I’ve always had pets. At our zoo house, we have three cats, two dogs, six birds, and a tortoise named Sally.
Once an animal enters our home, it stays. For better or for worse, richer or poorer, dumber or dumbest, we’re committed.
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook how much I love cockatiels. Cockatiels are cute, friendly, chirpy birds. They aren’t the sharpest nails in the toolshed, which makes them adorable. This is in contrast to my conniving cockatoo, who leads escape parties when we’re not home.
My friend Amy (who runs a bird rescue) read my post and mentioned that she had two little cockatiels that needed a home.
These two cockatiels came from a hoarding situation. Someone who had a good heart took in more birds than she could care for. And so I was introduced to Mama Bird and Pretty Boy.
Pretty Boy was indeed pretty. He was gorgeous gray, full feathered, and looked like a healthy cockatiel should.
Mama Bird was not pretty. She looked like a turkey vulture with a pink, bald head and long, bald neck. She also had one lone feather sticking out of her head and a bulging eye.
Pretty she was not, but when I held her and touched her bare, wrinkly head, her eyes closed and she immediately calmed down.
When I said she was sweet and ugly, my 8-year-old daughter chastised me. “She’s beautiful, Mommy,” she lectured. “I love her.”
On occasion, birds that are in stressful situations will pluck themselves or their cage mates. Mama Bird was bald because Pretty Boy had plucked her. Although she was attached to him, the relationship caused permanent damage.
We took Mama home that night and put her with our sweet but lonely cockatiel, Sunshine. Two days later, they slept together in their food bowl (which they also poop in because they’re cockatiels).
Mama Bird has now been renamed Stormy, which fits her looks but not her personality. She is gentle and sweet.
I don’t want this story to turn into a sappy after-school special on how love conquers all. Love isn’t always enough, and it certainly doesn’t conquer all.
Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes love is damaging and obsessive and destructive.
Sometimes, those we love and are loved by wound us.
Many people I work with go to great lengths to explain that the person who hurt them didn’t mean to. “My parents were really good,” they’ll say, “except …”
My message is this: It is OK to distance yourself from someone who is hurting you. The distance may be as simple as saying “no” to a get-together, or more complicated, such as moving away from an abusive partner.
Giving yourself space doesn’t mean that the other person or people in the relationship are horrible. In its simplest term, it means that the combination of you and them is caustic.
Pretty Boy is a good bird. Stormy is a good bird. But they are not good together, and Stormy suffered for it.
Now that they’re apart, both are thriving. Pretty Boy is moving into an aviary with plenty of space and a lot of other birds. Stormy has bonded with Sunshine and is healing.
Our ugly little duckling will never be a swan. The damage to her feathers is too great.
But her life is happier now, and she has a new beginning.
As we prepare for the New Year, consider what it is in your life that is causing you hurt and holding you back. Imagine what it would be like to be free from this.
Write down your goals and tell your friends, your therapist, your partner. Make this New Year a time for healing. You can do this.
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