It was a chilly morning for September when I ventured out for a run around the Mather High School track, which was near our Rogers Park apartment in Chicago. So brisk, that I donned a pair of gloves before heading outdoors.
The sun was shining, with that “burnished” patina it takes on in early Autumn and the tree leaves were just starting to turn. All in all, I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to getting some exercise in the fresh air.
As I neared the park, I noticed that there wasn’t another soul on the track. Something about that felt odd, but I had no problem running sans company.
I started at a moderate lope and then, as I picked up steam, I noticed something on the grass up ahead. Something black. And flapping. Wings.
My heart sank into my Nike’s as I realized it was one of those huge blackbirds that appear now and then. Do you know what I mean? The really big ones, much like the size of a small hawk.
Slowly, I approached and saw that the poor thing was scrabbling on the ground, unable to take flight, or even walk. And, as I’ve always had an affinity for animals, I felt sick as I looked around for help, of any kind.
Nothing. And then, someone came running out of the clubhouse. A young, Hispanic woman. She didn’t speak much English, but somehow, I was able to convey that I needed a large box to put the bird in.
Thankfully, she was able to find what I needed, and gently, I lifted the bird and placed it in the box. How lucky that I had thought to wear gloves that day.
Without breaking into a full run, as I didn’t want to jostle the poor creature, I made it back to our apartment and laid on the doorbell. When I heard my husband hit the buzzer, I yelled up, “Throw me my car keys! I have an injured bird!”
And he did, no questions asked, bless him.
I hightailed it to my car and placed the box with the bird on the back seat. As I was starting to panic, I tried to control my breathing. WHERE was I going to go?
And then it came to me. Our veterinarian’s office wasn’t far and to me, that made the most sense. Certainly, they would take the bird and do their best to find out what was going on.
Less than ten minutes later, I arrived at the animal hospital. Hands shaking, I carried the bird inside and was promptly told by the woman at the desk that they “didn’t take wildlife.”
Momentarily speechless, I just looked at her. They don’t take wildlife!? What was I supposed to do?
I must have looked as aghast and upset as I felt as she quickly informed me that there was a wildlife refuge not far from the hospital and that certainly, they would take the bird.
Now, I’ve never been good at directions so I sat behind the wheel for a few moments to collect myself. I noticed that the bird was making these…sounds…that I hope I never hear again, in my life. I can’t even describe them, but I knew that the bird wouldn’t last if I didn’t get my ass in gear.
Miraculously, it didn’t take long to find the reserve, but the grounds were huge and I couldn’t see the main building. And, as the bird’s plaintive cries became ever weaker, I started to cry.
I drove around and around for what seemed like forever and then finally! There it was, in front of me, like the gateway to heaven. The main building.
I jumped out of the car and grabbed the box. My crying had turned to full-on sobs by this time as I knew in my heart, that I was too late.
Breathing hard, with snot and tears running down my face, I walked to the front desk where a man and a woman were quietly talking. The woman took one look at me and came around the desk with her arms outstretched.
I looked down into the box. No scrabbling. No cries. I knew the bird was dead.
I tried to explain that I’d wanted to help it, but there was no need. They got it.
“We’ll take care of him, from here,” she said. How she knew it was a “him,” I’ll never know but I am thankful to this day for her empathy.
Gently, she took the box from my hands and disappeared into a back room.
As I drove back to our apartment, I struggled to calm myself. All I wanted to do was to forget those sounds. I have almost, but not quite, succeeded.
In the days and weeks after, again, I thought about my being the only person on the track that beautiful September morning. Was I meant to find the bird? Maybe. But, I was consumed by the fact that I failed to save it. Would it have been better if I just let it be?
I tell myself, that “No. At least the bird didn’t die alone, on the cold ground, in the park. I was there.”
But then again, I’m adept at lying to myself.