The Between Space
On Living: Do I run or do I lock the door?
A bird died in our attic.
We went away for a week—to the South Carolina coast where the moss hangs from trees and the air tastes like salt and sun and what I always imagined as home. While we were gone my mother watched our dogs and our house, leaving the back door open to the lush marigolds and the fireflies, and without her knowing, the tiny songbirds. I don’t know what kind of bird it was that died in our attic because I never saw it. Maybe it was a wren or a house finch, or maybe a tufted titmouse—something beautiful, something small.
At first, we didn’t know where the bird had gone or if it was even dead. The only reason we knew there was a bird at all was because our son’s room was splattered with a constellation of bird shit. My husband’s first response was holy fuck, how are we going to clean all of this tonight before the baby goes to sleep? My first response was where is the bird? Did it find a way out? Please tell me a little bird didn’t die in here, in my baby’s room.
A bad omen.
A dead bird can symbolize a multitude of things, all of which are bad—discontentment, grief, failure, hopelessness. A dead bird in the home is even worse, or so I’ve read. What about a dead bird in your child’s room? I don’t want to know.
On hands and knees, I cleaned the bird shit. I vacuumed. I aired the room. I looked for signs of life but found nothing. In my natural idealist nature, my silver-lining sensibility I thought maybe the bird found its way out, back to the sky, the trees, the little bird houses I have edging the barn in the backyard. But my husband said he smelled the faint scent of death at the top of the stairs. He put on long pants and covered his head with a ski cap before ascending into the attic through a slat in the ceiling in the baby’s room. I went downstairs, baby on my hip, maybe if I got far enough away from it, the fate of the bird wouldn’t reach me.
Perry was washing his hands at the kitchen sink. The baby waved when he saw him.
“Did you find the bird?” I said.
He tried to side-step my question. “It looks pretty much the same up there,” he said.
“Did you find the bird?” I asked again.
He sighed and I knew. I knew before that, but I was hoping I was wrong.
That was weeks ago, months even, and I can’t stop thinking about that bird. That bird, smacking its wings, its tiny head against the ceiling of the baby’s room, frantically searching for a way out. If only it would’ve paused for a moment, taken a breath, and opened its eyes. If only it would’ve stayed within view. If only it would’ve gone down, down the stairs, out the door it came. Maybe then, it would’ve stood a chance. But the very act went against its nature, its nature to seek the sky, to go up, up, up. It found a quarter-sized hole in the wood-slatted ceiling in the baby’s room that took it higher still. To the sweltering attic. No air. No sun. Nothing but a dust-covered darkness.
The little bird, did it run out of hope? Did it die from the heat, the exhaustion, the lack of sustenance, the loss of freedom—all of it? The thought makes my stomach burn like it is filled with lightning.
I can’t stop thinking about that bird because I am that bird. What I mean to say is that the part of me that I’m trying to fix. The part that causes me to feel trapped even when I’m living the life that I want, or don’t want. The part that makes it so I can’t breathe when things get too comfortable, too monotonous. The part that wants to run out into traffic when the baby cries. The part that exists solely from the place of trauma—that’s the part that’s the bird.
I’ve felt some version of trapped my whole life.
Trapped by the Mojave, and now, in some ways, these mountains of the south that are always blue.
Trapped by my parents and their bad choices, their ceaseless need, and the living they’ve done from the center of themselves as if the world doesn’t bring consequences or require repentance.
Trapped by my job, every single one I’ve ever had, even the one I have now that gives me everything.
Trapped by my relationship, every single one I’ve ever had, even the one I have now—the marriage, the business, the parenthood, it’s all so interweaved together that I can no longer find myself in any of it.
Trapped by motherhood, the greatest thing to ever happen to me, but also, the most permanent. There’s no getting away from it, from the love and the need and the time that slips from my fingers.
Trapped by my smallness, my fierceness—all the good and bad things that come with being a woman.
And this is how I’ve always dealt with it, by frantically searching for a way out.
In arguments, I just leave. If there’s no way out, I find a door I can hide behind and bolt it shut. I remember over dinner at a kitschy restaurant in Los Angeles, my ex and I got into an argument, and I felt my body flood with I need to get away, leave, run, get fucking out. The sort of hands shaking, hurts to breathe, flight response that I can’t stop from overpowering my system. I left the table mid-sentence, left the restaurant, and walked all the way home in the dark. He got in his car and caught up with me by the time I reached my apartment, and I couldn’t get away. In another argument, after too much alcohol and too many things left unsaid for too long, there was no way out, so I locked myself in the bathroom. Then he busted the door off its hinges.
And that’s how it always goes. The trying to get out is what gets me in the end. Like the frightened bird, I am weary and lost and I am running out of air. But I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how to stay.
Even these blue mountains, up, up, up, they tower and loom, and I can’t get out from under them. I am crushed under their unmoving power. I can’t see over or around. I can’t find the sun or the moon. It’s just blue. Always blue. The blue of loss and longing, and searching for the peace I know can exist here. If I could just pause and breathe and stop looking up, stop looking for a way out, maybe I’d find it, or feel it. Maybe I’d learn how to stay, or at the very least, leave with grace.
I think of a poem by Terrance Hayes where he writes about contronyms and how cleave and cleave are the same word looking in opposite directions. I had the opposing definitions pulled up in a tab on my computer for three weeks before I came across his beautiful poem. As with everything about art, about language, it’s trying to tell me something. What is it trying to say?
Cleave, definition 1: to adhere firmly; become very strongly involved with or emotionally attached to.
Cleave, definition 2: to split or sever, especially along a natural line or grain.
This is me, the frightened bird, trapped in the between space of cleave and cleave, of bolt and bolt.
Do I run or do I lock the door?
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