Now I know How to Save a Life
He was a mess, roasting in the hot summer sun—completely helpless and alone. He had come from the sky like a fallen angel and he lay there, on the hot sidewalk, waiting for death to take him. People had been passing him all day, people too busy with their mundane lives to pay him any more attention that “poor thing” or “how sad” before they went on their busy way. He had fallen from his home and was a stranger in a foreign land with no mother, no knowledge of this outside world, and no way of ever making it home on his own.
She was an animal lover by nature (maybe that’s why her mother didn’t try to reason with her or tell her ‘no’). She was on her way back to her mom’s dusty silver van, ready to leave her horse at the fair for the night. She was satisfied with the animal’s water level and comfort so with one last kiss to Cricket’s velvety nose she was down the aisle and out the door. She was I, and still is; maybe just a newer, better version thanks to him.
My fingers still tingled with the heat from the necks of the other horses I had patted on my way out of the barn and were covered in a thin layer of dirt and grime, It looked like I had just eaten a bag of grey and brown Cheetos. I passed the last row of stalls and walked through the door to the outside world. The plastic werewolf (dubbed “wolfman”) from a taco bell kids meal eaten over a year ago was still there. He was zip-tied to the antenna of my mom’s van—right where I had originally put him—a failed practical joke. As I got closer to the car he came into sharp focus: light brown with tattered black pants and no shirt—like the incredible hulk. That was when we met.
“Mom, there’s a baby bird!”
“A baby bird! It fell out of its nest… what do we do?”
My mom knew me well enough to understand that we did have to do something; I would never leave something like that entirely up to the fates to decide an outcome. Over the span of my relatively short live (12 or 13 years), our house has been a foster home to bunnies, birds, snakes, quail, ducks, butterflies, turtles, and anything else I could catch—and I was good at catching things. My mom knew if I found something I loved I was not eager to let it go. It’s strange to think I could love something after only having it a few moments, but I did. I loved Max, and I would only grow to love him even more. So, less than an hour later this stranger to our world had a home, a family, and a name.
Max, like any baby, needed constant care and attention. The Internet provided me with a list of ingredients needed to make food for a baby bird, and a digital alarm clock provided me with a regular feeding schedule for him. Not one to ever get up before the sun, I found myself up just hours after midnight to feed Max. “I guess there is logic behind the saying ‘up with the birds’ I thought to myself one morning as I cut the tip of a McDonalds straw by the dim glow of the refrigerator light to make a small straw for my new pet, it was still dark outside and all the earth was still quiet and still. As I walked back into my room, I heard that he was already awake. “Peep, peep, peep?” Max would ask, his bald head back, he looked just like the every baby bird I had ever seen on T.V. asking their moms for food. “PEEP! PEEP! He would continue once he was food was coming. That was the routine ever few hours for days on end: Max would cry and I would feed him.
His home, a spare storage bin with a missing top, had been fitted with a heat lamp, blanket, and a makeshift grass nest. His nest had to be changed daily, his home cleaned out every other. The cat had to be kept at a safe distance and my bedroom door had to be kept shut—at all times. Zuzu (the family dog) liked Max well enough to let him sit on her head, but not so much that she showed any real interest in him.
Max grew fast and came everywhere the family went. This included a weekend trip to the cabin that happened to coincide perfectly with the day Max learned to fly: It had been raining all day and no one wanted to go outside. We had already exhausted the movie collection we brought up with us and the storm was messing up the satellite so we couldn’t really watch T.V. either, some of the adults sat in the den reading, some took naps on the couches. The kids all gathered around the dinner table to play a card game by the poor light of the fan/light combo that hung above, extra chairs has been brought in off the screen porch to fit everyone. The fan blades cut slowly through the air sending down a gentle breeze that made stray hairs wave like broken spider webs. We were in the middle of our third round of Uno! When it happened. Before any of us could really register what exactly it was that had just happened, Max was perched on the painting on the wall and Tracey (a family friend) was in the typical duck and cover position—both arms over his head. I sat dumbstruck for a few seconds trying to figure out how Max could have possibly got there until it hit me. Max flew, he flew! “Max flew!” I cried out while trying to capture him—a more difficult task now that he had been liberated from gravities hold.
Between strings around yellow legs to keep Max from flying away, first baths in Frisbees and awkwardly trying to convince bugs to leap into his gaping mouth with a demanding peep (after all, that worked when he asked me for food, so why not them?) it was a weekend of growth and memories.
From that day, Max was growing and making changes daily. Within a few days of returning home from the cabin he could fly well enough that the spiteful housecat was getting to be a hazard. When Max went fully aerial, he was relocated to the backyard. The front door had to be carefully monitored for the sake of visitors unaccustomed to wild birds landing on their heads upon reaching the front steps. I was out the door before they were even out of their cars, gathering Max form various heads, shoulders, and backs. “Please don’t hurt him! He’s mine!” I would say. Mine, and he was, we had a special bond; he belonged to me and I belonged to him.
Max still had to be fed a few times a day, but now the routine was a little different: I would go out into the yard with his food and McDonald’s straw spoon and call for him, he would fly to me and I would feed him. When he was full he would fly off and perch in a nearby tree. Eventually Max came home fewer times a day; the day he stopped coming home altogether was a heavy one. I searched all the trees in the backyard as well as the neighbor’s yards. I called him, but he never came. “Max!” No answer, no peep, no sound of wings. I stayed outside for a long time looking at the sky, I wasn’t looking for him anymore, just at where he was. I understood that Max had flown home; he had risen out of the ashen state I found him in to new life.
I still think about Max when I see other starlings around town or even out here at school in Idaho. I wonder if he ever found a mate or had babies of his own. I wonder for their safety and hope that none of them ever fell out of the nest but mostly I wonder how the world is different because of him. I wonder what line of birds I saved and what lineage was continued because a little girl cared enough to bring home a baby bird instead of just saying “how sad” and walking past him like so many others. I know it probably won’t be the determining factor of anything major in my life and that in a grander spectrum it’s pretty insignificant, but I also know that I know how to save a life and I think that maybe that counts for something.