Pigeons: A Love Story

A marriage, a divorce, a decade, and two very stubborn birds


The eggs appeared on Memorial Day. The pigeons had settled again at the bottom of the shaftway outside my office window. They cooed and clucked and conspired down there, just beyond the glass. A nest was inevitable, but on the holiday, before the birds completed construction, the female had laid two eggs. Dirty white, the size of candies. They rested idly in their prematurity, spaced out unevenly and unprotected on the shaftway floor. The nest came along in the corner, a boxy, filthy aggregation of twigs. They’d get there.

They’d gotten there before. They first lived as a family in waiting three months earlier—as much a family, anyway, as myself and one plant I could barely keep alive. I’d had a real shot at a family once, though, and to the extent the pigeons annoyed with their fluttering and wailing outside the window, they worked harder at homemaking than I ever had. With, alas, the same outcome.


My marriage lasted exactly seven years. This happened almost entirely on purpose.

At some point in our fourth year, Jennifer and I became familiar with a statistic asserting that the average American marriage lasted seven years. As our fifth wedding anniversary approached, we joked about our imminent doom.

“Only two years left,” I said.

“It’ll be here before we know it,” Jennifer said.

As our sixth anniversary approached and our interests and inclinations diverged more conspicuously every week, then every day, a shadow spread from that seven-year milestone on the horizon.

“I wonder what we can get for the CDs,” I said, looking at our music collection.

“We’re not selling the CDs,” Jennifer said.

Finally, as our seventh anniversary approached, when most couples would plan a dinner or getaway or at least some dutiful greeting-card shopping, we planned our split.

We discussed it only once, on the sofa we’d bought (or that Jennifer bought, rather; even our finances were separate) a year earlier for our new residence in Jersey City. That move arose from Jennifer wanting to live closer to her office in Parsippany, to which she’d supercommuted for three years from our apartment in Yorkville. A subway ride downtown, a walk to Penn Station, and then a 70-minute train journey out of New York’s sinew and into New Jersey’s bone. Then back again at night.

Jennifer hadn’t cared much for either location. Literally since the day we’d arrived in New York ahead of my entry into graduate school in 2004, she had wanted to return home to California. She would warm to parts of her life in the east, but the move never represented more than a temporary stop, the kind of thing marriage vows obligate you to withstand. It was evident on the first night in Manhattan, after traveling across the continent: Our queen-size bed sat in storage, too large for us to transport, and I unpacked and reassembled my old futon in the catacomb of the railroad basement apartment we’d leased. I uncorked what was supposed to be a celebratory bottle of wine. We toasted from plastic cups, to what I can’t remember. It should have been to her. She drank through a thin veil of potential that concealed a more potent swirl of dread, depression and resentment stirring beneath. Still, she drank. I joined her, a rite I’d get to know well.

Jennifer adapted. Three years later we found ourselves in Jersey City. We struggled through summer, then fall. There was no money. I hated New Jersey and deeply missed Manhattan. Jennifer pined still for California.

Our personal D-Day—June 23, 2008—now loomed mere months away, and the closer it got, the further apart we grew. Whatever vestige of love we upheld gave way to keeping a home intact, despite how short-lived we privately knew that home to be. We painted the bedroom. I tried my hand at modest plumbing repair. Jennifer replaced curtains. From the southeast in particular, the apartment received extraordinary amounts of light that took some time for us former basement dwellers to get used to.

We had reached our terminus by early 2008, accelerated by my faltered (and ultimately failed) Web startup and tendency to stay out all night rather than face another multi-hour voyage home from the city. I was a terrible husband—selfish yet dependent, rotten with ambition, sensitive to Jennifer’s desires only insofar as how rarely they intersected with my own. I was unfaithful. We never bonded with each other’s tiny social circles, and we developed some mutual frustration over that. In March of that year, I landed a very good job whose primary benefits to me were not its nice salary and the economic respite it promised for my wife, but my ticket back to Manhattan if I wanted it. I was browsing apartment listings and even visiting a few open houses within a few weeks. We still had four months on our lease.

“You can’t wait to get rid of me, can you?” Jennifer said. She was ambivalent overall. I don’t know if that was her resignation or denial or just relief at the prospect of returning home to California, her real home.

The only tears came in that single conversation about our divorce, on the couch Jennifer bought and I later claimed.

