So there I am , a large grey baby bird , strange-looking and out of place, amongst the other cute yellow ducklings.
Awkward and conspicuous , I attempt to hide under Mother Ducks’ wing. I look up and read her face intently , hoping to find assurance but instead see consternation. My heart drops , again , as it is wont to do when I realize how awkward I make others feel. Later , as I’m eating with my brother and sister ducklings , I notice them staring at me with contempt. I seem to eat so much more than they do , and it shows. I’m almost twice their size yet I feel as small as an insect.
Mother ushers us off to the barn to huddle together on the bed of hay. They all huddle together and inch away from me as the night wears on. I make pretend I don’t notice , but I do. I should be used to the feel of tears , wet and warm on my face , as I lay down to sleep. Bedtime seems to be when I can’t hold back the dam any longer, my mask cracks and the tears flow. I hide my face when I cry as I don’t want the others to see me do so , yet I can’t help occasionally letting out a sniffle or a low sob. Maybe I do want them to know how miserable I am. Am I willing to accept pity in place of acceptance ?
Come summer , I finally resolved to run away from the farm. Some say you can’t run away from yourself. I think that changing my environment will help me to forget my painful past , or at least not to dwell on it. Swimming in the same pond , sleeping in the same bed , and dealing with the same ducks , day in and day out , makes it impossible for me to forget. I must move on.
Just before the cock crows , I sneak out of the barn and head through the woods. An owl hoots at me , ” Whooo! Be careful in this wood , young birdling. There are many dangers. Whoooo!”
Uncomfortable , I nod and run off down the path. I should have stayed and asked some questions about what potential dangers there are and what I should avoid. I find myself intensely uncomfortable in front of others sometimes. Especially when I’ve spent a lot of time by myself , doing very little. It takes me time to reassimilate , it seems. Well , what is there to talk about when you have done nothing interesting for days on end?
I make my way to a clearing and then down to a pond where I see some geese. I jump in the water , and swim about. I’m a fair swimmer and generally feel more confident when I’m doing one of the few things I’m good at. I call to the geese to inquire about the wood. “Well , what are you about young bird ? I’ve never seen anything like you ’round here” Says the goose.
Shyly , I explain that I’m a young duckling and am heading south through the wood. I don’t share anything personal , nor explain that I’m running away. “weh wah weh !” Laughs the goose , ” A duckling ! A stranger duck I’ve never seen , I must say. weh wah weh! ” ” Be careful , It’s dangerous out there. There are men with guns.”
I spend some time with him getting more information about what I can expect in my travels. I thank him for his help , and move off. Immediately, I collapse into a session of self-scrutiny ; ruminating about every aspect of the conversation we just had and inspecting it for any embarrassing statement I may have made. I then mentally recreate the scene and re-evaluate all reactions to determine how I was perceived.
Night comes. I find a hollow crook at the base of an old gnarled oak and sleep. Cocooned in solitude, I dream.
I’m swimming with a school of fish. I find no difficulty breathing during this underwater adventure. I sense their thoughts. They are all so blissful , and they accept me. I am one of them. There is beautiful coral all around us as we dart about ; all colors of the spectrum are represented in this underwater paradise. Suddenly , all the fish rush away in a bubbly swoosh , and I am alone. The coral goes black. I feel a massive suction and am propelled upwards uncontrollably. I break the plane violently , go airborne , and splash unceremoniously on its wake. Bobbing in the water awkwardly , I am the ugly duckling again. And I am quite alone.
Many such nights pass. Each day I wake up later and later. I feel no hurry to make my way through the woods. I don’t have a lot of hope that things will be that great when I get there.
In this silence , I occasionally hear my own voice , asking to be let out. I make my way to a grassy clearing. Tall reedy grasses and wild flowers block all sights of a path. Determined , I wade through the landscape , lost in my thoughts until ….Bang !!! Bang – Bang ! Sounds of gunshot ring my ears. A flurry of feathers and screeching fills the sky above me as an impossible amount of fowl take wing. I stiffen and wait. Bark , Bark !
Wings up , neck undulating , I run as fast as my webbed feet can take me. The barking gets closer and closer …. oooopphhh!!!
I run right into the arms of a young man. “Dad , Dad , Look what I got !!! Its the strangest looking fowl I’ve ever seen. Can I keep it ?”
I fight not , as the boy is holding me above the wagging and barking dogs bounding excitedly around his feet. There are men all around us. I can think of nothing else but surviving this ordeal and resuming my beautiful life of solitude. I go numb and blank.
” I hope it’s a female and lays plenty of eggs!” says an old woman , who’s milky and cloudy eyes are squinting at me from outside a chicken wire cage. Suddenly aware of my surroundings and predicament , I franticly chirp at the old lady “I’m not what you think , I’m just a male duckling , I cannot lay eggs!!! Please , Please let me go ! ” She walks away , not understanding. Of course not , I don’t get me either. That’s when you know you are truly detached ; when you can’t even understand yourself.
There are hens sitting comfortably in their hutch. I want to ask for help but I’m afraid they won’t , so I stay mute. Its that lack of trust that reminds one of how isolated they really are.
“Just wait! If you don’t lay eggs, the old woman will wring your neck and plop you into the pot!” , purrs a large tomcat , “Hee! Hee! I hope the woman cooks you, then I can gnaw at your bones!”
I resolve to find a way to leave this place or die trying. I notice an area of rusted wire near a latch and start working on this , night after night , until I pull it free. I rush off into the night . Here I am again , a wanderer of life , making my way by sheer will. After a few days travel , I find an abandoned shed filled with straw. I winter in it , feeding on roots and tubers. Throughout the long cold season I ponder about the meaning of it all. There is a cosmic forsakeness when one yearns for ultimate meaning and finds none.
Spring finally comes and I happily leave the shed. I feel like I have experienced a triumph. I overcame. And I did it by myself , as we all must. Emboldened , I head in a new direction.
One sunrise , a few days later , I awake to see a flight of beautiful birds wing overhead. White, with long slender necks, and very large wings. More confident than I have ever felt , I decide to follow them. I never would have done so in my past. The irony of the affliction of loneliness is when you are at your worst condition , you require it most – to heal.
I follow the swans and watch as they glide onto a large pond. As I approach the clear water , I see my reflection. I hardly recognize myself. I look just like them. Shocked motionless , I stand at the edge of the water for untold moments. A young female swan swims majestically past me. “What are you waiting for ? We are all here now. Come , you are one of us.
I can’t put into words the joy I felt at hearing that invitation. I was no longer alone , yet I no longer was afraid of being alone either. Life is strange.
By Kevin Beary
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