I first met my former roommate’s pet parakeet when I came home late from work one night. I entered my apartment sometime around midnight to the sound of birds chirping like I was in a goddamn rain forest, a fully-lit kitchen/living room area, and a tiny blue and yellow avian fella perched in a cage placed atop a table.
He was chirping and staring at me, blinking expectantly.
My roommate had already gone to bed, so I was unsure of how to proceed re: introducing myself to the newest addition to our Bushwick apartment, and I didn’t want to wake the roommate up, so I approached the cage, put my face as close as I could, and introduced myself verbally. Then I proceeded to speak to him like he was people.
The bird did a bunch of cute-ish things, like staring at me, blinking, and rapidly shifting from side to side of his perch as I moved about the apartment. I talked at him a little bit more as I made a sandwich, then I retired to my bedroom and passed out.
The next morning, I woke up and went into the bathroom to take a piss. My roommate, who had left early for work, had left a note on the bathroom mirror asking me to leave the bird sounds that were coming from his laptop on, along with the light.
“The light and the chirping soundtrack are good for BirdMan,” he wrote.
I said goodbye to BirdMan and went to work.
That night, roommate and I were playing videogames and wondering what we should call the bird. After an informal brainstorming session, we settled on one of my suggestions: Ptery. Pronounced “Terry,” and short for “Pterodactyl.”
The name seemed to lend some legitimacy to the way we spoke to him all the time as though he were a third humanoid roommate.
My relationship with Ptery grew to an extent that I relied on him a little bit. He was a very social little bird, always seemingly excited to chirp back at you when you told him how your day went and inquired about his. I got used to speaking at him every time I entered the living room, and it was strangely comforting.
Ptery settled in to our small apartment, as well. We would let him out sometimes, something he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. He would fly around the living room and perch on our ceiling fan. He would perch on your finger and, before too long, your shoulder and your head. He was a lot of fun to have out of his cage, really, and he was super well-behaved aside from the fact that he had zero bowel control and would shit all over the place without a care in the world (which wasn’t his fault, obviously).
I very much enjoyed having Ptery around, even though he didn’t belong to me and his owner wasn’t the best of caretakers. Ptery had a small starter parakeet cage that saw its way through varying degrees of damage and dismantlement. See, my former roommate was kind of a deadbeat pet owner, who would haphazardly take the top off Ptery’s cage to let him fly around—and then he would drunkenly loves his balance and accidentally step on the top of the cage. It wasn’t long before Ptery’s cage had spaces in the wire mesh of his home that he could escape whenever he wanted to. Instead of purchasing him a new one, my roommate would use gaffing tape to try and remedy the damage he’d done to the wiring.
It never worked. Ptery was smart, and the openings in his cage were too many. He would find ways out of the cage to explore a tiny modicum of freedom. Our place wasn’t huge by any means, but it was a bigger studio space to explore than a tiny cage placed on a coffee table.
The bird got used to his freedom, and I was marginally cool with it, because two single dudes in their 20s are often cool with cleaning up the occasional crap if a living being is going to repay them by showing love via affectionate perching and the occasional beak kiss to the bridge of our noses.
We had a nice thing going.
I was sad when my roommate decided to search for a less expensive place to live. Not because my roommate was leaving—he exuded a sort of negative energy around the place—but because he would be taking the bird with him. Ptery had become an every day fixture in my life, and I would miss him. I knew he was just some bird, but he was a really f**king cool bird, one who took to me more and more as I segued into being his majority caretaker as my roommate slipped further and further into neglect.
In the summer, my roommate moved out and my friend Steph moved in. Roommate took most of his belongings when he bounced, but asked if we would watch over Ptery for a little while while he found new lodgings.
Steph agreed to this, though she had no inherent love for Ptery. To her he was just some bird who would make unnecessary noise and poop in a space she was trying to make presentable. (Before Steph, my place resembled a very small frat house, minus the random weights, buckets for Jungle Juice, and tubs of protein supplements.)
But summer wore on and my former roommate continued to procrastinate on finding a home. He was staying with a girl he worked with, and apparently her pet turtle did not want intruders like Ptery on his turf.