“We’ve done the seven years,” I said. “I know we laughed about it, but look at us. We have nothing in common. We don’t even have a marriage anymore.”

“I know.”

“And you want to go back to California.”

“And you don’t?”

“I can’t. I belong here.”

“I always thought you said you wanted to go back.”

“I can’t.”

Then Jennifer cried. “But you’re my baby birdie.”

“I’m not. Not any more.”


I viewed the pigeons’ first try at parenthood with wonderment. The jokey half-myth of the baby pigeon—that in their eggs’ notorious absence, we must presume they materialize fully formed, like Smurfs or chocolate chips—accompanied my witness.

I photographed them and disseminated their arrival online in March 2011. Their chirping endeared them to me, though they were not what you’d call cute or even sightly. They had wiry, gun-grey tufts of frizz where an archetypal chick might have butter-colored fuzz. The pigeons would take that trade, I presumed, if only because their frizz gave way to wings. And when it did, chicken and man alike would begrudge these scavenging vermin as they inherited the majesty of flight.

These pigeons would not fly, however. By their second week of life, they had barely left their feet. The shaftway, measuring roughly five feet square and stretching up five stories, prevented virtually any lateral transport. Meanwhile their lungs developed. They shrieked with sharpening intensity, as though their desire to fly like their mother—this clearly vexed, outwitted, yet sympathetic bird—surpassed any hunger or thirst they experienced in this dank uptown pit.


This went on for nine days. I stopped taking pictures, though I noted their stunted growth and imminent demise to the very same social media crowd that earlier greeted them with faith, humor and hope. Then the birds quieted.

Not long afterward, through the very same window and on the same shaftway floor where I’d later see two eggs arbitrarily laid on Memorial Day, a young pigeon lay dead. The other sat diagonally across the shaftway, alone, twitching in the shadow of an air conditioner.

I resolved not to let the second pair of eggs hatch in the shaftway.

I dialed up a service dedicated to what it called “pigeon rescue” in New York City. The call went through to an answering machine. The outgoing message directed me in staticky English I could not understand. I didn’t hear anything about pigeons. In any case I left my details: Name, phone number, situational specifics. Pigeons laid eggs in my shaftway. This had occurred before and not ended well. What do I do? Please send help and or instructions. Name, phone number.

A few hours passed, and the call was not returned. I researched further and discovered little more in the way of resources: A list of pigeon breeders here, a Web page about pigeon cultivation there. Each looked ancient in their presentation, outdated relics of lost and/or forgotten interests, the type of things the Internet is especially good for.

Revisiting the Pigeon Rescue site, I copied an e-mail address to which I hastily wrote:

Hello—
I found your site online and am writing regarding a pair of pigeon [sic] who are breeding in a tall shaftway just outside my apartment. The last time they attempted this, the babies died because of the difficulty feeding them and their inability to learn to fly in a confined space. I hope to avoid this situation this time around and am looking for anyone who can advise me as to options or assistance.
Thanks in advance,
Stu VanAirsdale

An hour later, my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello.” The voice was older, female, wary. “You called about pigeons.”

“Oh, hi, yes.”

“And I…” She paused. Static persisted. “You told a … story, and it didn’t… Some of it came through, but…”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that.”

“So can you just… Why don’t you just start over?”

I retold the story. There was no nest, I said, and the pigeons couldn’t fly once they hatched. Mother could bring food, but water would not reach them. Light was out of the question.

“I see.” She asked me to hold, the first of several times she would request this as she cupped the receiver to her shoulder. She repeated the scenario to a person in her presence—a man, I soon determined as his whisper and her rasp slow-danced around the static and shivered through the line.

She returned to ask questions for which I had few answers. Are the parents there now? (I think they just left.) Is there light? (No, still no light, at least not directly.) How long have the eggs been there? (Two days? Three? I really wasn’t paying attention.) Is there a nest? (Not really.) Can you reach the nest? (Like I said…) How often are the parents back? (No idea.) Can you move the birds and the eggs to the street? (Seriously?)

Finally, after another muffled exchange between New York City’s unofficial Pigeon Rescue team, came this counsel: Let the eggs hatch. As I’d seen before, the parents would have relocated them to a nest well before then, and the babies would receive at least some sustenance from their mother. Assuming I could deliver water to their ersatz homestead, perhaps the babies would develop in better condition than the doomed hatchlings that preceded them.

