It was easier to go through life without romance, but sometimes I wished for companionship. Someone to talk with, to eat with, to watch a movie with, to sleep with… but I never considered a pet.
Page called me out of the blue and I was reluctant to absorb her burden. She was all sing song and smiles with determination to become a famous artist like Michelangelo or da Vinci. However, she needed a favor.
Page adored her yearling African grey parrot. Page named him Kevin, teaching the bird words using the dictionary, news reports, books, old movies, and famous quotes. She couldn’t take him with her.
“Oh, he’s so sweet. Katie, you are the only person I trust with my baby.”
Page’s blue eyes had pleaded and her pink lips mewed. Pathetic.
“Okay, I’ll take it.”
Page clapped her hands, hugged me, and we spun around the room. I agreed to the responsibility solely because Page is like a sister to me. We’ve been friends since Kindergarten and she filled the void of an actual blood sibling. And she made me feel needed. Nobody ever needs me.
So, after six months, the verdict was in: having a pet was interesting but not quite wonderful.
At first Kevin’s emotional compassion towards me was cute, even sweet. If I had a rough day on the job, Kevin might quote someone famous like Thomas Jefferson:
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
He would change his tone of voice to match a celebrity like Clint Eastwood and tease me with, “Do you feel lucky? Do ya?”
I didn’t realize that birds or animals were playful. Life developed a routine and things were even good, that is, until Mom died.
Mom noticed unexplained bruises on her legs and I talked her into seeing a doctor. She was diagnosed with aggressive leukemia. She wanted to forgo treatment and enjoy the rest of her days, which meant trying to make up for lost time with me.
To help get things in order, Mom sold her condo and moved into my house. As a single mom, she had to leave me alone a lot because she worked two and sometimes three jobs to support us and to put me through college.
When Mom came to live with me, she developed a surprising relationship with Kevin.
My mother was never a fan of pets, so this should have been nice. Kevin had company 24/7 so he wasn’t as needy. Kevin was friendly and affectionate when I came home, but he seemed to have a deeper bond with Mom. She carried him around on her shoulder.
We baked pies, Mom shared family recipes, we looked at photographs, shared our favorite music, and talked about a funeral and documented her final wishes. I became jealous of Kevin because Mom’s attention was divided between us. Because I worked, Kevin got most of her time. He could imitate Mom’s voice perfectly.
In the days following Mom’s death, depression set in. Sometimes I would forget to feed Kevin, but he would remind me.
“Dinner time Kevin.”
Dutifully, I would go into the kitchen and open his cage door and offer whatever I’d found in the refrigerator and pantry. Kevin got a lot of bananas, crackers, and canned green beans. Standing at the birdcage, the odor was staggering, and forced me to keep a routine.
With food in his claws, Kevin was always polite.
“Thank you, thank you very much.”
He didn’t sound quite like Elvis but he delivered the words in a similar cadence.
In the throes of my grief, Kevin would try to soothe me, but it was freaky.
“Shhh, it’s okay honey. I’ll always be with you.”
This might have comforted someone else, hearing their mother’s voice streaming from a parrot, but it unnerved me.
Kevin had a vocabulary that rivaled mine and he knew how to manipulate the English language, as if he was a thinking creature. Having Kevin around become too much and I tried to sell him.
Advertising online, I wanted a quick sale and listed Kevin for fifty bucks. A Mr. Langdon was the first to respond and I gave him my address. He arrived within the hour.
“Hello there. What’s your name?”
Kevin remained silent.
“He’s beautiful. Does he talk?”
“Yes, he knows hundreds of words. Come on, Kevin. Say ‘hello’”.
In response to my frustration, Kevin bounced up and down on his perch and said, “Not yet, not yet.”
The man at first seemed amused, and then engaged Kevin.
“You’re coming home with me, bird.” A big grin had spread across his face. “My kids will get a kick out of you.”
“He is very entertaining.”
“Let him out.”
I opened Kevin’s cage and he quickstepped up my arm and leaned his body against my head.
For the first time ever, Kevin whispered to me and turned his head down to lock my gaze.
If I hadn’t been grieving so desperately for Mom, I may have been kinder. With my forearm, I pushed Kevin’s weight towards Mr. Langdon hoping that he might flutter his wings and land on the man’s shoulder. Instead, Kevin curled his toes and let himself drop to the floor.
He was still, eyes closed, legs drawn up. Down on the carpet, I rubbed Kevin’s tummy, picked him up and breathed tiny bits of air onto his beak, but nothing worked. No amount of shaking, flicking, or yelling roused Kevin. I cradled his still warm body against my chest.
“I’m not buying a dead bird. Give me my money back.”
Mr. Langdon grabbed his cash where I’d left it on the table and he was gone in a flash.
With mixed feelings I shut the door and Kevin burst to life in my arms.
He put his head against my bare neck. “Happy now.”
“I’m trying to give you another home, you dunce.”
“Home. Katie loves Kevin.”
“I think we need to go to the vet. You took a hard fall.”
“Vet. Vet. Vet.”
“Doctor. Do you know that word?”
“Katie loves Kevin.”
“I don’t want you to die.”
“Katie go to vet.”
Reaching for a throw to wrap Kevin for transport, I began to swoon. For a moment I felt lightheaded but then I was fine.
Kevin flapped his wings under the blanket.
“Katie go to vet.”
“I’m fine, we’re taking Kevin to the vet. Come on.”
It seemed disrespectful to put a talking bird into a box, so I let him sit in the passenger seat beside me then secured him with a seatbelt.
“It’s warm, so we’re going to roll the window down a bit.”
Why am I talking to Kevin like a person?
I stepped on the gas, made a right onto the main road and that’s all she wrote.
Hospital? I’m in a hospital bed.
There is a nurse standing by my side who gives a start when she notices my open eyes.
“Hello there. I’ll let the doctor know you are awake.”
“Is Kevin your husband?”
“Everyone is talking about your bird. Amazing what he did.”
The nurse is young, a pretty brunette. She pats my hand and explains.
“You drove your car into a ditch near your house, and neighbors heard someone yelling, ‘Help, help.”
“When they found your car, you were inside but unconscious. You’ve got a nasty bump there.”
She points to her own forehead to mimic mine.
“They realized the person yelling for help was actually a parrot strapped into the passenger seat. Apparently, he wouldn’t shut up.”
“Is he okay?”
She closes her eyes and sighs, “I heard he died on the way to the veterinarian’s office but he made the news.”
I’m not sure how to react. My doctor has arrived and seems serious.
“Hello Katie. I don’t know how he did it, but your parrot told the paramedics about a medical issue you’re having. We did some tests while you were under and we found a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in your lung. We’re trying to dissolve it, but if your bird didn’t tell anyone, we might have missed it.”
“Kevin? What did he say?”
“The paramedics said he wouldn’t quit. All the way to the vet, like a chant. ‘Help Katie, hurt to breathe, hurt inside. Help Katie, hurt to breathe, hurt inside. Help Katie… I think that’s how it went.”
“How could he know?”
The nurse offered, “I think animals are empathic, they know things about their owners. We see this with cancer and dogs actually smelling the growth. They just know. I suppose birds can love their owners, too.”
Scores of people showed up then, trying to gain entrance into my hospital room. Some had microphones and some people had notepads but they were all scrambling to interview me about my amazing parrot…
Kevin saved my life. I was going to get rid of him. No one can know.