Saturday, July 26, 2008


I was reading through some old stuff and found these last two little pieces about Max, Pete's bird... thought I'd post em. They actually go before "Animal Hospital Walls," but oh well. The bird is dead. Chronology doesn't matter so much anymore.



Max is Pete's Cockateil that he's had since he was 12 years old, after his dad accidentally killed Max 1 by leaving the blanket over his cage while the family vacationed. Birds don't eat in the dark, so Max 1 starved himself in a dark cage. The story of Max 1 is very tragic, but Pete's dad made up for it by buying Max 2, who looks just like Max 1 but turned out to be a girl. Maxine is her full name. She reaped the benefits of her predecessor's demise and was taken on the family vacations.

About two months ago, Pete noticed a small growth on her left wing. She'd had one before, but it had fallen off shortly after it developed. This one did not fall off. It grew to the size of a jelly bean - and not like the yummy little Jelly Belly kind, but like the big, sugary, nasty kind that grandmas set out around Christmas. It surpassed the size of the Christmas jelly bean, and then Pete got nervous. He researched bird tumors online. Most of the forums said to take her to the vet. Others explained that it would be highly unlikely for a bird of her age to make it through any kind of surgery. Another suggested that he tie off the growth and let it die, which he did. The growth turned dark by that night, and shortly after Max began pecking at it. Max now looks like a warrior that has barely survived battle. The left side of her face is coated in dry blood, and her growth is inexplicable. Pete cleans her off as best as he can and he continues to tie off the growth because it is dying. Unfortunately, Max may as well.

Pete dressed for work tonight in my favorite pinstripe button-down and blue tie. I asked him if he was Okay, and he said Not really. Then he asked me to take his picture with Max. We closed the closet doors for a basic background, and he carefully extracted Max from her cage. Lifting his finger level to his face, he positioned her so that her good side faced the camera and he smiled. It was a proud, sad smile: a man and his bird. He smiled again, a tender smile, and I took that picture too. I said, One more, and this time he couldn't lift the corners of his mouth very high. He looked at Max, and I captured that sweet exchange. And then he started to cry. He put Max back in her cage and I held him while we cried together. I tried to wrap my arms around both the 12 year old boy that picked Max out in a pet store and the 24 year old man that now is worried that she's suffering and that he's not doing the right thing.

I prayed and thanked Jesus for seeing the small parts of our life, and asked him to alleviate any pain that Max may be feeling. I asked for wisdom as to whether or not we should put her down tomorrow, which I know is all Pete will be thinking about while he works tonight.I promised to call him at work if anything happens, and I told him to be at peace. Max is now huddled in the corner of her cage, sleeping, I hope. And even though I never wanted this bird in the first place, and even though I know she has never liked me, I wish with all of my heart that I could mend her and give her back to Pete.

See? I would say. All better, now.


I took off my boots and ran upstairs to the sound of Max's wings flopping in her cage. She was tossing as if some invisible force was throwing punches and beating the shit out of her. Her head craned back into an unnatural arch and then she suddenly stopped, panting. I called Pete to tell him that Max had seizure, but he walked in the door before he could pick up.

Pete sat with Max, his bird of 12 years, as she continued to have seizures in ten minute intervals. I couldn't watch, but I returned upstairs now and then to put my arms around him as scratched the back of her neck with his fingertip. After about forty-five minutes he looked at me and said, "I guess I should kill her."I looked at Max and her bloody tumor; she was shivering slightly and looked scared. I looked at Pete and his full, watery eyes. He looked scared, too. I called animal hospitals, but the only one open past six didn't accept birds. I googled terms like: "most humane way to kill a bird" and kept clicking, hoping to find something that didn't suggest cutting off her head.

Finally I called the pet store in Chicago that Max came from, and talked to a bird expert named Julie. She suggested that we put Max in a box, tie up the box, and place her in a freezer. The cold would drop her body temperature so drastically that she would quickly fall asleep, and die shorty after.

The only box I could find around the right size was a Victoria's Secret gift box leftover from a wedding shower. It was a little big, so we lined one side with a bag of frozen peas, then laid one sheet of paper towel along the bottom. We put on our shoes and coats, and Pete grabbed his wallet. With a last goodbye, we placed her frail bird body into the pink coffin, tied it with a ribbon, and placed her on the bottom shelf of the freezer. We ran down to our car, and went out to eat with our friends as planned.

Two hours later, I was giving our friends a tour of our apartment. I came back downstairs and gave Pete a hug and asked how he was doing. He hugged me back and said uncertainly, "Well. Max is still with us. " I lurched out of his arms and covered my open mouth. "Yeah," he said, "I opened the box, and she peaked her head out as if to say, 'Hi. Can I come out of the freezer, now?'"

Max is now sitting in her cage and responds with a whistle whenever Pete says her name. The tumor is still there, and so is the fear that her seizures will start up again. But as far as I can tell, the freezer cured our bird.

The freezer cured our bird.

We put our bird in the freezer.

We placed Max in a lingire box, tied it with a satin ribbon, and set her on the bottom shelf.

"It shouldn't take very long," Julie said. "Her body should fall asleep within ten minutes, and shortly after, she will die. This is probably the least traumatic way to handle it."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are so gifted! i felt
like i was leaning up against
the cupboards watching you put
her in the freezer. those are
beautiful moments and stories.