Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I Save the World Every Night



It was the bird, Doug. The one the cats killed the afternoon before Halloween. You don’t believe in omens, but I do, and when I came home first to find the bird—not a bird anymore, really, but bones—lying near the window of the balcony, I stood there for a long second and thought, this can’t be good.

The cats were hiding somewhere. It was five o’clock and the sky had lost a passenger. I folded the bones into a paper towel and stuffed them in the bottom of the trash. When you came home, you shook your head and said, “I told you the bird feeder was a bad idea.” You were right again.

“I wanted the cats to have something to amuse themselves throughout the day,” I said defensively. “I didn’t think the birds would drop their guard. I didn’t think they’d miss the signs of danger.” One cat was a giant tub of black and white fur. The other was a lithe gray tabby with yellow eyes. Neither were exactly camouflaged against the white cement of the balcony floor.

You said (I’ll never forget), “You can’t escape danger just because you see it coming.”

What about the danger you don’t see coming, I wondered on election night. I was out on the balcony, nervous and shaking. Light wind caked in cedar blew past, reminding me of the sunbaked Lone Star State from where I sat. “Tell me if he wins Michigan,” I yelled out, then thought better of it. “Nevermind, don’t tell me.”

I looked down at my phone. Nothing political stared back at me. Instead, it was a game. Through the magic of technology, I was saving the world. I save the world quite often. I kill four diseases every night. Black, blue, yellow, red. Red is always the hardest to kill. That night it was impossible.

A month later you rolled over in the sheets and took my hand and asked if you would ever get your girlfriend back. I looked away from you and to the books I had been reading pre-Nov. 8, which sat on my side of the bed like forgotten relics from another time. I crouched against your back, my skin sliding next to yours. I had gained weight or lost it; I couldn’t tell. All I knew was nothing fit like before. Including your hand.

I had long since given up trying to save the world.

“I keep thinking I’m dead,” I said.

“You’re not dead,” you said. “You’re more alive than ever. You just don’t know it yet.”

On a morning in late January I woke up early. I was used to waking early by then; it was the time of day I set aside to edit the ten thousand stories waiting in my inbox. Each story had a different voice, and each morning I sank into a new voice like a miner crawling down the mouth of a cave with a lit torch burning to discover. This morning, however, I was content with discovering my own. The night before I had come home from the Women’s March and was simultaneously rejuvenated and exhausted from the experience, and my mind was racing.

At the window I watched in awe as an amber fire lit the balcony aglow. Dawn was the only time I enjoyed living in Texas—when the sky above the unforgiving landscape swallowed the pitch blackness from within and spat it out in heavenly flames of pink and orange. (You loved it too, although we have rarely watched this event unfold together.)

I pushed the balcony doors back slowly, not wanting to wake you. At the same moment, a bird landed on the birdfeeder. The cats immediately perked up from their positions along the outdoor chairs. Seeds dropped to the floor, and the bird swooped down to catch them. A second was all it took. The grey tabby got to it first, sinking her mouth around the neck and digging in. I reached down and grabbed at her, my fingers pulling at fur until they clipped onto her tiny neck. I yanked at her mouth and it opened. Feathers rained down as the bird flew up and my hand became a scratching board as the cat tried to break free.

I had forgotten the incident by the time you knocked on my office door much later, asking me if I wanted some tea. I was already in the cave, buried deep behind the haunting voices of other women’s lives.

I saved a life I never told you about, Doug; but that’s okay.

I used to save the world from diseases every night. Black, blue, yellow, red.

Red is always the hardest to kill, but I don’t play anymore.

One day I’ll reach out and save myself, and then your hand will fit perfectly the way it did before, even though I’m not the same bird I was then. Sometimes we see the danger and it kills us—sometimes we see the danger and it sets us free.

1-1-2017
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