That’s fine, I replied, except they couldn’t learn to fly in a shaftway. I’d witnessed this before.

“Well,” she said, “there’s always… maybe… hold on.” More smothered chatter. “You know… Are there window ledges? Maybe they… they can hop up and… eventually… or… Can you move them to the street? You can always move them to the street after they hatch.”

“Listen,” I said, “I’m not moving them to the street.”

“Well…”

What I wanted—what I now unequivocally told her I wanted—was for someone to take the eggs and raise these hatchlings himself or herself. That seemed best for the birds, and surely that was somebody’s livelihood or passion. I’d observed a whole pigeon-sympathy culture in New York, in parks and on rooftops and on television. Even the Pigeon Rescue site, to whose representative I was speaking directly, quoted Albert Schweitzer’s admonition that “Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” It thanked visitors “for being among the few who care enough about the difficult lives of these wonderful birds to have come here and joined us in trying to make a difference.” Would this culture—this “us” whom I involuntarily joined—step up and adopt these pigeons?

The woman said that if I could just help keep the babies in some semblance of health for a week or two after hatching and call back, she might recommend a wildlife service to drop in, collect them, and rehabilitate them before releasing them into “the wild.” I inquired if anyone might just come over and take the eggs. Mike Tyson, maybe. She told me that this was not an option. That would require an incubator, which was not exactly how pigeons—let’s face it, these foul, filthy, halfwit animals—are cultivated. They are born in skyline coops painted chalky white with their own droppings, or in nests secreted away in unseen corners, crevices, pockets and, of course, shaftways of the city.

“OK, well, thank you,” I said from the last sincere part of my psyche not overtaken by panic. “I appreciate it.”

“Do you have my phone number?” she asked.

“Yes, I do. Right here.”

“And where are you located?”

“In the city. Upper East Side.”

“Oh,” she practically burst, “we’re on the Upper West Side. So we’re close.”

“Yes, we are. OK.”

“OK.”

“Thank you.”

Hanging up, I attempted to resume my workday. The eggs’ inertia and urgency proved contagious, though. Pangs of responsibility overtook me like seizures. Technically the pigeons-in-waiting had not yet had a chance to shit on passers-by from a lamppost perch, or soil a bodega awning beyond repair, or rocket banzai-style into the congested concrete footways of rush hour. For now, they were innocent. To the extent nature guaranteed their dumbness by breed, so it entitled them to the benefit of the doubt of not yet being born.

Perhaps I could mind the hatchlings long enough to see them rescued. What was a disposable plastic bowl of water outside the window every now and then? I’d endured the shrieking and prolonged debilitation before. The anguish, the confusion, the atrophy, the hopelessness. Another family was at stake. While I owed it nothing, I sensed an opportunity.


“Really missing you and NYC right now!”

So came one of Jennifer’s rare text messages on a freezing night in late February 2011. This was how we most often communicated. We hadn’t spoken in months when I replied with an invitation to talk on the phone.


As we spoke, Jennifer caught me up on having bought a house and trading off a second job for a tenant-roommate. The tenant came with his 8-year-old son, whom Jennifer looked after occasionally as part of the tenant’s rental agreement. I couldn’t understand how that worked. After her second or third time complaining, “I didn’t sign up for this,” I doubted Jennifer herself actually understood either. Suddenly, she said, she was cooking meals and organizing birthday parties. She expressed resentment for the turn things had taken under her roof, this newfound nanny-mother figure she had become. But she also emphasized the obvious—that it wasn’t the boy’s fault—and the not-so-obvious: That she’d grown to love the boy in a way, a feeling he seemed to reciprocate.

The development left me more surprised than intrigued. Jennifer renounced her interest in motherhood very early in our relationship. It was the spring of 1999. Our courtship temporarily halted after three months when, as we became increasingly serious, Jennifer explained that her primary goal in life was to “be a mommy.” She said it with guileless resolve, evincing a wonder at the prospect not unlike that of a child herself. I kept my own resolution to never be a father and determined that we’d better not push things any further.

We were apart for a month or two before things rekindled in the fall.

“I don’t know how we can be together,” I said, laying in bed with her, the way it always goes.

“What do you mean? We can.”

“We can’t. I don’t want kids.”

“That’s fine.”

I took her at her word. And here she was more than a decade later, an irritated pseudo-stepmom making accidental good on that word.