This frustrated Steph, while I continued to forge my relationship with Ptery. Now that I was the only one providing him with his daily sustenance of birdseed and oat groats, I was his main f**king man. I’d come home from work to find Ptery busted out of his ghetto-ass cage, stoked to greet me by flying onto the top of my head as soon as I came through the door. I would tell him about my day, and he would chirp some stuff at me, ostensibly lamenting the fact that I never let him go out and find some fine young parakeet trim. (He never seemed to understand that it was for his own safety.)
Ptery was growing on me. I started to wonder what it would be like to keep him.
Steph would come home to me talking to a bird that was sitting on my head while we ate cold cuts and watched “Frasier.” She’d give me a look of disgust. Then she would ask when we were going to rid ourselves of that stupid bird.
But then she would come home drunk, and Ptery would perch on her finger and she would get super duper happy.
“HE MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A DISNEY PRINCESS!!!!” she would say.
Ptery continued to work his charm on Steph while his original owner continued to play the role of absentee deadbeat. He said that he would come over and let Ptery out into the concrete wilderness, which we were not willing to accept. We told him to not even worry about it—that we would take care of finding a home for the bird that he was unceremoniously abandoning.
I wrote a Craigslist ad extolling Ptery’s virtues, and was hit with more than 30 potential adopters in a 24-hour period. (I challenge anybody to write such an appealing ad for a f**king parakeet. I’m like Don Draper meets Sarah McLachlan.)
Then one night when Ptery was being extra cute to Steph and I was doting on him, she said she’d be fine with keeping him if he lived in my bedroom.
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
The next morning she said we should buy him a nice cage and keep him in our living room. I found a cage modeled like a Brooklyn brownstone and immediately purchased it.
“You get to stay with us, buddy!” I said to Ptery as he did his horizontal defensive slides back and forth on one of his perches. “We’re going to grow up together!”
A few days later I spent an hour sweating in my boxer briefs while I put together Ptery’s magnificent new cage. Ptery spent most of this time on my head or on my shoulder, or expecting the new wire contraption he had never seen that had taken the place of his former derelict homestead.
When finished, I put Ptery in the cage with some fresh seed, oat groats and water. He began acclimating himself, mostly by exploring the entire space trying to find ways to escape, as he had gotten so used to.
I explained to him that now that he had a nice, large and serviceable cage, he would have to stay inside more often, because we didn’t want him pooping all over our apartment. He would just look at me, cock his head, and then go back to his escape attempts.
The next day, a Thursday, Ptery started the morning with more escape attempts. He was still at it when I came home that night, so I let him out for a little while. He was fine.
The next morning, he was sluggish. I figured he was probably exhausted from his tireless attempts to Shawshank his way out of the cage. I worked from home and watched as he spent most of the day being super chill. He was so quiet and still, actually, that I began to worry that he might be sick or really freaked out by his new cage or something. I know that when I was young, I would’ve been weirded out if I were uprooted and placed in another house.
I went out for a few drinks with a friend, but returned home early. Steph entered soon after, and we took a docile Ptery out of his cage to watch some television with us. He did not seem well. The little guy seemed unable to correctly operate his left wing and talon, and he seemed not to have any special awareness. He was swaying back and forth on my finger, and eventually pitched forward and fell down onto the couch, where he tried to burrow his head into a dark spot in the crook of my arm.
Unaware of what else to do, we put him back in his cage and covered it, in hopes he would get some rest and be right as rain. Then we Googled all kinds of things about ailing parakeets.
When I came to check on him 10 minutes later, he had waddled over to a corner of his cage and had his head bent into the black corner, staring into darkness. I was able to coax him out, but he was no longer moving on his own. My buzz went away very quickly. I was now very worried.
I cupped a prostrate Ptery in both my hands while Steph stroked him. His breathing was shallow and grew shallower.
Then he was gone. Died in my hands, just like that. I teared up a little bit and went outside to dispose of him.
The next day, we discovered that Ptery had been taking bites from a plant we keep in the apartment. We will never know what killed him, but we hypothesize it was either that the plant is poisonous to parakeets, or that he hurt himself attempting to find the freedom that was taken from him for reasons he could neither comprehend nor live with.
All I know is that it reminded me that you should always be prepared for the perpetual possibility that something or someone will leave you shortly after you start to feel a little bit of love for it.