A few days ago I wrote about what I’ve come to call substitutionary tears, ones I’ve allowed to stand in for sorrows I stifle, afraid of what lies in deeper waters. I wrote about probing strong emotions stirred on this trip to “take a pick-axe” to these substitutionary tears wherever I find them. I want to daylight things I need to exorcise to remove their power over me. Today was the first blow of the pick-axe.
When he didn’t meet me at the gate this morning, I knew before I saw him. Rudy the Rooster invariably meets me at the gate every morning, greedy for bread and pellets. Not today.
Whatever got him – most likely a raccoon – left him looking like a feathery Butterball turkey in the corner of his pen – no head, neatly pruned neck chewed down to the bones, no body wounds. He’d been dead awhile, hornets were feasting. Whatever happened, he put up one hell of a fight. There were feathers all over the pen and blood and tissue on one of his spurs. Score one for Rudy, if not the war.
The big red rooster showed up a few years ago and endeared himself to us. He seemed friendly enough. He followed us everywhere. When we went in the house, he’d climb on the porch and look in the window. I thought it was charming, but over time he got aggressive. He attacked me, then the Professor. Big mistake, that last one.
I came home from a trip one day to find Rudy holed up under the raspberries. For three days he was near death: immobile, nursing wounds I couldn’t see. When he came out, he moved slowly and from then on with a limp. The Professor doesn’t suffer fools or aggressive farm animals gladly.
After that, Rudy was confined to a pen. I bought a used coop and lined it with wire to keep critters out. I was the only one who could go into his pen – with a shovel just in case – to feed, water, and lock him in at night. When I traveled, the Professor didn’t bother. He couldn’t, to be fair. Whenever Rudy saw him close by he hurled himself at the fence, flapping and squawking death threats.
I knew that Rudy was a liability but I loved to hear his song at dawn. It reminded me of home. So we made an uneasy truce. I let him live, he let me feed him and then get out of the pen. Over time, I stopped putting him in the coop at night. He’d been ok for several years. I knew there were chicken-hungry critters around, but to tell the truth, he was dangerous to anything he could reach. I used to find bloody little mice strewn on the floor of his coop.
Despite these, I couldn’t make myself kill him and it crossed my mind that death-by-predator would be relatively quick. It would be a relief not to have to worry about getting gigged by his spurs. Not to worry about the dogs, the backs of my legs, or the Professor’s either.
So when I saw him today, I was part sad and part relieved. For the first and last time, this morning I touched him. I picked him up by one leathery leg and put him in the trash. I’m going to miss him, but I didn’t cry. Not right away, anyway. Good bye, Rudy.
This morning on my way to work, I thought a lot about that tough, beady-eyed bird. I liked the rascal. I talked to him when he met me at the gate in the morning. When I began to process that I’ll never again hear his sounds of home, I felt tears welling up. Home. Tears.
So, apparently home is the first thought deeper than the loss of my rooster, the thought that makes me cry. Substitutionary tears about home stand in for something even deeper.
I’m mining that one. All the way to California and back. Thanks, Rudy, for summoning the pick-axe. I’m sorry, Buddy.