I picked up Inigo’s ashes yesterday. I put them in his house for the day before moving them to the nightstand last night. When I held the little box to my heart, his presence was so strong. He felt young and whole and healed. He felt free.
It feels right to keep them in the bedroom. Inigo loved it there. I think that is where he felt safest. I sleep under the birdie quilt now.
The term “Sunday Blues” has taken on new meaning. There’s not much of a point to cooking pasta dinner when it’s just for me.
Even the laundry is different. There are so few towels now in the towel wash now. Just my bath towels, a couple of kitchen towels, and the towel I put under the front door to keep the cooking smells from the hallway out when my neighbor makes whatever stinky fish thing she makes. The towel wash used to include birdie towels from Inigo’s shelf and bar cloths from when I cleaned the cage. I stopped short when I went into the spare bathroom to collect the bar cloths from the edge of the sink and there were none there.
Because you haven’t had to clean his house in over a week.
The days are filled with moments like that now. Opening the drawer and seeing all the unused syringes there. Taking a banana from the fruit bowl and realizing it’s just a banana now, not a NANNER. Seeing Inigo’s follower count go down, little by little, one here, two there. Opening the oven to heat something up, seeing the writing on the bottom where you can put some water if you want to set the oven to self-clean, and realizing there’s nothing stopping me from using that feature because there’s no reason to worry about the fumes. Or the fumes from Scrubbing Bubbles. Or candles, if I had any. Or Carpet Fresh. Or perfume. Or nail polish and nail polish remover. My hands are a mess from my trip to New Orleans earlier this month, the skin dry from washing them in the hard water there. I had preened the wrong feather the day before we said goodbye, and the wound from the nip he gave me has faded into a small pink dot on my hand.
And silence, so much silence, especially when the thermostat shuts the heat off. Sometimes music or turning on the TV helps, but they are irritating as often as not.
I’m still finding feathers, including two last night, bright green, in the home gym, and may the cosmos smite me if I’m lying but they weren’t there yesterday morning or afternoon when I packed his unused syringes in the spare room closet. My floors are dark wood and my gym mat is purple. I would have seen the larger feather for sure.
Inigo is free, but he’s also here, all around, the breath that blows the feathers out from wherever they hide.
I’ve been an atheist for about 20 years, and I don’t really believe in an afterlife, at least not one where we’re all floating around in the clouds and hanging out with those we’ve lost at some kind of giant, cosmic cocktail party. I definitely don’t believe in up or down, reward or punishment, heaven or hell. But I do believe all life is connected, and going on what astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and theoretical physicists like Lawrence Krauss say about all of us consisting of atoms from exploded stars, I have a little theory that that when we first meet people or creatures with whom we click instantly or who already seem familiar to us, we might have a few atoms from the same star.
I’m also a bit, shall we say, “sensitive.” For example, I get “lead legs” and feel like I’m being pulled into the ground in certain places like the Alamo, Gettysburg, crime scenes, and random graves, usually the graves of those who suffered greatly in life or died violently. It’s not all bad, however. I also get “boosts,” a feeling of being uplifted. I get that at Congressional Cemetery, which is very much woven into the local community as a place to gather for various events ranging from book clubs to movie nights to 5K runs. I also got it at the non-endowed section of Spokane’s Greenwood Memorial Terrace, where people make their own memorials to mark graves and maintain the gravesites out of the goodness of their hearts. Point is, I’m not so entrenched in, and closed off by, my atheism and my work as a science-focused medical journalist that I rule out the metaphysical, the things we cannot explain with the scientific method and our physical senses. Hey, I even read tarot.
So let me share a few things with you, things that happened soon after Inigo and I said goodbye.
First, I haven’t heard Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years” in many years. Friday night I was lying under the birdie quilt, the one I used to use to make a tent for Inigo to do his wood chipping. I was trying to find peace in the stillness, and that song popped into my head. Inigo loved country music. I’m not a fan of it, myself, but he loved twangs, banjos, and anything with a country feel to it, and Kenny Rogers was a country king.
