These observations about the crows keep flying about my mind. Sometimes the best way to purge the brain is for me to write. This is a kind of dark post, but it makes a great companion to the tulip story as the basic message is the same. Instead of pink, this essay is black. Though the story has it's sad tinge, I think being able to get it out means I'm more peaceful inside. Over the weekend, my family and I went to Whidbey Island, one of my favorite places. The trip was one half remarkably fantastic and one half devastating. The turning point was yet another big attack (and I threw my back out). I was able to email with the neurologist and doubled my medication dose. Today, I already felt much less symptomatic, and I'm encouraged by that.
One day about 5 years ago, Brendan backed out of our driveway into a juvenile crow. The crow shook it off, but we always felt like he acted a little funny after that. We’re pretty sure that there was a mother and a young male crow, though we have no idea if that’s right. Knowing that crows are intelligent, I always was sure to mind my p’s and q’s around them. Word was that they remember and can hold a grudge. I’ve never had trouble making friends, though. When I fear a person doesn’t like me, I can be rather like a cat. I just can’t leave it alone. It was not going to be ok with me if the crows decided not to like us.
Can-do is my middle name. I’m not afraid of much and I generally expect that things are going to go great for me. There is not much logic to it, but I just feel like I can do whatever I decide I want to do. I decided to be friends with the crows. The mother crow would hang out on the low slung power lines above our front sidewalk. Every now and then, it would really give me the creeps. Sometimes we would joke that she was watching the baby, our baby, through the window. Then Brendan messed hers up, and I didn’t like to carry the baby outside with me when she was on the powerlines for fear that she would swoop down to peck or take my infant daughter.
“Quit being ridiculous,” I would always think. This is when I started putting food out on the deck whenever I saw the mother staring in through the front kitchen window with that sidelong glance birds are forced to use. She figured it out pretty quick. I felt like I was training her. The younger crow would come too. They seemed to share nicely, and that confirmed my thought that maybe they were a mother/son pair. Sometimes he would open his mouth to her and caw like baby birds do. She acted irritated with him. I imagined her saying, “ugh, forget it, you moron. You know how to feed yourself!” He would grab the cracker or toast crust for himself as if to say, “yeah, I know. Sorry, mom. Do you still like me?”
Eventually, the crows moved their perch to the other side of the house, right to where I would put the food. She’d look at me while I did dishes. If I took too long, she would yell at me. I started trying to be more prompt to avoid the sound of her harsh caw. Of course, I realized that I was really the one being trained, but I fancied the idea of the crow and I having a relationship. I wanted her to like me.
When my dad’s dad was young, he had a pet crow. I always found that fascinating, and it just added to the long list of reasons I thought he was cool. He was a geologist; he brought me french fries; all the coolest collectibles in my grandma’s house belonged to him. He died when I was 3 or 4. Not having a real relationship with him, I formed a great relationship with my fantasy of him. I’m sure he would have loved me. He called me Skeeter. I loved thinking that maybe crow enchantment was a trait I inherited from him.
Over the next year, I became sick with mysterious symptoms. They were so strange, vague, and intermittent at first that I ignored them for a long time. I actually assumed that the crummy way I felt was just reality for a mother of 3 kids under age 4. I would become easily overwhelmed and exhausted, and I felt so guilty. I thought I wasn’t being grateful and content and that my bursts of tears or anger were the result of bad behavior on my part rather than the signs that my body was sick and severely over-taxed. I felt sure that I just needed to make peace with my new, busy mom life. I behaved like I could just decide to feel great, be thankful, and that all these symptoms would disappear if I could just start momming better.
My plan did not work. Like with the crows, things got weird and out of hand. I was not in control of the situation at all, no matter how badly I wished I was. One night, after coming back upstairs from helping the baby, I laid in my bed noticing that my heart was pounding out of my chest and skipping beats. I finally felt sure that something was really wrong with me, and that maybe I wasn’t just tired from being a mother of three very young children. My doctor was concerned, and we started chasing down every possible lead from my labs with very little success. During that time, I began having intensely frightening dreams about the crows. In the night, the mother crow would slowly hop closer and closer to me and would begin removing my flesh and eating me. It didn’t hurt; I didn’t scream, but I knew what was happening and that she was destroying me. I sometimes woke up crying, and I had the dream several times.
