I was really lonely as a child.
I mean, I had same-species friends – mostly boys at first and then a gal or two – but for some reason I had trouble feeling like there was any real tangible connection there.
I knew I preferred the company of these homo sapiens to other homo sapiens. And I knew they mostly felt the same way. But other than that, this “friendship” thing was kind of a mystery.
All that changed when I turned eight. After a solid 12 months of begging, whining, wheedling, nagging and nonstop one-track-mind commentary, my folks finally caved and got me a parakeet.
Perky and I were instant besties. It was like – effortless. He was in every family photo. We celebrated his birthday just like we celebrated my birthday. His was the first face I saw each morning and the last face I saw each night.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone anymore. I had a playmate, a companion, a confidante, a mutual admiration society. There was total trust.
To others, he was clearly “just a bird.” No one else in my immediate family was a “bird person,” so to them, Perky chirped, shrieked or screamed. To me, he talked.
When I left for college, we finally lost touch. I became immersed in surviving my college years, the anorexia, then the bulimia, the never-ending stream of transfers and major changes and meltdowns.
When my mom called me one day to tell me that, at the ripe old age of eleven (VERY old for a parakeet), Perky had passed, I felt little emotion. I don’t remember crying.
Given the level of chaos I had worked myself into at that time, this was probably a good thing.
But today, 23 years after my college graduation and 23 years after Perky’s passing, I still think about him several times a week. I still miss him. I still feel regrets for my short-comings as an eight-year-old birdie mama.
I still wish I had a do-over in certain key areas, given all I know now about proper parronting (parrot + parent) that I didn’t know back then.
And I still feel so grateful for Perky’s patience, tolerance, compassion, unconditional love and endless eagerness to keep company with me. How did I get so lucky?
Jacob, my first cockatiel, came along much later. He passed after just three years from what was later determined to be a congenital kidney disorder. I didn’t just cry when he passed. I keened. I took his little feathery body out in the back behind our fence, buried it, spoke prayers and screamed out my grief.
And I was never EVER going to go through that kind of grief and loss again, I determined. Ever.
Then my mom called me one day. I was at work. It was around lunchtime. There was a Petsmart just up the road. In the middle of the bird section, Mom informed me, was a brand new open air aviary packed full of cute cockatiel babies.
I was SO mad. I was steaming out my ears with anger. She knew I had vowed never to get another parrot.
But then again, this was my mom we were talking about. She had won prizes for her sales skills as a teenager, way back in the days before anyone had heard words like “email” or “internet.”
Long, grumpy story short, I went to the Petsmart that day at lunch. And that was when I met him.
Pearl was a tiny, frumpy, lumpy bundle of soft grey feathers matted down with baby bird formula (imagine blender-oatmeal poured all over a baby bird and you’ll get a good picture of what I was looking at).
The other cockatiels were all fully fledged (they had all their adult feathers). They were sleek and smooth and oh-so suave. Their confidence dictated always choosing the shortest route to their destination, which frequently meant they trampled right over little Pearl.
We were instant soulmates.
Today, Pearl is 17 years old. He is my mentor and constant companion.
I have already completed his biography, which I titled “Love & Feathers: what a palm-sized parrot has taught me about life, love, and healthy self-esteem” ….mostly because I know he will likely pass before me, and my greatest wish is that he is always with me at least through our stories.
Pearl also has his own blog and website. He is the center of my days and the star in my life. He is my best friend, my soul bird.
I really can’t explain it, though. I mean, I have a longtime boyfriend. I have a human best girl friend, too (every gal needs one of those) and a few other very close friends.
I am very close with my parents. I have two shells, Malti and Bruce, that I am head-over-heels for.
But Pearl is my “person.” He has been since the moment we met, no questions asked (or needed).
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever had – or do you have now – a non-human best friend? If anyone (like, oh, me, for instance) asked you to describe what the difference is between your non-human best friend and your homo sapiens friends and family, what words would you choose? If you had words to describe it….I am currently at a loss but I’d love to hear your take on it!