It is a blistering hot day in Southern California, sometime in July. I am outside playing, less than four years of age and in a half awake, half dream state which represented most of my early life.
I don’t remember much except the sound of screeching and wings. A strange abstract painting of memory comes in red and yellow, claws and brown beak. The sensation returns of a knife stabbing my face just above my eye where I still carry a small scar and the feel of hook claws in my neck and chest.
The large Rhode Island Red Rooster had escaped his coop and me, in my dream world, paying no attention rounded a corner near his hens. He detected the threat and neutralized it. From the perspective of the rooster he did the right thing. From the perspective of my mother it was attempted murder for which she showed no mercy. The poor old boy was tethered in the hot sun for my dad to deal with but he didn’t make it that long. Denied water or shade he must have been hurting something awful before succumbing to the heat. His poor hens would have been left to wonder why their protector had been killed for doing his job.
I was scared. I knew I had been hurt and if you’re small a tall rooster on a mission can be quite an adversary. But I did not want him to die and I worried all day about him. When I found out he died I went numb. There was no place for my feelings so I pretended not to have them.
Fast forward eight years and once again there are chickens and a rooster. They are in a sturdy coop and it’s my job to feed them. I try not to get attached. I notice their gentle cooing, their apparent excitement and gratitude when feed is scattered and their cheerfulness. They are so brightly colored with various types of plumage and they peak at me from their door as I scatter their food and chat before school. At night I would open my window to hear the rooster issue his wake up call in the morning. It pleased me to see him in the yard, head thrown back to announce the day. I held no fear of him, he was a whole different rooster. I worried about him though and did what I could to protect him.
Then one day my aunt gave me a puppy. She was a ginger colored mutt with a crooked tail. In our household dogs did not live inside so we put her out with the other dog and I could hear her crying. I craved bringing her in to sleep with me. I craved a storybook kind of life where animals didn’t work or become dinner.
Then one morning I woke to the sound of my dad getting his shotgun; “Damn dog killed another chicken. Once they get that taste they can’t be trained.” I knew he must be talking about my puppy. I ran out to stop him, I begged, I grabbed at his arms, I promised to be a better dog trainer but nothing worked. He shot her once and when it didn’t kill her he hit her a second time. I buried her next to the little garden where I had planted beans and potatoes, where I daydreamed of garden fairies and butterfly wings and my tears wet the dirt. I gave up all hope of that storybook life.
Once again, for something relating to me, two someone’s had died. One a little red hen who wanted nothing more than to wander past her range chasing a flying bug as it flew in the Fall breeze, the other my little, chubby puppy named Ginger.
It’s fair to say I moved on but I did not recover. Having no place to share my feelings I pretended not to have them.
I stayed like that until driving home with a little egg scalded hen in my lap freed my tears, freed my heart of its dark past and allowed me to form a new reality.
So now I sit in a nest of chickens with my daughter and grand daughter at my side knowing that if you dream a dream long enough with a heart open enough it will come true.
When that day came for me I called the experience “The Chicken Diaries”. So now you know.