Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Beginning...

His name was Hutch. Yeah, as in "Starsky and...". It was 1976. It was the hot TV show, and I had a thing for David Soul. Back then. I was in seventh grade. I spent a lot of time at my best friend Diane's house that year. Her mom had a parakeet. He was a very cool bird, and I started wishing I could have one too.

I don't really recall where we got Hutch, but I asked enough, and my mom allowed me to get him. He was a great parakeet. Tame. You could hold him. He had the run of the house. He talked quite a bit. He liked to sit on the edge of the bathroom mirror and admire himself while I got ready for school in the morning. He even knew a cuss-word or two. We went on a summer vacation up north, and we took him along. I believe that's where this picture was taken. His cage was sitting on a dresser in front of a mirror, and he was out for a bit of play. Everyone in the family liked Hutch. Even my dad. Somewhere there's a picture of my dad relaxing in a chair with Hutch sitting on his head.

If I'd have only known then what I know now, Hutch may have had an even better life. A longer, healthier one. Oh I took care of him. Trust me. But if I had known then the dangers lurking. Cigarette smoke. Non-stick cookware fumes. Cleaning chemicals. Fragranced candles. Hairspray. And to feed him fruits and vegetables. If only I had known. He lived maybe 4 years or so. To be honest, I can't remember exactly how long. But I do remember the trip to the vet with my mom, to have him put to sleep. He had developed a very large tumor that is prevalent in parakeets. I remember handing him over to the vet tech, never to see him again. Oh, how I wish now that I had gone in with him. Held him in my hands while he drifted off to sleep. Told him softly, sweetly, how much I loved him. I know that I told him I loved him. But, that final moment. I was scared. Maybe it wouldn't have been the right thing for me then. I don't know. But now, how I wish I had.

He was a great pet. Smart, funny, sweet, talkative. A great companion. For years after, decades actually, I wanted another. In college I got two more, but they didn't last long. A casualty of the environment, the cats, something. I don't really know for sure. But it wasn't the same situation. I don't think I was ready then. I'm sorry for not doing as well with those two. I wish they had been with us longer. I do recall we bought them at Walmart or something like that. So, they probably weren't the healthiest birds from the day they came home with us. Ah, regrets...

So, I pretty much consider Hutch the first and only...until now. Now, decades later, I have parakeets again. And the experience has been an awakening of sorts. Now I know the dangers that lurk out there for birds. I know not to use cleaning products that aren't safe around them. I know not to paint a room in the house with them here. In fact, I'm looking into zero-VOC paints. I know now that they need to eat, and they actually love, fruits and vegetables. I give them spring water, and purified tap water. I buy a special blend of bird food from the breeder filled with nutrients they need. I clean their cages every day. I still make a mistake here or there. Or worry that I have, and lie in bed at night hoping that they will be okay.

I worry about them dying someday. They have had injuries, just a hazard in life. We've made some trips to the vet. A few of them panicked. But, so far, everything seems to be working out okay. I pray that the fresh fruits and veggies, and the lack of toxins in the air we breath, the water we drink, will help them to avoid those drastic tumors. I pray they live a long, long life.

They bring so much joy to my life. Joe and I don't have kids. We're late bloomers (and starters). It's not something we felt we had to do. So, the birds. The birds are my children. My babies. I get it now. All those people out there with pets that they spoil and worship, worry over, cry over, mourn so deeply when they are gone. Not that I didn't understand it before. I've had pets. Lost them, too. But, at this stage in my life, it just means something even more. I get it now, I do.

So, people might think I'm nutty because I spend an hour every night cleaning their cages, getting them ready for bed. A little "off" because we have rituals, and songs that I sing to them. A room full of playgyms, and toys, and CD's especially made for their enjoyment. That's fine.

They make me happy. They bring joy to my day, every day. No matter how terrible a day it might be. Or how upset I might be about something. They can always make me smile. Warm my heart.

They have already taught me so much. Opened up my eyes to things I used to try to avoid thinking about. The environment, animal rights, watching out for the innocent. They make me want to be a better person. A better pet companion. A better friend, daughter, sister, love. A better human being.

Adolescence wasn't a fun time for me. I wasn't one of the popular kids. I didn't have a lot of friends. But Hutch, he was my friend. My sweetheart. If he were here right now, he'd probably be sitting on my shoulder as I write this. And when I was done, he would hop up on my finger, and I would tuck him inside his cage, cover him lightly, tell him I loved him and say good night.

Good night, Hutch. I still miss you...

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