Want a little taste of Bird After Bird?
Here’s Chapter One:
Dear Birdy, Princess Birdzilla von MuffinStuff, Keeper of Dreams, Lover of our Fine Feathered Friends, Queen of my life and Light of my world,
I hope this letter finds you well. If you are reading this then I am gone, and sweetheart, I am so sorry.
I put the book into the drawer of the safe deposit box and reached to steady myself against the bank of tiny metal safes, shaken by the voice of my father in my head.
With a deep breath I returned to my dad’s letter, tucked inside the front cover of the bird journal he and I made the summer of my twelfth year. The summer Mom died.
I entrusted the key to this safe deposit box to my attorney and he assured me he would wait a year after my passing—or well-documented senility—before he contacted you about it. Since the cancer seems to be getting the best of me, I’m going to go ahead and call this one “death,” but on the chance I actually went senile first, would you bring me a cherry soda the next time you visit?
I had to laugh, even though my eyes were filled with tears. I was afraid I’d drip snot onto Dad’s precious missive any minute.
A teller peeked her head into the vault. “Miss? Anything I can help you with? We have a kiosk where you can go through your things with privacy, if you’d prefer.”
I shook my head and kept my eyes on the book. I think she must have seen my nose action, because she ducked out, returning a second later with a box of tissues. “Occupational hazard,” she said, thrusting them toward me with a smile.
“Thanks,” I said, dabbing my nose and eyes and attempting a smile in return.
She nodded at the safe boxes. “When I first started here I imagined these were full of jewels, gold coins, collectibles…” She shrugged. “Nine times out of ten, it’s folks reading letters back here.” She breezed past me to the kiosk, setting the tissue box down. “We’ve got coffee, too,” she said. “Let me know if I can make you more comfortable.”
“Thanks, again.” I heard my voice, and it sounded as professional as ever. Thank God for small favors. I didn’t recognize this girl, and that was a small mercy, as well. I stayed away from my hometown as much as possible, but I’d come back enough since graduation to know that anyone from my old high school clique making a public scene was the sort of thing rumors would be born from for months.
When I’d headed to the credit union to check out Dad’s safe deposit box, I had no idea what to expect. Had he been buying gold and hiding it away? It was the kind of thing he’d do. After a year of wrapping up investments, insurance policies, and informing everyone he’d ever known or done business with that he’d passed away, I’d grown numb to the process of closing his estate. I wasn’t expecting to cry today.
Dad and I had been so close, it never occurred to me we had any secrets between us, and for the past year that had seemed to be the case. I hadn’t even found a stash of porn or incriminating photos in his home when I dared to box things up.
Honestly, when the lawyer handed me the key to this safe deposit box, I was confused. Standing before the metal drawer, I’d felt the thrill of fear as I prepared to turn the key. What could possibly be so awful inside it that he’d gone out of his way to make sure I didn’t see it for a year after his death?
Not this book. Surely not. I loved this book. In fact, it was the first thing I’d looked for at the house after the funeral, after all our friends and family had left. When it was just me, settled deep into Dad’s comfy chair, my feet propped up on his footstool, I’d wanted this very book, and I nearly tore the house apart looking for it. I remember falling asleep that night on Dad’s bed, exhausted from the funeral and the search.
I was tired now, just thinking about it. I was tired of this cute bank teller watching me. I eyed the kiosk and the possibly comfortable / definitely cheap office chair paired with it. I glanced back at Dad’s letter, pressed into the book.
Birdy, if you’re thinking about reading this in the kiosk inside the bank vault, just give yourself a pass and go on home. That chair ain’t near as comfortable as it looks and they push coffee at you here every five minutes trying to get you to hurry along.
“Oh, Dad,” I said, and then I felt the sobs welling up in my chest. If I said another word—if I breathed too hard, if this girl made eye contact with me again—I might break. I wished I could teleport out of there.
I turned in the key to the teller and left as fast as I could. I wanted to finish Dad’s letter, but where? His house was on the market and the realtor had instructed me to stay away for two full hours; a couple of prospects were bringing their own home inspector to kick the tires today.
“Serious buyers!” the realtor had chirped, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I might not be serious about selling yet. It had only been a year, after all.
Still, it would be rude to crash the showing.
I grabbed two Arnold Palmers from the corner market and headed out to the lake. It had been a few years, but I found Dad’s birding spot, and settled in with the journal.
I refused on principle to keep a box of tissues in my car like some old lady, so I grabbed some fast food napkins out of my dash just in case I started bawling or something.
In all seriousness, Wren, there are so many things I still need to tell you. I know I can’t fit it all into one letter—even if I had the health to sit and write you a book, I’d still leave too much out—but hear me out, kid. Your Dad loves you so much. I know you know that, but I also know how driven you are, how ambitious, how smart. I want you to put aside all of that stuff for a minute and listen with your heart, sweet daughter of mine.