I became so disturbed that I did some dream-meaning research. I felt guilty doing it. It felt like I was consulting a witch or medium, something I would never do, but I also do know that God has communicated through dreams and that I may be spiritually vulnerable to evil while asleep too. The dream was just so persistent. Clearly it was related to all the stress I was under, and I just wanted to know what other people thought about crow dreams. What stood out to me was that crows represented death. Not great. Thankfully, I shook it off like the baby did when our van smacked it, but the notion did change me a little.
My strange symptoms turned out to be a very real, chronic illness that I’m likely to have for the rest of my life. The next few years were full of adjustments, mostly quite painful, as I changed from Can-do to Can’t and Shouldn’t. Although I remain pretty full of pluck, there is a new black streak of doubt and pessimism in me too. It isn’t always bad. Black brings depth. Those glossy, all black crows hide lots of intelligence within. I’ve learned to leave people who don’t like me alone. Ain’t got time for all that. The worst part of my illness is the way it disrupts my relationships with my children.
We moved from the house with the two crows. At the new, lovely house, I noticed new crows around and, though I did sometimes wonder, I was pretty sure they were, indeed, new because they seemed to hang in larger groups than my little Bates family of crows. The first year in the new house was a time of stabilization. My symptom control was as good as we’d been able to get it, and the new, beautiful, more organized home was conducive to better hope and mental health for me. I felt so well compared to how things had been that we decided to do a brave thing and have the fourth baby we wanted. Things got a whole lot worse health-wise for several months, but then they got much, much better. By the time my son was born, I was symptom free.
Over the last few months, I started noticing lots of crow activity around the house. I was not pleased. I’m terrified that crows are going to make a nest in one of my trees and that we won’t be able to go outside without them harassing us. They have this hard-knock means of training their babies; they kick them out of the nest and caw at them incessantly to encourage them to fly. While the fledglings are vulnerable the crows are fiercely protective of the area the baby is in. I know how they feel, but this is my nest; they need to stay away. The other day I allowed myself to get sucked into a detailed day-mare while I watched my daughter play outside. I pictured a crow or two swooping down at her, tearing at her face and hair, and I faced the terror that I would have no choice but to run out to her and try to save her. I had that same feeling I used to get when the mother crow would watch that girl eat breakfast in her high chair as a baby.
Also during these past months, I once again have begun having strange, vague, and intermittent symptoms. Though, this time, they were not unfamiliar. Even still, I wrestle with thoughts that maybe I can just behave differently somehow to make it all go away. With every symptomatic day, I would become a bit more afraid.
Several weeks ago, when I came home from grocery shopping, my yard had 5 crows in it. They were all perched close to where I park the red van. A few of them were aggressively cawing; I wondered if they were juveniles. My new baby was in the back of the car, and I was scared to get out. “Quit being ridiculous,” I told myself once again. I got out, and they cawed loudly as I got the car seat out and hurried to the front door. I was filled with adrenaline, and I was scared the crows would somehow sense it. I needed to get the groceries out of the car, and they weren’t leaving. I suppose my hunger and my fear for my frozen goods was greater than my fear of the crows. I went out. As I opened the trunk, one of the crows flew to a perch in a tree just above where the hatch had opened and croaked at me. I was trembling and carried as many bags as I possibly could. I didn’t want the crows to decide I was an enemy, so I threw a leftover plate of scrambled eggs out the front door as soon as I got inside. A few immediately flew down and feasted. “Crap,” I thought. “Now I am really stuck.” I decided to be brave after a few minutes and went out for the rest of the groceries. They cawed the whole time, and I felt afraid the whole day.
Later that week, I had my first big dysautonomia attack and felt quite sure that my illness was back. The attacks continued for a few more weeks. Last week the doctor agreed. It’s back. I have felt very black about it, but my pluck is still there. I also keep thinking of the bald eagles in the area who are so strong and beautiful. They are often tormented by the crows who don’t want them around. The eagles, though irritated, keep flying. They keep doing what they need to do. I see them as opposite ends of the good/evil spectrum now, the eagles and the crows.
I don’t want to be friends with the crows. They are here, and I can’t control them. Changes in my behavior will not change that they are wild. I just have to work around them. Sometimes, they really scare me, but most of the time I can be aware of where they are without being afraid.
Once, a man told my grandfather that if he wanted to, he could teach his pet crow to talk. But, there was one condition: he’d need to split the crow’s tongue. My young grandaddy decided to try it. The crow bled to death. Can you imagine it? So you see, not even that crow story was very cute in the end.