“Listen,” I continued. “If you miss New York so much, you ought to just come back for a few days. You can stay with me. Come back for your birthday, why don’t you? I’ll take a few days off. Book a flight.”

And so about five weeks later, a few days shy of her 37th birthday, we were reunited in the Delta terminal at LaGuardia. Within an hour, Jennifer was back in our old place, staring into the shaftway at the family of pigeons.

“Baby birdie!” she exulted.

I explained that in fact the young birds were experiencing a slow, suffering demise.

“Baby birdie!” she repeated, her tone contorting downward one syllable at a time, a siren call of sympathy.

We had a good visit, if a little soggy. Very soggy. Almost every day brought rain and culminated in prolonged drinking at night. Jennifer met my new friends, mostly bar comrades she warmed to much quicker and more substantively than any of my old work or school colleagues. I loved the way she still always blew her nose after brushing her teeth. I loved how she still sat barefoot and cross-legged in front of the bedroom window, applying her makeup in the apartment’s lone source of natural light. And I loved how she still indulged me every night as I tilled and plowed and collapsed upon the neon soil of drunkenness.

“I was telling Ari,” she said, invoking my friend from the bar with whom she swiftly struck up a friendship, “this is like a new Stu.”

“New how?”

“Just…” She shrugged. “All this drinking.

This was indeed a New Me, much the way Jennifer was an Old Her. I disclosed this on the phone before Jennifer ever agreed to return—that I’d not done well for myself in the tapering aftermath of our marriage, that I was somewhat ashamed but relieved to come to peace with giving up. She purred over the line with surprise and bewilderment and a lilting hint of what I can only presume was schadenfreude: “Wowww.”


Jennifer spent the Thursday after her arrival visiting her former coworkers in New Jersey. I spent it working at home, distracted around noon by a mechanical jolt near my office window.

Going around to the living room side, where I’d banished curtains for a clear view into the drab grunge of the shaftway, I watched as a serviceman withdrew the air conditioning unit from the window beside my office. A blob of filthy white drew my eye to the left, where one of the struggling young pigeons had finally succumbed to death. The other had limped in and out of refuge below the air conditioner, as though its faint silhouette might shield the ailing bird from the ghost of its sibling.

The man removed the deceased pigeon and swept away the nest and the feathers shed during the birds’ desperate struggles for flight. He then disappeared back into the building, sealing the window once more with the air conditioner.

The surviving pigeon barely moved, save for the regular expanse of those overworked lungs budging futile, frazzled wings into and out of shadow.

“One of the pigeons died today,” I told Jennifer soon after she returned from New Jersey.

“Oh no.”

“A guy came and got it.”

She went to the window for a look. “What about this one?”

“I don’t know. But I need a drink.”


The next day, Jennifer’s birthday, we arose at mid-morning. I slept on our couch, with which my tall frame and broadening girth quickly proved incompatible. I’d pledged my bed to Jennifer, however, and sharing it seemed untenable. It was a wholly chaste visit. My face was hot with blood rushing from raised legs and the radiating furnace of alcohol that inflamed my empty stomach.

Making our ways to the bus for a rain-sopped downtown venture, I drew a cigarette from its hard pack and lit it with trembling hands.

“Why are your hands shaking?” Jennifer asked.

“I’m hungry.”

“It doesn’t look good.”

“It’ll be fine.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have that cigarette.”

“I know,” I repeated, taking a drag. “I know, I know. Something’s got to change.” We both took this not as a resolution but rather the simple declaration it was.

“It kind of does,” she said.

That night we returned to the bar. Some celebration was in order. Ari brought cupcakes and we all sang “Happy Birthday.” Another friend coaxed my least favorite word—a lexicographic grail he’d sought for what felt like long, dull ages—from Jennifer, who knew and disclosed it right away. I cringed.

There we were again, more of a couple than we ever were before in New York, commemorating milestones and pulling mothballed secrets from the sepulcher of our lives together.

These barstool summits buzzed with urgency. The imminence of separation gripped us in a way it had not the first time, when we spent years wringing fate from a dark statistical joke. Jennifer had refined her steadfastness and strength of that era into an independence that was harrowing to me. And here I sat, the man whose sense of entitlement eventually eroded down to its toxic, corrupt, alienated core.

“I don’t want you to go home,” I told her very, very late on Saturday night—the dreary infomercial hour we endured straight through after a long walk around Central Park and dinner at home and a bottle of wine and deciding against sleeping. Jennifer’s flight would leave within hours, early Sunday. “I’m so lonely.”

