A Memoir by Rebecca Haas
In the front yard a large flock of American Robins are assembling, dozens racing from the trees to the grass from the grass to the trees, cacophonous and violent, their amber chests the color of the leaves in the late November sunshine. I stand at the window watching them. I’ve never seen Robins behave this way, like a wandering hive of agitated honeybees. Yes, Robins were often in our yard, two or three strutting across the lawn pecking at earthworms and insects. But nothing like this. And then, in the same instant, two birds smack against two separate windows. I jump back, alarmed. This is not right. Something is wrong.
Earlier in the kitchen I’d heard what I thought was knocking. Thump. Thump. A pause. Thump. I opened the front door but found no one there. Now I understand it was the sound of bird bodies pummeling windows. Why? Did this have to do with climate change? Had the world become untenable for them? Was the big earthquake coming? Was Mt. Saint Helens going to erupt again?
Was my house, my family, cursed?
A week earlier, my fourteen-year-old daughter’s bunny Marshmallow died in her arms after being mauled by a raccoon. Marsh had been my daughter’s emotional support animal at the therapeutic boarding school she attended after suffering a mental health crisis a year into the Covid pandemic. When she returned home from school fifteen months later, she brought the bunny, a beige and white Holland Lop with long floppy ears and an outsized personality.
You could not look at this curious, plucky bunny and not grin. My daughter’s two brothers and my husband and I were instant groupies, gathering nightly in the living room to watch her “bink” – a twist hop bunnies do when they’re happy. Bunny TV, we called all the hours we sat watching her.
My daughter, ever the meticulous observer, scrutinized our reactions to the bunny. From the garden, my husband gathered roses and dandelions for Marsh to eat and cut sticks from our apple tree for her to gnaw on. My older son emerged from his bedroom cave to do homework in the living room, lying on the rug so Marsh could hop up and perch on his back, surveying the room from his shoulder blades. Her younger brother happily ‘babysat’ for the bunny whenever my daughter cleaned the cage. “No, no, no!” he’d warn when she hopped across the floor and sniffed at a houseplant. All of us worked together to build a large outdoor pen and took turns lying in the grass with Marsh after school and work.
Watching my daughter watch us with the bunny, it was clear we’d passed a test.
All week after Marshmallow’s death, we walked around like zombies. It was difficult to not be in the same room with my daughter, I was so worried about her. She’d lost her friend, her baby, her bridge back to us. She blamed herself. I knew she was thinking, why go on?
I blamed myself too. How had I let this happen? Motherhood, with all its limitations, seemed pointless, felt like cruel and unusual punishment. I could not go back to the night the bunny died and switch places with my daughter, be the one who found the bunny, who lifted her up and saw her face scratched off. Nor could I go back to the night of my daughter’s suicide attempt the year before. I’d been sound asleep in the bedroom across the hall from hers, oblivious to her intention, to the goodbye notes carefully stacked on her desk. If only the birds had come flapping against the windows that day, to warn me.
People are gathering on the sidewalk in front of the house, gawking at the swarming Robins. Another bird strikes the glass, leaving a faint imprint of down feathers. My husband walks into the room and stands beside me at the window. The birds squawk and shriek. I shake my head. The horror.
“They’re drunk,” he says. He points. “Look, they’re eating those orange berries off the ground. They must have fermented.”
I blink. With both hands I rub my eyes and then open them. He’s right. In an instant, the scene transforms from funeral to celebration, the birds riotous under the cobalt sky, soaring through a cascade of falling leaves, plummeting, pivoting, living.
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Rebecca has worked as a journalist and public relations exec for twenty years. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published by many literary magazines including The New Ohio Review and Into the Void and performed by Liars League PDX at Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon. Rebecca lives in Portland with her husband and three children.