Tuesday, July 08, 2014
I’ve been thinking lately of Birdsong. It has been 10 years or so since I last saw her, wrapped in finery from the free box, dangling single brass earrings in her hair—a star, a crescent, a glittering butterfly, telling me drunkenly “Now they will see me in my true beauty!”
She annoyed me greatly on the days she was drunk or in the florid upswings of her bipolar illness, loud and flamboyant and demanding. But she knew a bit about books and a lot about plants. One afternoon in a calm moment she described the beautiful glassed in porch in which she once grew her begonias and African violets and ferns, in the days when her girls were young and still with her, before the bottom fell out of her universe.
We shared a lot of similarities. I often thought that with just a small twist of fate she could have been the town booklady & I the desperate, drunken, sometimes charming survivor.
I particularly remember the time at the start of bombing…somewhere, Iraq, Afghanistan—when I stood alone in my weekly Women in Black vigil down the street a bit from the bookshop and was joined by Birdsong and Bobby and Cricket.
Bobby fixed me with his blue eyes and said “I did terrible things in Nam, so if you are a peace lady you got to hate me” And I said “I’m so sorry, so very sorry you went through that. I don’t want anyone else to go through that, not ever”. He asked if sometimes he could come and stand beside me. I said yes.
Cricket was just tagging along with his Birdsong, but they wanted to know if they could also stand with me. Sure, I said. You might have noticed I wasn’t exactly a very traditional Woman in Black, except for the black I wore. I’d answer questions. I’d talk. I’d even laugh, and I wasn’t going to turn away anyone, man, woman, child or dog, who wanted to stand beside me. So Birdsong and Bobby and Cricket did, especially on the days when my stalwart associates Sara and Michelle weren’t able to be there and I would have been left by myself.
Bobby died of hard drinking and pneumonia and probably the spinal problem he brought back from Vietnam. Cricket got bit in a fight and the wound turned green and oozy and he died of gangrene in a hospital up north. I remember thinking, as I wept at the news, that access to soap and hot water might have healed him. Birdsong by then had flown somewhere else. Maybe to find her daughters in the Midwest, where that glassed in porch was, where there were memories of begonias and ferns. I don’t know.
But I remember particularly that first time she joined me, because she sat on the side walk, smelling a bit of cheap booze, and glared at me. “D’ya think I’m homeless?”
I really wasn’t sure what to say to her, knowing as I did that she was sleeping in a torn tent on the edge of town.
“I’m not” she said. “People say I am and they tell me to move on and they look down on me, but I have a home”.
She waved at the darkening sky. “There, see that—that’s my roof”
I smiled. “Well, true enough, that’s the roof for us all”
She said “and this is my home, right here” and she pounded the cement sidewalk with her open hand. “I’m home, ain’t no one got the right to tell me to move on”
So, as I said, I don’t know if she’s still living, if the sky remains her true roof, if she found peace or calm or anything. But I remember her in her finery, and how she said she was a queen, an empress, and how when she walked down the streets of this town, someday people would know her in her glory.
And how astonished they would be, to see her shining there, so beautiful, so radiant, so much in her own true home in this aching, fragile world.