Looking After Pigeon
A SUMMER STORY
From LOOKING AFTER PIGEON, A SUMMER STORY
Memory is an odd thing. When I was ten I broke my wrist in a bicycle accident and can remember none of the pain of the fall, the place where the bone came through the skin, or the inconvenience of having my arm in a white plaster cast for eight weeks. There is only a small scar. At sixteen I lost my virginity, and although I can trace the boy's face in my sleep—the slope of his nose, the definition of his chin, the curve above his lip—I have only a vague notion of his body. It could be any boy's body. In fact, there are entire blocks of time, years that I have but little memory of at all. Perhaps a part in a school play comes back to me now and then, or the winter my brother and I learned to ski, but little of the day-to-day events, what people were saying to me, how I was feeling.
Except for the summer before my sixth birthday. For that summer I have almost photographic recall of the heat, the voices that surrounded me, the smells, all those incidents, particulars that took place. They changed me. To this day I am most restless during the summer months. While others are off on vacations, growing brown on the beach, playing tennis, swimming, I grow morose, often inert, thinking about the past.
"You should see a shrink," the man I live with advises me. "They're trained to help people like you get over things like that."
"I don't need help from some stranger," I tell him. I am resistant to professionals who believe they can see something in you that you cannot see for yourself. "We'll work this out alone."
But I can tell that he is tired of my moodiness. He wants to live a normal life. And so, he tells me, if I am not to go to the psychiatrist, I must at least consent to write my story of that summer down. He is practical that way. He is used to coming up with solutions for problems.
"You need to let that summer go," he tells me. "Exorcise it on paper."
I think I agree. At any rate, I love the man, I want to make him happy, and besides, he can be very persuasive. It is with all this in mind that I have at last taken his advice.
From LOOKING AFTER PIGEON, SUDDEN DEPARTURES
Our mother named her children after birds. Dove was the eldest, my brother Robin in the middle, and my name was Pigeon. I was last of all. Our mother lived in the city and knew little of birds, the beautiful names found in Peterson's Guide or in Audubon. She knew of doves, of course; they appeared in the Bible and on Christmas cards, and stood for peace. As a teenager she had worn a gold plated dove on a necklace, and when her first child was born, easily, while she lay in a drug-induced state, she thought of the gold dove cooing near her ear. Five years later, following hours of hard labor, Robin came, and after still another five years I was the most difficult of all.
She gave my brother and me the names of city birds, the ones she had seen perched just outside her apartment window during each of her pregnancies.
"There is destiny in your names," she explained to us. "For all birds fly free. Even the pigeon."
"Only after he's landed a crap," Dove said.
"That is a very natural and free thing to do," mother assured me.
Robin smirked; Dove let out a heavy sigh.
Still, I believe, as I am sure our mother did, that the names we are given as children have much to do with the people we later become. Perhaps we do not really fly. It is done these days only safely aboard commercial airlines, and none of us have migrated far from home. Yet I am certain something of what our mother tried to impart in us at our birth is with us still, and always will be.