Second, a tiny black feather from Inigo’s head was on the floor outside my bedroom door the morning after we said goodbye. I could swear it wasn’t there when I went to bed the night before. I vacuum every night, a habit begun upon getting birds because they fling food and chewed-up toy parts around, and a habit continued because I scatter seeds on my balcony for wild birds and no matter how much I wipe my shoes on a bristly mat before coming back in, I always manage to traipse some seeds back into the apartment. I would have seen that little feather and started bawling.
Third, later that same morning I decided to hook up my laptop speakers and listen to a playlist I had saved on Spotify but not yet listened to, Nordic Acoustic Guitar. I was going to listen to it when we had a decent snowfall, perhaps while doing a jigsaw puzzle or just sitting with Inigo and looking out the window, a favorite pastime of ours that also reminded me of Jimmy the Green Cheek, who used to love watching big snowflakes fall. I had no idea what was on the playlist, but “Nordic” and “snow” seemed like a good combination, and I had forgotten about it since I saved it because it has been an unusually warm winter where I live. Well, look at the first song on the list.
When I got home after our goodbye, I cleaned out Inigo’s house. It broke my heart to see his toys, his perches, his food and water bowls like he was going to come back to them. On his last two days here, he ate out of a little dipping bowl on his birdie shelf because he couldn’t get across his rope perch to his regular food bowl. There were seed husks and bird pellet powder and crumbs on his towels, reminders that he had been chowing down there just a couple of hours before we said goodbye. Looking at it all felt like I was being kicked in the chest.
Yet when I looked at his empty house the next day, it felt cold and sterile. It was like when I moved out of one of my better apartments. Inigo and I had many balcony dinners there, and many pasta nights, movie nights, and silly dances, and it was the apartment we had for the first year pandemic. Our stuff and our fun made it a home. But when I went back for the final inspection with the landlord, I was struck by how it didn’t feel like anything anymore. It had become just a collection of walls, doors, and windows.
Seeing Inigo’s empty house felt the same way, an empty shell, just cage bars and a shelf, and it was almost as unbearable as seeing the little food mess around the dipping bowl. Who was I to remove Inigo’s things? It was his house, one he had lived in for 21 years, with his bowls and his shelf and his perches. It was his.
As I stood in front of it, wondering what to do, I got the urge to put the little towels he used to sleep on back onto his birdie shelf. Then I got the sense that he was telling me he didn’t need food, water, or perches because he doesn’t have his body anymore and now he can fly from place to place and land wherever he likes, but he wanted a comfy place to hang out, a place where he had felt relaxed and cherished.
When I put the towels back, an enormous love filled the room. I struggle to describe it. It was simultaneously soft and bright, both gentle and overpowering, and so warm that it seemed almost tangible. Since then, I’ve felt Inigo’s presence. He comes and goes, but he’s still around. It appears that he has claimed the space over and around my right shoulder, the space where he would fly alongside me if I left the room without him already on me, back when he could fly, before his arthritis.
My ex-husband noticed that was were Inigo flew, actually. My ex and I used to wear our birds when we folded laundry, kind of a family chore thing, but sometimes Louise the Alexandrine (who now lives with him) wasn’t in the mood, and one night he had Inigo on his shoulder instead. I left the room for some reason, maybe to go bring up another load of laundry to dump on the bed and sort, and Inigo flew after me down a long hallway. My ex-husband said it was one of the most touching things he had ever seen, a girl and her bird.
“That little bird loves you so.”
Maybe it was Inigo’s love filling my living room when I put the towels back on the birdie shelf.
I can feel him now as I write this, actually. He’s hanging out on my right shoulder, a place he hadn’t hung out in many years because of his arthritis and because, to be honest, I’m not a fan of birds on shoulders, and neither have been most of the veterinarians I’ve known. There’s a reason pirates wear eye-patches. But Inigo is there now, watching the words as they fill the screen.
Some of my friends have said that Inigo was a soulmate to me, and that’s true. He was my constant companion for 21 years, through marriage, divorce, eight apartments, eight years of freelancing, six jobs, a few relationships or variations thereof, several deaths in the family (including that of Jimmy the Green Cheek), two major surgeries, two interstate moves, and one pandemic, and now he’s here letting me know he’s free and okay. Maybe it’s our stardust.
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.