First off, that fella Martin you met up in Chicago is a chump. I think he tweezes his brows more than you do and there is no way a guy as hairless as that skinny nerd can be any good in the sack. I’m sure by now you’ve dumped him
“He dumped me, actually.” I dabbed away tears of grief and laughter. “Said I was afraid of commitment.”
or he’s dumped you, but either way, good riddance. Yes, he was good on paper—tall, ambitious as you, vaguely Icelandic looks and the summer house on Lake Michigan would have been a nice perk. But, kid, you had no chemistry.
You know all those birding trips we took, where we got out of town and bumped up our life list? You remember those times when we ended up lost, took a wrong turn, and still ended up where we were meant to be? Kid, that’s where you are, I think. I think you’re trying, but…
Listen, I’m dead so I’m just going to tell it like it is. I want you to page through this book, Princess Birdzilla. I know you miss me and I’m not trying to break your heart. I hope, in some small but important way, this will help make it whole. I can’t explain it, Wren. I just feel compelled to say it, to do it. I feel like this is what you need, kid. Indulge me.
Look at this book! Just look at it. What a treasure. This whole thing is a testament to our guts—to mine and to yours. The year we lost your mother, I needed you as much as you needed me, and in all my life, I don’t think I ever met a braver kid than you. I want you to remember, sweetheart.
Remember all the birds we mapped on paper, and remember where we ended up. Remember how we drove away from our memories, but we made new ones, and still came home to roost. You’ve been chasing a lot of birds on paper all over Chicago while you climb that corporate ladder and I don’t think you’re following your gut at all, baby darling.
Not that you need to rush—unless you do, hell, I don’t know how long I’ve been dead, so you tell me. That biological clock ticking yet?
“No rush, Dad.” A cardinal landed momentarily on a log near me, flashed his tail at me twice, and flew away again. “I won’t even be thirty for five more years.”
The point is, Wren, you’ve got to trust your instincts. Fly off the map sometimes. I loved your mother so much—you know that. No one ever replaced her and it never occurred to me to try. No need. When you meet the right one, Wren, even after they’re gone you don’t feel lonely the way other people do—sometimes even married people I knew had it a lot worse than I did. Sure, I grieved your mom, and I know you did, too, sweetheart, but…not forever, right? Because when you love somebody and they truly you love you back, are they ever really gone?
I thought about Dad’s house again, about the people there now inspecting the plumbing, or measuring for drapes. I wanted them out of Dad’s house. If the letter hadn’t continued, I might have rushed to the old homestead and kicked them out on their ear.
Birdy, I know you’re missing me now, and maybe sometimes you feel weak, but I don’t want you to forget that kid who took on the world with me, the kid who just cracked open a bird book and filled it with memories, with new adventures, bird after bird. We did that, baby. We did it because you wanted to do it, and who was I to say no to someone so brave, so fierce, so beautiful and rare?
You took my breath away. Take it from a guy with lung cancer, honey. You still take my breath away.
You’re so special, baby. No matter what, that’s you, Wren. No matter if you stay single forever, if you marry that skinny nerd Martin or another one like him, I know you’re going to be alright. You brought so much joy to your mother and me, and you’ve got so much to give the world. I believe in you, kid. I know you’ll be happy. All I’m saying is when you get a hunch, girl, follow it. Don’t forget our adventures, sweetheart. There are a lot of things in life I’ve considered regrets, but that summer with you on the road and in the woods, spotting birds? I’ll never regret that. It might have been the best summer of my life, in a lot of ways.
“Mine, too, Dad.” I hoped he’d known that when he died. We’d talked about it often enough in the years that followed Mom’s death. We’d become the Two Birditos, chasing our bird list whenever grief threatened to overcome us. Exploring new towns, new parks, and letting nature inside our souls. “Best summer ever, right?”
Your mother’s heart was always my home, from the first time I lay eyes on her to the day she closed hers forever. You were the greatest gift she ever gave me except for one thing—and forgive me, I know I’m rattling on and on, but I’m a dying man so sue me! Ha!
Anyway, listen—beyond the weekend pancakes and the hugs and kisses, your mom gave me something that’s kept me going all this time without her. She gave me the kind of love that made me feel deep down in my gut that I am more than okay. As long as your mom loved me, I was fine no matter what. Your mother was no saint by any means, but her love gave me a center, and I hope you felt that growing up, even after she was gone. Didn’t we do okay, you and me, Wren? I think we did. I know we did.
Follow your instincts, sweetheart. Find your center, your peace, your home. Fly after your heart and be happy, sweet daughter of mine.
Your father blesses you and loves you, forever and ever. More than words can say.
AVAILABLE 4/7 ON AMAZON
And here’s the winner announcement…Guia Rabacca won the Amazon gift card from my FB page teaser contest! Congrats, Guia.