She looked at me, then looked away, teeth bared in the smile of a quandary. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Maybe she was. About what? That I was lonely? That she had to leave? That we ever left each other in the first place? That I punctured our shell of a home at its most fragile? That I gave up? That moving on is our new vow, and we can’t keep that one either?

Or maybe she wasn’t. Regardless, she had packed, and I escorted her to the corner at 4 a.m. to hail a cab. The last time we’d done this, she was in tears. I was close to them. Back then, I put my wife in a taxi with the medallion number 5H19. Now we stood on Third Avenue, where I hazily opened any anonymous yellow door for my ex-wife. We would have been married a decade that summer.

The moment passed through me and into the dawn. We embraced, she thanked me for a fine birthday, and I bid her a safe flight. The cab trundled away and out of sight over the soft downslope of Carnegie Hill. I turned and walked home, my hot face cutting the dewy morning chill of April.


The fundamental emotional difference between me and a pigeon is that the pigeon doesn’t know when it is sabotaging itself.

When a mother bird lays two eggs in the same space where, barely months earlier, two other eggs hatched to a horrible fate, it does so out of instinct. Its lack of awareness is compatible with biological, not psychological, function. We can dismiss them as stupid birds. They often are just that. But to do so not only precludes them from malice, but also makes their industriousness somewhat enviable. In their serial homemaking, pigeons don’t have to worry about what we humans, in our backhanded perspective of remarriage or second (or third) families, label the triumph of hope over experience. They need only attempt a nest, lay eggs and raise their young, over and over and over again until those hatchlings can leave their gnarly feet, crest upon the wind and fend for themselves on a steady diet of bread, cigarette butts, puke and the rest. They know no shame, and thus they know no discretion. But pigeons do know commitment. I’ve seen it for myself.


As a divorced male with no children and a history of euthanized relationships, I came to admire this beastly fortitude—particularly in the birds that rebuilt their home in my shaftway. To the extent their cooing, cawing, flapping and crapping reinforced their nuisance, their relentless goal-mindedness struck me as one of nature’s great optimisms, accidental or otherwise.

For this reason I sought a happier ending for these new eggs than the one met by the last pair. I figured I would not achieve this while keeping the family intact. One of my imagined pigeon specialists might drop by to get the eggs, leaving the parents behind to wonder where they went. After all, they nest in hiding to defend from predators. They cased the shaftway well before nesting to ensure that this was not also the habitat of, say, coyotes. But if, as the NYC Pigeon Rescue proprietress had suggested that afternoon, I did let the eggs hatch, and a specialist were to come to their aid, perhaps then the quartet could be transplanted out as a group.

The day unraveled as options and alternatives and scenarios tumbled apace. Jennifer would know what to do, I thought. She would make a decision.

Then the phone rang again.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Hello,” said the Pigeon Rescue woman, identifying herself through the familiar crackling hail of her line. “I was just… Something just occurred to me.”

“OK.”

“So, when did you say the eggs were laid?”

“Memorial Day.”

“All right. Well, my husband said something that I hadn’t thought of, and…” She cleared her throat. “And I feel like I’m recommending abortion or something.”

My guarded relief at her callback dissolved.

“But at this stage the eggs aren’t viable,” she said. “So, you know…”

I did know, but nevertheless I waited for her to continue, just to hear how the founder of NYC Pigeon Rescue phrases her advice to destroy newly laid pigeon eggs.

“If they were disposed of,” she said, “then it wouldn’t be anything really… Anything…”

“I understand,” I said. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“That’s fine,” she said. “It’s just an option.”

“OK, well, thank you.”

“All right.”

“You’ll probably hear from me in a couple weeks,” I said.

“All right. OK.”

“Sorry about this.”

“OK,” she said. “We’ll talk then. Take care.”

I hung up. Her hypocrisy shook me. The woman clearly knew her business, which was that she had no business. We now skirted the outer reaches of human compassion extolled on her Web site, from the swampy border of which you could see and smell the sulfuric plumes rising over a sea of gracelessness. It would be up to me to retreat inland—if I wanted . Following the woman’s previous advice required me to become, for lack of a better word, a nurturer. An adult. A family man, or at least a man with a family in my shaftway.

