Hurt Bird

Sarah was sitting on dry scratchy paper in the doctor’s office, waiting. It had already been twenty minutes since the nurse left, with a clipboard full of data on her health; blood pressure, height, weight, last menstrual cycle. Her stomach had been hurting recently and she wanted to know why. But she had no health insurance so she had to go to the clinic for poor people in Beacon. On the wall of the office there was a poster of grinning African American men and women with a reminder to get screened for colon cancer. There were bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere. She was naked inside her paper gown.

She was wondering how she might be doing on her process of individuation; she had been slowly reading a Carl Jung book recently. There were many approaches to healing the mind, body and spirit. When she first had gotten the stomach ache she had laid on her bed with a piece of citrine crystal balanced on her belly button. Apparently precious gemstones could imbue positive vibrations to the human being.

Dreams were heightened and strange when she was sick; she wrote them down in her journal but didn’t go so far as in deciphering them. She felt she couldn’t. She needed an outside perspective. She wished it didn’t cost hundreds of dollars to talk to an analyst who would listen to her dreams and talk to her about her life.

Outside the clinic there had been a young mother, one hand on a stroller, one hand holding her cellphone talking loudly to her baby daddy. Her smirking friend stood by her side. “You can do whatever you want!” the woman yelled at the father. “You can wake up and have a cigarette. You can have a blunt, you can have a bottle. When I wake up I have to change Bailey, I have to feed him, I have to dress him, and a million other things before I can think about what I want to do for the day. And that is every day of my life!” She was angry but also seemed like she was having fun telling him off.

After this appointment Sarah would have to go pick up the kids from the bus stop. She was a nanny. Yesterday the kids had found an injured bird on the street. All five of them gathered around it excitedly. “Get plastic to wrap it!” “Its neck is broken!” “We have to take him home and save him!” Their enthusiasm for helping the poor bird was surprising considering the zeal with which they had tortured a frog the week before. The bird’s eyes were bulging out of its head. “It’s probably gonna die, guys,” Sarah had told them. They wouldn’t listen. They carried the bird back to the yard, placed it in a clump of flowers and brought it sunflower seeds to eat from the pantry. “Birds like seeds and nuts.” “Get him a worm.” Then they went to play, promising to check on the bird later.

Sarah hated babysitting when she didn’t feel well. She told the kids she had a belly ache and one of the boys, the chubby, perpetually panting Mark plucked some flowers from a tree and gave them to her. “They’re for you.”

On the weekends she would try to write about her dreams, or write an essay, or make more art. She did these things but they felt like mere rough sketches of some larger idea that was trying to break through into reality but couldn’t manage to poke out its gnarly head. She would try to pray, and wait. It seemed like these days any half-formed idea could get the delivery and emphasis of a groundbreaking screed. There were people she had gone to art school with who wrote status updates with big beautiful words, describing friends’ exhibits they saw over the weekend: tangled metal wires, piles of tattered rope. Her former classmates seemed to be excelling in their careers, flitting about to gallery openings, doing performance art involving cupcake frosting on their private parts. Sarah hated them all.

The night before: she had dreamt she was in the forest eating red and white speckled Amanita mushrooms with older women who seemed wise and attuned to the earth. They tasted sweet. Remembering the dream, Sarah suddenly had a craving for the ring pops of her youth, less so the taste than the look of brightly colored candy worn like jewels. But she knew the pops were laden with chemical shit that no sane person should want in their body.

She was living with her father, but just for a few months while she got on her feet financially. Still, at 24 she knew she was too damn old to be living with a parent. There were still stuffed animals in her bedroom. There were posters of rock stars she no longer cared for on her walls.

Sarah realized recently she had become slightly apathetic to the children she was supposed to care for. She didn’t want to be a nanny forever. The kids would run out in the street singing maniacal songs, they would ask her if they could have two of the rainbow ice pops and she would say “Yeah sure,” sitting on their front steps and only occasionally looking up from her book. Jung was speaking about how one must have a meaningful goal in life established through an inner knowing. Sarah would try to tell the kids how they have to learn responsibility if they ever want to go anywhere in life. But they were terrible at listening.

Last night around two a.m, not being able to sleep she pulled a card from the Tarot deck while sitting in bed. The Moon, again. She felt exasperated with the cards. She already knew she was emotional and prone to bouts of insanity. Her cat was whimpering by her bedside. There was a thunderstorm coming.

She’d had one dream recently about walking down the street of a city, it was cloudy and drizzling, with her ex-boyfriend Mike whose face was morphing into various other guys she’d dated. They were walking to a smoke shop to get rolling papers so they could go home and smoke 4 joints. But when they reached the head shop, Mike went in and she stayed on the corner. As she was waiting she saw an old man with piercing blue eyes exit the shop, looking directly at her with a wry smile.

A flashback: the kids were pointing at the blue sky, at the crescent moon now visible in the late afternoon. How many days until full? they asked.

Sarah didn’t know exactly what to do with the mountains of artwork, collages and paintings she had made sprawled out on her bedroom floor listening to reggae music. Was she trying to make a statement? Not exactly. No it was more that her pieces came from a deep place, also a childish place, brashly insisting on what life really was. She kept a notebook full of illegible scrawl, detailing dreams, feelings and ideas on art. When she read back over her notes she would try to locate the golden nugget of wisdom that might free her from a state of dull malaise. She would paw through art criticism books, trying to collect the theories, trying to formulate a working knowledge of art to look backwards and understand why it was she even liked to create things in the first place. She wanted to compete in this banquet of whirling ideas, the trajectory of history that it seemed like one had to continually reference to be considered sane.

Sometimes she heard the voices of the kids when she was trying to fall asleep at night, as if a yapping piece of them had gotten stuck in her aura. “Sarah Sarah come on the trampoline!” She went on the trampoline often, sure. The kids told her she was the first nanny who ever agreed to do it. The last nanny had been an old lady who could barely bend down to pick cookie crumbs up off the kitchen floor.

She remembered another dream from last night now: she was being interviewed for a position as an elementary school teacher in a room of cheerful, laughing children. But the interviewer, a young handsome guy, had been asking her riddles. “Who knows more about the night sky — the moon, or the painter of the moon?”

Her stomach gurgled. She’d been waiting thirty minutes for this doctor. She considered just dressing herself and leaving. She heard a lady coughing in the next room over. She shouldn’t have had the lemonade this morning. Her Dad told her it was bad for her stomach — but she liked drinking it out on the front porch as the sun came up.

It seemed so simple for other people, Sarah often thought, in a way that wasn’t bitter but curious. She would survey the stoic faced strangers passing her on their way to work. They had orderly lives, she would conclude — striving in a career, with little resistance to their surroundings, enjoying the culture. Meanwhile here Sarah was, walking to the clinic in Beacon, grinding her teeth, feeling wrath towards the hip boys outside the dog treat store, thinking about how she wanted to leave behind civilization forever.

When the kids had went back later to check on their bird, they found that he was gone, perhaps carried off by a bigger animal, or maybe healed, able to fly once more.