Columns 2003

Locked in a bird cage becomes a defining moment

I think that everyone in his or her lifetime has certain defining moments. Moments when you know that how you act, how you conduct yourself, will say more about who you are than you would perhaps want the world to really know.

I had one of those defining moments recently.  In the general scheme of things, I think I can now definitely say I am not the person you want with you in case of emergency. I am not the person who will remain calm, cool and collected.

I am the person who will break into a cold sweat, lose all ability to reason and bring enemy gunfire right down on our foxhole.

It all started simply enough. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. I’d just finished the paper and was looking around at what chores might need to be done. I noticed that one of my birds – the one on the antipsychotic medication – had managed to finish chewing up every toy in his cage. Since the purpose of the medicine is to keep him from chewing his feathers, I have a large stock of replacement toys available to keep him occupied.

I’d like to think it was the pain meds I was on for my toothache that caused me to do what I did.  You don’t really want to think you could be that stupid without some help. If you were, your family would start talking again about how you shouldn’t be living alone.

For whatever reason, I accidentally pulled the door shut behind me as I entered the aviary. There I was, bird toy in hand, staring stupidly at the now latched door and realizing there was no way out.

I remember initially thinking to myself, “Don’t panic.  Think this through calmly. Panic will not help”.  Then the claustrophobia set in as I twirled in the 3 by 4 foot space crossed with perches. I remembered that no one would miss me or find me till my contractor showed up the next day.  I realized to my absolute horror that I was still wearing my ratty old night shirt that my sister has threatened to burn if she ever sees again. And she didn’t sound like she’d be all that particular about whether I was in it or not when she did.

All thoughts of calm flew out of my head and I allowed sheer panic to set in.  It was in some ways a calm panic. I didn’t scream and hope the neighbors would hear.  I didn’t try to convince my dog to play Lassie and jump up and jiggle the latch. Wouldn’t want to disturb his afternoon nap for no reason now would we?

Instead, I calmly and deliberately hurled myself at the wire metal door in absolute silence.  Again and again I hurled myself full force into it.  The vibration of each crash was such that it even disturbed Mr. T’s nap. He actually lifted his head at one point and opened an eye long enough to see that it was just crazy old mom hurling herself around the bird cage. Then he went back to sleep.

The birds, meanwhile, had retreated to the furthest corners of the aviary, their eyes wide with horror. My cockatoo abandoned her eggs in their nest to huddle in fear with my Amazon parrot.  My African Grey, the feather chewer who was ultimately responsible for all the excitement, looked at me as though I’d finally followed him into his world, where just a little kickapoo joy juice every morning made things so much better. After a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, the door burst open.  I ran out in a cold sweat, clutched the back of the couch and immediately sank to my knees.  Of all the reactions I’d expected, the searing pain in my forehead reminiscent of the rush you get when you eat ice cream too fast was nowhere on the list. And yet there it was, bringing me to my knees.

There is no moral to this story. No lesson to be learned. I’d like to think that I panicked because of the thought that they would find my decomposing body with that nightshirt on it and then my sister would not even bother to claim the remains.

But I know that’s not true. I panicked simply because at that moment it seemed the most reasonable response to the situation.

It’s like I said. I’m not the person you want in a foxhole with you. On the other hand, if we were ever stuck in an elevator together, I’ve had first hand experience in breaking out of metal doors.