I stepped back into the living room and peered down at the eggs. The parents were absent, presumably harvesting more twigs for the nest, which had achieved about 60 percent completion in the opposite corner of the shaftway floor. The image of the first hatchlings reentered my mind.

I engaged a retroactive daydream:

…Of water droppers through windows and breathing masks over my nose and mouth.

…Of the birds’ shrieks abating when I delivered a chickpea here or a sunflower seed there.

…Of earning the trust of the parents, grateful as any creatures would be to not watch their offspring perish before their beady black eyes.

…Of the birds acquiring the strength and impulse to attempt flight.

…Of the professionals transporting them from this gloom—our gloom—to the sun-swathed expanses where they could develop an ability to soar.

They would not be proud birds, but they would be together, and they would be alive.

Even the worst permutation of this daydream was preferable to the excruciating deaths of the months before. But so, too, was the woman’s final counsel. That prospect chewed through me now with all the purposeful chaos and power of shark’s teeth, followed appropriately enough by the light-headedness that accompanies reminders of hoary, remorseless natural law.

I wished the woman hadn’t called back—that my reverie might itself have died of its own starved accord, that I would naturally yield to the savage yet fundamentally humane impulse of never allowing these eggs to hatch. I wondered if I would have yielded at all. As expert as I’d proven myself in the dark arts of self-destruction and abuse, taking two unborn birds—indeed, this whole resurgent family—down with me now seemed insane. Who was I to perceive them at my mercy? Who was anyone? Had their parents not demonstrated determination beyond my own meager experience and will?

All this wishing. All this wondering. And as with all the wishing and wondering I’d encountered in my considerations of family up to that point, I stood unchanged in an unchanging order of species, suddenly knowing and acknowledging what I needed to do.

From the cabinet below my kitchen sink I retrieved a small plastic bag and a small paper bag. Next I went to the landing just outside the basement’s exterior door. There, my landlord kept a long broom wedged above an electrical switch box. With the broom I could reach the eggs from my living-room window, which rose beyond a deep sill where I’d lined up a few dozen books. Stacking the books on the floor, I opened the window and raised the screen.

Unobstructed, the pigeons’ filth settled into grayscale relief before me. Feathers wilted and clotted in the grimy shadows, framed in the crude, arbitrary patterns of the birds’ droppings. Their incomplete nest frowned in the opposite corner. The eggs rested haphazardly away from it, unplanned or even unwelcome. I contemplated the parents. Where were they? How soon were they to return? What consequences could I expect if caught breaching their hard-wrought refuge? Have they known suffering? Will they know it again, and will it be better or worse the second time around?

I exercised care not to inhale too much of the pestilence as I leaned forward, extending the broom with my right arm and gently making contact with the top of the nearest egg. I pulled the bristles along its surface, inching it across the shaftway floor in what felt like a kind of primordial slow motion—predatory, calculating. The egg arrived at the window’s edge.

Covering my hand with the plastic bag, I reached for it. It possessed strikingly little mass even for its diminutive size, as if the nascent being inside had already sensed the peril into which it would be born and made a deal with the cosmos to escape. I shook the paper bag open and placed the egg at the bottom, repeating this process with the second egg.

I lowered the screen and closed the window, immediately tucking the paper bag into its plastic counterpart while walking back outside to the landing for a deep breath.

It was as though my momentum never stopped when I faced the white wall abutting the street and swung the bags overhand, feeling the eggs’ modest weight shift inside just before I smashed them.


I never saw the pigeons again.

I avoided spying them or their reaction to the missing eggs, the shattered home. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop the wounded octaves of their cooing and clucking and conspiring, which resumed for only a day or so before my landlord installed spike strips in the shaftway. The serviceman next door followed that up with some kind of poison. Access forbidden, solitude restored.


A few years later, I left New York for good. I made it back to California five years behind Jennifer. She has a new boyfriend, or at least he was new last year, and they were still together when I wished her a happy 40th birthday earlier this year.

Every now and then, usually at night, I wonder what she’s doing, where she goes, or how the family we never had looks in the parallel universe where it thrives. I wonder if the pigeons are there, too, awakening us at dawn like the birds in my new neighborhood—flocks that sing in the distance sweetly and invisibly and something like forever.

[Shaftway pigeon photos by the author. “Pigeon Morning” by ZeroOne via Flickr. “Pigeon Cuddles” by dingopup via Flickr.]