While putting books into boxes, a fantail flew into the house through my open sliding glass door. She swooped in and nearly flew into my face when I rounded the corner.
Fantails are notoriously cheeky little birds–they are clever and chatty–never too shy to fly close to your head. I can’t tell if they are aggressive and territorial or if they are flirty and friendly. Either way, I’ve always found them delightful. Until today.
She flew around the room, above the bed, above my desk and then fluttered into the den. She perched on the light fixture, tilting her head every which way as she sized me up. I asked her what she thought she was doing in here and opened the kitchen door for her but she seemed to be on a mission. Ignoring the open door, she flew back into the bedroom, perched one more time on the doorway before flying back outside again.
I followed her and she chirped at me from the tree. I laughed at her boldness then went back to packing my books, thinking nothing much of it.
Stack by stack, I removed my books from the shelf and placed them into the boxes. I only stopped once to notice how stupid and careless I’d been to make notes in my signed first edition hardback copy of Mary Karr’s Lit. (I could clobber myself for doing that.)
I was arranging the books, configuring them carefully inside the boxes, when I accidentally dropped one. It was a small paperback in Italian, a book given to me by my ex-husband long before we were married. I cracked open the first page to see what he had inscribed to me, “Con tutto l’amore possibile!!!” With all the love possible. So him.
The book, “There’s No Such Place as Faraway,” is a beautifully illustrated story, written by Richard Bach about a hummingbird, an owl and an eagle all on their way to a little girl’s birthday party. It’s a touching story about distance and love, beginnings and endings–how none of us are ever without another, even if it might feel that we are. He gave me this book when I was finishing my last year of college–when I was in Texas and he was in Italy.
Today was the first day I opened up that book in ages. I flipped through it quickly, surprised at how nice it was to relive those emotions that used to pour over me as I turned each page, a whole decade after I first experienced them. While the story itself doesn’t conjure such feelings, the illustrations sparked memories of my longing, all the suspenseful uncertainty of my early twenties, reminding me of the concerns that used to consume me.
When we could finally be together as adults, not students, would we still feel the same? Would he love me like this — the way he does at such a distance — even when I am there?
I was so eager for my future to begin with him I could hardly be bothered with the present, full of classes and exams and final projects. Everything I did was rushed and hastened–my days were designed so I might expedite my life as I knew it. It was all a big strategy to get back to Italy. I lived at home to save money. When I wasn’t attending class, I was waiting tables at a steakhouse, saving every last cent I earned in tips so I would be able to afford a trip back across the pond. Daily, I ran mile after mile–in the park, on the treadmill, in my parents’ neighborhood. I equated movement with the passing of time, refusing to sit around and be lovelorn. The way I saw it was, if I ran, at least I could measure the time in something other than just the months that separated us. If I just kept moving, I thought, I would arrive at the end of each day a little bit closer to Italy. A little bit closer to him.
As I took more books from their place on the shelf, it suddenly it occurred to me how strange it was that the fantail had come into my house just before I came across this particular book. Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of a fantail entering your house. As soon as I saw what it meant, I regretted looking it up. According to Maori tribal legend, a fantail flying into your house means death. Even as I write this, that little bird is in the tree outside, squeaking and chirping with urgency.
Unconvinced that a harmless fantail could be such a bearer of bad news, I scoured the Internet further in the hopes of disproving this information. Unfortunately, other sites only confirmed this. A fantail, apparently, is New Zealand’s grim reaper. Only on one site did it say that it can also be interpreted as a sign of good fortune. I went with it. (I am really not that superstitious. Unless, of course, it behooves me to be so.)
I taped more boxes together and loaded them up with more books. Then I went back to that little book in Italian, still sitting outside the box. I sat down on the carpet in a sunny spot and read the whole thing cover to cover, again, for the hundredth time. But today, the book read differently. Its message of transcending time and distance is just as powerful, just as enduring, if not more now that my ex-husband and I are no longer together. The end, I remembered when I got there, is my favorite part. Except when I read it now, I see that it’s not a book about distance and longing. It’s about growing and learning and giving your gifts to the fullest. It’s about learning to live without the ones you love; something we all must do at some point in our lives, whether it comes to you through death or divorce or distance.
Vola libera e felice,
al di la’ dei compleanni,
in un tempo senza fine, nel persempre.
Di tanto in tanto noi c’incontreremo
–quando ci piacera’–
nel bel mezzo dell’unica festa
che non puo mai finire.
(This is my own, rough, English translation:)
Fly free and happily
without end, into forever.
Every so often we’ll find one another
–when we want to–
in that beautiful middle of the only party
that can never ever end.
That beautiful middle of the party that can never end? I suppose that’s life. And I don’t think it means the life we live on Earth. I think it’s meant to encompass everything–from way back when until forever and ever on distance stars far out in remote galaxies.
I look around and notice, once again, my usual state of transition. This time, though, I am not in a hurry. That wee little fantail? I don’t think she was here to announce a literal death. It seems to me she came to mark things more figuratively, the end of my time here in New Zealand. I am grateful to her.
Afterall, had she not come in to flutter and dip and twirl, I might not have noticed.*
*Just as I finished writing this, the most extraordinary thing happened. As if she could hear me writing this, I kid you not, the fantail returned! This time, she came in through an open window in another room, flew into the room where I’m now writing, perched on the light fixture above my desk and chirped. Too stunned to speak, I got up and followed her as she flew down the hall. When she entered the empty room at the end of the hallway I closed the door behind me. She flew in circles, chatting at me, while I opened a window for her. After a few more circles, she flew out, libera e felice.