Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Symbol of Peace. By Kellie Hermansen

Every time I wore my black suede high heel boots something good would happen. The first day I wore the boots, I returned to find an egg in my pet dove, Olive’s, nest. A few weeks later I wore the boots again and returned to find that the egg had hatched. We called him Turkey because that’s what he reminded us of: all silly looking with no feathers. The morning I found him there was a magical one for me. It had just finished raining—I opened the door of the garage where the doves lived so the sunlight and moist spring air could reach their cage, which hung above the tool bench. The cage was homemade with chicken wire and their nest was part of an old Mini Wheat’s box. Dust and light mingled together and I breathed deeply inhaling the smell of wet wood and concrete. It smelled of new life.

“When dad? When are we allowed to touch him?!” I hopped up and down in front of my dad, craning my neck upward to look at his face. No matter how much I asked or pleaded though the answer was always, not yet or no. As a child, I knew my dad was always right. I also knew that I should wait before touching the young, baby dove. Yet if my father gave permission, the truth that my dad was always right would take precedence over the fact that I knew I shouldn’t.
My dad was smart, he didn’t know a lot about birds, but he knew that petting such a young bird still dependent on his parents was not a good idea. But I was so stubborn, and made such a nuisance of myself that he had no choice but to give in.

My best friend Julia and I took a giant blue plastic lid from a food storage bucket and set the little bird on it. He could hardly walk as it was, but on the slippery surface he struggled. We giggled and picked him up with our hands and nuzzled him to our cheeks. His head bobbed up and down apprehensively, and he stared at us with his huge eyes. We took him to the front yard and set him in the cool grass; it was such a lovely day!

Suddenly a squawk interrupted my memories. I jumped and look around; Blizzard was making a racket in the cage, flapping his wings and gripping onto the side with his talons. The garage was cold and grey. I hadn’t enjoyed being with Olive and Blizzard since Turkey died. It was their fault! They didn’t deserve extra attention from me! But being angry at a pair of doves brought me little consolation. I was the human that touched Turkey before he had all his feathers; it was my scent that tainted him and it pained me to look at Olive and Blizzard. As I fed them that bleak morning I studied their beauty. Glossy white feathers, large staring eyes—and as I pulled my hand out of the cage my arm scraped the wire leaving three stripes of glistening red blood. I shook with anger and pain, glaring at the doves. It was their stupid cage and their stupid fault. I hated them. I hated their beauty, I hated that they didn’t care that their son was rotting in the ground.

I hated that it was my doing.

If I hadn’t touched him—but no! I wasn’t the one who blatantly neglected him, I wasn’t the one who ignored his screams as he starved for food, I wasn’t the one who looked the other way when he charged at me, desperately seeking attention. It was them, and I hated them.

The doves had been given to my brother, Rob, and me by a co-worker of our father’s. It was 1999 and I was nine, going on ten, and my brother was eleven. We were introduced to the birds in this man’s cluttered garage. Owning doves was like a dream come true for me! I shyly and silently admired my dove through the cage, already falling in love with its beauty. I named mine Olive after the dove that brought back the olive branch on Noah’s Ark, something I had carefully considered when I first heard we were getting doves. My brother named his Blizzard on impulse because his bird wouldn’t stop flapping his wings and making a commotion. A few weeks later, though, both the doves were mine. My brother said I could have Blizzard because he could see how much I loved the bird and besides, he said I was not as lazy as he was.

Soon after, my best friend Julia and I sat in the summer sun, warming our backs. Olive and Blizzard scuttled around us at their will. We were the envy of the neighborhood, or we thought we were. Our favorite pastime that summer was setting the doves in a basket and taking a walk around the street. Those standing their front yards washing their cars, or enjoying a sunset would stop us and ask to see and pet the doves. It was something magical to them, having a chance to be near such majestic birds. And it was magical for Julia and me too; we spent every day with them that summer. That was before Turkey was born. Before Turkey died.
All we had wanted to do was play with him.

I put on the boots again. I needed a miracle, and I needed it right that moment. I must have walked a mile in those boots. When I took them off, my feet were covered with red shiny patches and blisters that had burst. I set the boots aside as I walked tenderly on my raw feet to the garage to check on Olive and Blizzard. My mood rose slightly, there was going to be another egg in their nest—there just had to be! As I opened the door to look in at their cage, I was almost giddy with happiness; the magic of my boots had never let me down. I looked all around their cage for the egg, but it was nowhere to be found. Maybe my eyes had slid right past it, and it was really in plain sight. I looked harder. No egg. My confusion turned to anger. “Is one little egg too much to ask for?!” I never wore the boots again.

In time I thought less and less about Turkey. The walks around the neighborhood with the full-grown doves continued. Olive laid more eggs that summer, but she always laid them on the wire and not in her nest. If one were to ever hatch, it would be a painful experience for the young, featherless chick. None of them ever hatched though. I began to expect seeing an egg in their cage every week or so, and I began getting used to the fact that it would never become a life. The guilt was leaving me, or at least being pushed aside.

Summer grew colder and it came time for school. Ah school! It was a beautiful distraction of hustle and bustle. At school there were important things to do—important things to worry about! Things like: class projects and Friday parties; who was chasing whom at recess; whether or not we were getting too old to be chasing people; and who had won the tether ball championship during lunch recess. It was usually me. I had gotten the wind knocked out of me twice, but that was no big deal, I would be back on the court in two minutes. I was a rough and tumble tom boy—nothing could bother me!

I couldn’t stand when girls would come to school crying and blubbering because of their head hurt, and they were exhausted. So all I did was roll my eyes when the girl next to me had her head in her hands and tears streaming down her cheeks. At first I thought it was something really serious, but then she snapped at me to leave her alone. She was just really tired and had a bad headache. I went about my day as normally as I could, but when the sniffling next to me didn’t stop, I exploded. “You think you have it bad?!” I couldn’t stop myself, I told her about Turkey.

That was how I became known as Bird-Killer in the fifth grade.

But like I said, nothing could bother me.

School went on. Olive and Blizzard became a burden that I had to be constantly reminded of by my parents. I only saw them when they needed food, water or a cage cleaning. They never had time to stretch their wings, or even to see the light of day. Christmas break was coming up and the days were becoming frosty.

About this time my grandparents were in Greece serving a mission and my parents had the privilege of visiting them. They would be gone for two weeks and I would be staying at my best friend Julia’s house. We planned our entire two weeks—we would alternate playing The Sim’s and Mario. It was going to be a ball! Julia would play Mario on her big screen TV while I played The Sim’s on her computer. Every once in a while we would stop to eat something.

Nightmares haunt me now. Nightmares where I am sitting at a computer playing a game, my eyes glazed over. Suddenly my eyes become Olive’s eyes, glazed over with weakness, walking slowly as if through sand. Then she cannot walk at all anymore, she can only lie there urging her lungs to open and close, hoping her heart has one more beat left in it. Then I see myself again. Eating. Playing. Yawning. I’m not even smiling. I don’t even move except to click the buttons on the mouse.

That is when I wake up in a cold sweat. The price I had paid for idle entertainment—the price that wasn’t even mine to pay.

Near the end of the first week at Julia’s house I had to run home and get my wallet. The house was empty and quiet. I ran upstairs and started rummaging through my things, when a thought occurred to me: a thought that had not occurred for quite some time. I flew down the stairs, upsetting the quiet atmosphere of the house, and hurled myself into the garage. The only sound in the cold, cement room was my heavy breathing. I stood there for a long time; staring. It must have been ten minutes. My feet were getting cold.

I didn’t have to get close to the cage. I already knew that birds do not sleep like that.

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