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» Friday, January 23, 2004The Last Dance
Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while probably remembers the scares I had for a couple of months with my budgie, Bandit, being ill. He had problems with panting heavily after flying and I took him to the vet. It was in February 2001 she warned me that he either had a growth or an enlarged liver, and there was little to be done about either, unless it was the liver problem and I could get him to change his seed diet. I saw little hope, since I'd been trying to change it for it'd been trying to do that for seven years. At that time she gave him about a year to live.
So instead I did what I could. He was always warm and comfortable, had as much exercise as he could take, watched his "teevee," beat up the little bell toy in his cage. And the months passed.
We had our little traditions. One was "waltzing" (with him sitting on the finger of my left hand looking puzzled) with him on Independence Day, during "He Plays the Violin" in 1776. Another was our dance to "You Make It Christmas" at the end of Remember WENN's Christmas episode, which we played every year. The 2003 dances were taken with a grateful heart that he had made it through another year.
"You Make It Christmas" was Bandit's last dance.
Despite his illness he seemed to do well through Christmas, although he was spending a lot more time snuggling near my neck than doing anything else. Everything else was normal, including eating (he could still denude a piece of millet faster than you could say Jack Robinson); the dozing--well, even though budgies have lived until age 15, nine is still pretty geriatric for your usual budgerigar. But last weekend, between the tumult of the television delivery and redoing the den, I noticed he seemed more weary than usual.
I realized he was failing again. He didn't even seem interested when we visited the pretty bird in the mirror, and he wouldn't make his little "bell sound," his imitation of the bell on the end of his exercise rings, which was always a sure sign he was unwell.
However, he'd made the bell sound on Wednesday night, and when I got home from work and while I was chatting with my mom yesterday evening, he seemed particularly chipper, talking and shrieking away, asking me "Do you want turkey?" and courting my finger. Later, while he still snuggled close to my neck most of the night, he had enough energy to fly to his cage, get a few mouthfuls of seed, and then come back.
At bedtime I jingled the bells for him and he gave a full-throated reply, and chirbled to my finger again.
This morning when I got up for work, I padded into the spare bedroom to put on my shoes (James is still in bed when I get up) and say good morning. Most mornings Bandit gives a little kiss or makes a noise or at least ruffles his feathers audibly when I do so, but this morning he was quiet. I wasn't surprised; as he got older he was harder to wake up. So I went downstairs, got my milk, and came back to turn on the light.
He wasn't on either of his two sleeping places, on his mirror perch or in his swing. I knew what it meant, and pulled off the cage covers with my heart in my mouth...he was at the bottom of his cage, under his water dish, his wings slack, little eyes glazed. I touched him, but he was quite still and quite cold.
Since 2001 I'd been trying to prepare myself. I'd even have little humorous conversations with him, meant for myself, talking about how someday he'd grow up to be a big strong eagle or go off to delivery owl post to Hogwarts. When he started mouth-breathing, I bought him a vaporizer and commiserated with him about his "asthma."
Nothing can ever prepare you enough for the emptiness left by someone, even if that someone is an ounce of fluff and bone and body. The hole seems a mile deep and too many of them wide. I'll miss the little "cotton boll" snuggling at my neck, his little voice asking me "Do you want turkey?" and breathing a resigned "Yes, dear," the funny way he would sit on the perch outside his cage and yank at the rings dangling from it to get my attention, or clamber over the outside of the cage to ring the bell, as if to say "I'm here." The way he'd dive-bomb Willow when she sat in James' lap, or try to land on her head to nibble on the delectable "strings" of her fur, and the way he had of knowing just when I was getting to the end and "the good part" of a book, and fly over to start chewing on the pages. The way he'd call to me when I got home from work, yank on the little toy bell near his mirror when he got mad or frustrated ("This is your fault!"), tell me long stories when I got home from work, and that one, funny year where he apparently developed a crush on Claudia Christian's narration to the third season of Babylon 5 and would race around the room, chirping wildly during the entirety of the opening credits. How I could pop him in his carry box and he would go get ice cream with us, or how he enjoyed the ride to Charlotte and Chesnee, how he stared at those fish in Petsmart, how the only trip he never liked was the yearly one to the vet where they grabbed his wings and gave him a shot. How we'd get back from vacation and pick him up from boarding and the vet techs would tell us how much they enjoyed his talking. "Oh, I know him," one said the last time we brought him and Willow to board, "he's the one that says he's not a chicken."
His body sleeps in front of the house now, with his mirror and the bell he shook so savagely for nine years; his soul is somewhere grand, I hope, flying all the trips he couldn't fly in the past two years. Maybe he's found Leia and is trying to chew on her whiskers again--and it makes me happy to think maybe he's met up with my dad, or Dana Sherman, who laughed so when he would jump on the keyboard and type random letters while we were on chat.
I've decided no more birds for a while. After all the time I spent worrying about him, I need time to relax, get my bearings again. Plus there's things we've wanted to paint and didn't do so in deference to his weak lungs. Maybe there'll be another bird again...too soon to think about it now, though. For now I'll just wrap myself up in a fleece throw and remember how warm it was to have that little fellow snuggled trustingly against my neck.
"Sleep well, my little love."