphans, widows, and families lined up anxiously for their shares, Daya herself included. Soon after, one of the soldiers announced to the people that some of them could be flown to a neighboring region for hospitalization, and treatment. To the orphans, they offered to take them where they would be given a new life, a place to live, an education, and when ready, a job.

“For those of you who have lost everything, your country will give it back to you.” He said.

Daya made herself one of the number of children to leave the desolate town. Now strapped in her seat inside one of the jets, she watched silently as they rose from the ground. A sense of surrealism swept over her as the town became small and faraway, and the world outside became so much bigger. For many hours, she watched through the window as forests, lakes, and cities passed by below her.

When eleven year old Daya Evanoff next set foot to ground, she would become a new animal.