I had a bird dream the night before I set the world I’d known on fire.
Two large owls of indeterminate species were in the upstairs room of my first childhood home (of course, being a dream, it both was and wasn’t the same structure). I was panicking about the safety of some kittens that were in the room with the owls, worried that spooking the birds away would somehow end in catastrophe.
After several stressful minutes, the nocturnal guests took their leave. As they were launching themselves through a side window exit, it appeared that the force of their wingbeats violently blew off the head of an American kestrel perched idly on a nearby tree branch. Horrors.
Once the owls were gone, though, I saw that the kestrel had merely tucked its head below its shoulders and twisted it behind its body. It straightened up and turned its head around from the back to once again look forward, clearly alive and well and returned to its natural state.
Interesting that the kestrel’s neck would have something of an owl-like physicality, as if the smaller bird possessed similar characteristics to the things that seemed to hurt it. Thought-provoking, that the markings on the back of a waking-life American kestrel’s head create the illusion of a second face, so that any way it turns, it’s protected by a mask to ward off predators as well as a bill that can sever a small animal’s spinal cord in flight. And how does the existential threat that cats pose to native birdlife factor into my (possibly misplaced) desperate concern for the kittens’ safety? Matters for an even deeper psychic dive than I mean to take here.
The moral I derived in my slumber was, although the situation had looked disastrous, the kestrel was fine, the kittens were fine, and, after the hardest, most painful breakup of my life, I would be fine, too.
“Don’t delay joy,” a dying Bill Thompson, III, imparted to his teary colleagues at his very last staff meeting.
This message, combined with years of strife stemming from imperfect but well-meaning conditioning on what love is supposed to be like, lit a small spark deep inside me that would smolder for months.
Life is too short to consent to be an active participant in your own misery.
I try to pay more attention to my animal dreams whenever they happen. Part of this is an ancestral and animistic observation. Part of it is a suspicion that Carl Jung was onto something. Pumas chased me in my sleep throughout much of my late childhood. And there have been occasions where, when I’ve felt insecure in one area of my life or another, I’ve dreamt of foxes breaking into my home.
These birds appeared at precisely the right time, after several weeks of withering under the weight of the full realization that I could never hope to thrive in the partnership I helped found. I had to rip off a Band-Aid and plunge in a knife in one fell swoop.
With such a necessary rending looming, it’s no wonder so many raptors visited me.
The next day wasn’t easy. How could it be? The weeks and months following were difficult in increasingly abstract ways, spent gripped by ghostly talons of heartache. But ultimately, so far, at least, everything has been mostly fine for me. I’ve grown and healed and come to understand myself better for it.
Some months after the rupture, I was driving by the space that once hosted my second childhood home (they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, as the song goes), just up the street from where my dream took place. Perched on the road sign at the bottom of the driveway was a species I admire but seldom get to see, an American kestrel.