Author Archives: zenzalei

About zenzalei

Writer with a bird. Or, more accurately, bird with a writer.

Fly High, Fly Free

Yesterday, Inigo the Nanner King and I said our goodbye.

We arrived at the veterinarian’s at 11:40. While we were in the visiting room, at 11:50, I remembered Steph, a customer service rep at Birdhism, said she would post Inigo as Chubby Bird of the Day at 11:45. I opened Facebook and it was the first post in my feed.

“There you are, Inigo! There you are, for the whole world to see! There you are!”

He looked at the phone and made kisses! He was so happy!

Shortly after that, once he got used to his surroundings, he let me know he was ready, though he did get tangled in my hair when I tried to pass him to the tech for sedation. He let out a squeak when she gave him the injection.

“That is the last pain you will ever feel, my baby bird.”

She handed him back to me, and I held him on me, over my heart, on the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I was wearing the day I met him. It was his comfort shirt. She left, and I hummed his favorite song to him as he fell asleep, “Silent Night.”

We stayed like that for 10 minutes. I told him so very many times how special he was, how much I loved him, how much everybody loved him.

Then I pushed the button for the veterinarian and the tech to come in, and I held him and sang to him again after they put the heart needle in.

I looked up at the ceiling, trying not to fall apart and weep all over him, and when I looked back down at him, his eyes were open. He was looking up at me.

“I’m here. I’m here. I’m here. You’re not alone. I’m here. It’s okay to go. I love you. I’m here. It’s okay.”

He closed his eyes, took a little breath, so faint it was barely two tiny clicks, and was gone. He slipped away gently, knowing only peace.

When I called the tech back in, I told her he opened his eyes before he died. She said sometimes birds do that to say goodbye.

Inigo, my beautiful little Nanner King, I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. You honored me in an incomparable way when you climbed over your cagemate, clung to the door, and then flew over, landed on me, and would not come off. You chose me that long-ago April afternoon, and I hope you know how much joy and love you brought into my life. Then you honored me again when you opened your eyes in your final moments here, so I was the last thing you saw.

Mommy loves you, Inigo, now and always.

One Unseasonably Warm Night in February

It was a beautiful night, 60 degrees with some fresh, clean wind, so I walked from the office to Foggy Bottom after work. I stopped at the Washington Monument, marveling at how the needle seemed to reach up right between the stars. I stopped again along the Reflecting Pool to listen to the ducks quack and splash in the inky night water. Then I stopped once more on the GW campus, my alma mater, and watched the students, most dressed in sweatshirts and either shorts or leggings, and thought, “Full circle. They’re wearing what I wore in 1986. They just need Reeboks and flop socks.”

More than once, I thought, “What a beautiful night. What a night to be alive.”

I hopped on the Metro, got off a stop early to stop at Giant to see if they had my favorite flavor of vegan ice cream. They didn’t, but no big deal, plenty of flavors. I got four: mint chocolate chip, chocolate almond crunch, salted caramel, and peanut butter swirl. It’s supposed to be 80 degrees here on Thursday. I thought I’d sit out on the balcony with Inigo and have some ice cream. I also picked up some radishes. They’re my new favorite vegetable. The wine section has a promotion running: Buy a bottle and scan a QR code for a chance to win Caps tickets.

While I was scanning my things at the register, one of my all-time favorite songs came over the speakers, “Come and Get Your Love,” by Redbone. After I bought my scratchers and lottery tickets—come on baby, Mama needs a new pair of shoes—I put my headphones on, found the song on Spotify, and began my walk home.

It was a beautiful night.


Until a light-colored muscle car pulled up alongside a black CRV.

Until the driver of the muscle car got out, and fired five or six shots.

Until the driver got back in, gunned the engine, and raced in my direction.

Until I ran backwards, groceries bouncing off my hips, wine sloshing in my tote as I tried to make out what kind of car the shooter was driving.

Until I realized they might have seen me see them and I dove into some bushes in front of a corner house.

Until they turned the corner, slowed just long enough for me to think “if they see me, I’m dead,” before they sped out of sight, tires squealing and screeching, the sound ripping through the beautiful night air like some kind of aural acid I will never forget.

