June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

We reveal so much about our unconscious inner lives, and the destinies we will write, through the stories that we tell.

Humor piece re-write By Mary Fowles For Joel Yanofsky March 26, 2003.


When I broke up with my boyfriend last September I wasn’t expecting to fall in love again so quickly, especially not with a neurotic coral-beaked Agapornis Personata. I’m firmly convinced it wasn’t coincidence that the single and searching Lovebird I affectionately named Safran came into my life. It was just weeks after my boyfriend told me that “opening up the relationship” could be good for us. I didn’t agree. As it turns out, in Safran I may have found the most monogamous male on the planet. Like any great romance, our love blossomed in the wake of tragedy.

At the Lovebird warehouse where he entered this world, my sensitive bird did not fare well. Crammed into a tight rectangular box bared with impenetrable aluminium and at least ten other common foul, Safran, with his sensitive and complex soul was driven mad. Longing for the world of his ancestors, the roofless sky that marked a life of freedom, Safran slipped into the darkest of depressions at the young age of six months. Knowing that attacking the boundaries of his prison would only lead to a headache and a flaked beak, Safran turned upon his own foot in a bout of irreconcilable self-loathing. It began with a mere nail-biting problem. He would sit on the plastic perch beneath the hum of the florescent lights of the warehouse and chew until each little black claw was taken off. And then he started on the tiny toes. Toes that in nature would have been used to grip the bows of willow trees and pounce on worms, in captivity were useless. Three out of four were taken off within months. Over night the burgundy scab would heal over the stump, only to be re-opened again in the morning when Safran focused on his day’s work. In such a state, Safran was more likely to die from blood loss than be purchased by a bird-lover.

His capitalist breeders plotted an imminent execution. It was at this point that my neighbour, a kind soul who worked at the warehouse brought Safran to me. “He’ll bond with you,” she said, “loving pets can nurture the most tortured of hearts.”

Lovebirds are one of the few species that mate for life, raise children together and love one another until death. But if they cannot find another bird in their vicinity, they will bond with humans, or so the story goes. Safran and I met was I was 25.

“Love birds live to be 35 years old, that means he will be with you until 60,” my neighbor told me, as consolation that in Safran I would find a faithful life partner.

It wasn’t long before I realized that Safran was more likely to bond with the tip of my nose than with my person. In bird world, I’ve come to understand, anything my size that moves or makes a noise is The Enemy. His small form and, dare I say, tiny brain makes it impossible to fathom me in entirety. In truth, I don’t really exist to Safran. He relates to me in parts. For example, I can tell by the way he looks sideways at my hand when I change his water bowl that he considers The Hand to be a threat to his existence. My mouth, on the contrary is an interesting object from which strange noises emanate to interrupt his pruning. I am a threatening fingertip he hides from; I am a few strands of hair he nibbles at sometimes. That is all.

For months after Safran arrived we had a routine. At night before bed when the lights were dim I’d lean into his cage where he hid beneath the soft paper towel. “I love you, Safran,” I’d say. Then he’d shimmy sideways across the bottom of his cage to hiss at me violently, bearing the razor sharp edges of his beak and thick pink tongue. In the mornings I’d put my finger into the cage to offer him a pomegranate seed- a tropical fruit of his native Tanzania. He’d then bite me sharply, drawing blood.

As Safran grew strong and healthy, he stopped gnawing on his foot. I left the door of his cage open and encouraged him to take what limited freedom he could, considering the circumstances. It was a revelatory experience to watch the day he used his beak to climb out of his cage and then perch on the top. I know he understood a world that for once was not latticed with the bars of incarceration. And since that time he has learned to fly around our bedroom with inspired liberty. Perching on the geraniums and hibiscus at the window, he stares into the open sky often and engages in intelligent conversation with the swallows and robins. At night I’d often dream he had curled up on my neck sleeping peacefully, the soft black plumage on the top of his head lightly resting on my cheek. Or I’d dream that wing-to-wing we were flying together over rainforest and sea, stopping sometimes for a sip of fresh morning dew that had formed on a strand of grass.

In the morning I’d awaken. “Good morning my sweetheart,” I’d say. “Squawk” he’d bark back at me with those characteristically beady, vacant, ebony stares. It became more and more apparent to me that my love for Safran was unrequited. I began to wonder if my ex-boyfriend didn’t have a point about the possibilities of an open relationship. Indeed, I myself began to long for one.

It was around this time that Safran picked up one of his least appealing habits- what I’ve come to term the Chinese Torture Chirp. Around 6:45 on most mornings of the week would then awaken to a piercingly shrill wail, not unlike a dog whistle with a particularly disturbing rhythm. During that time I would often rise up from my sleep to the sound of my own voice screaming “Shut up you worthless beast.” Staring past foggy sleep-filled eyes I’d confront my Safran clinging to the edge of his cage with a terrifyingly defiant stare.

I decided at this point resolutely that if I were to open up the relationship on my end, it wasn’t fair that Safran suffer in solitude. “We all deserve to know the love of a kindred spirit,” I affirmed.  And so Peachy entered our lives. She looked lovely in the pet store the day I brought her home: long black lashes, a dainty rosy beak and perfectly quaffed feathers of turquoise and a hint of golden blush. “A sexy little thing,” I thought, “just what my Safran deserves.” I didn’t know at the time that Peachy, a pretty and healthy bird, had the attitude of a pit bull. The domineering-verging-on-psychotic beast crushed poor Safran’s machismo, what little of it he had. When I placed her gently into Safran’s cage expecting a love-at-first sight affair, she charged head on to peck his delicate scalp like a slice of stale bread. Her chirp was a terrifying refrain that made me question the existence of God. I had to separate them or watch Safran die a slow and painful death. For the next three days he cowered nauseated beneath the paper towel in the corner of his cage. When I lifted it up to check on him, he would hiss at me like a cornered cat and then vomit violently. Today all that is left of Peachy is an $80 credit I incurred at the local pet store when I returned her.

Safran and I have grown to co-exist. I maintain a deep love for him, but am less attached to his loving me in return. He maintains an irrational fear of me, but trusts I will not invade his boundaries. Often to describe our union I invoke the romantic song writer Leonard Cohen, “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” Safran the bird; I the drunk.

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