Until I crawled out, got to my feet, and ran to the next corner, where a couple of guys in their 20s had come out of the house with the chain-link fence, the house where I can always tell when they’ve had a Saturday-night party by the ping-pong balls and red plastic Solo cups strewn about the yard and picnic table on Sunday morning. They must like beer pong. They offered to let me come in.

The CRV remained, hazard lights flashing, and I asked the guys if we should see if anyone needed help. One of them called 911 and got put on hold.

A moment later, the CRV took off, hazards still flashing.

Thirty seconds later, the playground, the recycling area next to the high school baseball field, and a two-block span of my neighborhood were awash in flashing blue light. Five, six, seven police cars and SUVs.

I approached, hands in the air, grocery bags and tote sliding down my arms to thud against my ribs.


This, over a squad car megaphone on blast.

“I saw the shooter’s car!”


They asked questions. Taped the block off. Asked more questions. Started looking around with flashlights. Asked more questions.

Other witnesses approached. They had seen what appeared to be an altercation between two cars at a light. They described the CRV as one of the cars.

A voice came over the police radio. “Injured female in a CRV…”

“Sounds like they have the victim,” one officer said to another.

An officer gave us pens and paper, and asked us for our statements. We filled them out by the light of a squad car. We introduced ourselves. They invited me for tea. I said I would go but I have four pints of ice cream with me. Everyone laughed, and they laughed again when I showed them the wine in my tote. At the end, the officer who took my statement thanked me and said, “We’ll let you get home before the ice cream melts.”

I live in a “nice” neighborhood. We have parks, shopping, nightlife, medical buildings, a county library, a high school on the corner, trails, two Metro stops, high rents, and a sense of community.

It’s an area where people walk everywhere.

Especially on beautiful nights.

But this is how it is now. This is how this country is. Heaven help the United States, heaven help America, the Beautiful, with its beautiful nights and its beautiful playgrounds and its beautiful parks and its beautiful high schools in its beautiful “nice” neighborhoods, because we can’t seem to help ourselves.

Sunday Stealing: January 8, 2023

1, If you could change the ending to one movie you have seen, which one would it be, and how would you reshoot it?

Old Yeller. I think we all know why, and what the new ending would be.

2. If you were to select a food that best describes your character, what food would it be?

Anything vegan: It fits my love of animals, environmentalism, and appreciation for health-consciousness.

3. If you could cure any disease, which would it be?


4. If you had to describe the single worst thing a friend could do to you, what would it be?

Murder me.

5. If you could be a contestant on any game show, which would you like to be on?

Wheel of Fortune. I’m good with word stuff.

6. If you could choose the music at your own funeral, what would it be, and who would play it?

It would never happen because the original four will never play together again. I guess I’ll have to live forever.

7. If you had to spend all of your vacations for the rest of your life in the same place, where would you go?

Europe. Hey, you didn’t say it had to be only one country or city.

8. If you could ask God a single question, what would  it be?

I don’t believe in any deities.

9. If you could eat one food in any quantity for  the rest of your life with no ill effects whatsoever what food would you choose?

Vegan ice cream.

10. If you could have a year any place in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go?

Finland. I’ve been fascinated by Finnish culture ever since becoming a Poets of the Fall fan. And think of all the gigs!

11. If you could forever eliminate one specific type of prejudice from the earth, which would it be?

You can’t eliminate just one. Racism, sexism, and homophobia grow up in the same toxic house. But if forced, I would say racism.

12. If you could own one painting from any collection in the world but were not allowed to sell it, which work of art would you select?

Probably something from Monet.

13. If you could ask a single question of a dead relative, what would it be and of whom would you ask it?

My mother’s father’s mother, to confirm her maiden name.

14. If you had to choose the best television show ever made, which one would you pick?

Probably the Carol Burnett Show. It was pure hilarity. Half the fun was watching the performers try not to crack up whenever Tim Conway did something.

15. If you could write letters to only one person for the rest of your life, who would receive them?

Letters? Do people still do that? I wouldn’t.