My knees don’t buckle easily. But a recent gift from artist and former employee, Erin Bratzler, touched my soul and genuinely facilitated my grieving process.
The first original piece of artwork I ever purchased was one of Erin’s pieces at her first big art show. I simply loved it and hung it proudly near the education room at Pet World. Sadly, smoke and water damaged it during the fire. When I saw Erin at the vigil I immediately started crying as I disclosed that her beautiful creation might have been ruined. She worked so hard on it and she knew how much I loved it. Also, the mural she and Megan poured so much time and effort into was ruined. In fact, all of Erin’s artwork, in various places inside Pet World, was ruined. So sad. Irreplaceable and now gone. I said, “Oh, Erin, all your work…I’m so, so sorry.” But she just hugged me and assured me everything would be okay.
Immediately after the vigil Erin reached out to everyone she knew, secretly requesting images of Fletcher, my bird, the store bird of 20 years, who died in the fire.
Using markers, my favorite medium, Erin began to recreate Fletcher’s image. She captured Fletcher’s face, transformed her into a phoenix, and embodied her ascent to the Rainbow Bridge in her feathers. She added rays of light reflecting our faith and a banner over us stating our mission. Truly incredible. When I saw it, I immediately felt weak and slowly sank to the floor. “Erin,” I said, “you turned Fletcher into a phoenix.” And then the tears started flowing as I finally let myself remember so I could let go.
I removed Fletch from her cage that dreadful day. I opened her door, looked inside, saw her lying there, and whispered, “Oh, Fletcher. Look at you.” The firefighter patiently waited while I cried in frozen silence then he offered to get her out for me but I needed to do it myself. She felt soft, sopping wet, like a hundred other times after taking her bath. Fire. It provides light and warmth yet its black smoke shrouds victims in darkness, blinding them and stealing their breath. Fascinating yet terrifying, especially since the actual fire was 25 yards away. One of the vets reminded me how sensitive birds are to smoke and assured me Fletch passed very quickly.
Tim buried Fletcher for me at the tortoise farm. He dug her grave himself, in a beautiful place surrounded by life breathing trees, facing south to always have sunshine.
In my mind I find peace in that, imagining that now she can once again see clearly and breathe freely in the fresh breeze.
This wasn’t our first pet loss so I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I also knew I’d be able to handle it. Did you know we had a Double Yellow Amazon parrot before Fletcher? Corky, who died in 1994 from a contagious illness he got from a boarding playmate, was our home pet in 1986 before becoming Pet World’s first store bird in 1988. He sparked my initial interest in Amazon parrots. Corky sat on the counter near the front door and greeted guests as they arrived. His “helllllllo” was distinctly recognizable because he only emphasized the first syllable so it sounded more like shouting an expletive than saying hello. One night, while I was working late and not paying Corky enough attention, two patrol officers summoned me to the door, one with gun drawn. “Ma’am, are you okay? We noticed the lights on after hours and heard you screaming for help.” I stared blankly, utterly confused. They asked, again, if that was me shouting, “Help! Help!” and didn’t seem to believe I was fine. Then Corky shouted from beside me his shrill “HELLLLLLLo.” The look of realization on their faces was priceless. Amazon parrots are so entertaining.
Fletcher was actually a surprise gift from Tim for Mother’s Day, 1995, before we had any children. She was tiny and all down, only the beginnings of pinfeathers – the ugliest looking gray chicken I had ever seen with the one digit band number 7 – but I loved that stinkin’ bird.
She slept with me while I fed her every two hours. I still remember the heartfelt warnings from another pet store owner about the risks of letting baby parrots sleep with humans. But she was so tiny and pathetically precious, I couldn’t resist. I always thought Fletcher was male, too, until Jackie, the Bird Department manager at the time, observed very feminine behavior and ran a blood test maybe 12 years ago. To this day I still say “he” sometimes. We never told him he was a she. We figured she wouldn’t care either way. 😉
Truth be told, Fletcher was a chubby little brat, completely spoiled rotten. She would chase down and bite the ankles of a few while showing nothing but affection to others. Her first words were Hola and Mama and she would scream at us every morning if we didn’t give her enough attention. She ate baby bird food whenever offered no matter how old she got. Fletcher would nuzzle Maria and sit on her shoulder then bite her when I walked by. What a stinker. Some found her annoying but Fletcher was loved by many and had a large following. When I was on bed rest in 1999, pregnant with the twins, we took her home but only for a week because her fans missed her too much and wanted her back at Pet World. Her cage door was usually open but she rarely bothered to wander. Typically too lazy to fly, one time, during a presentation at the Boys and Girls Club, she suddenly took off during her locally famous Stevie Wonder dance and flew right smack into a huge window. She landed hard on the floor and I thought for sure she had broken her neck. The kids were silent. Then the next thing we heard was, “Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty,” followed by an eruption of laughter.
What a bird. She was 20 years old.
Thank you, our customer family and staff, for giving Fletcher your love and attention. Thank you, Erin, for visualizing her passing in a poignantly appropriate way, something only you could do. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful bird.
Fletcher will be missed.
Do you have your own memories of Fletcher or thoughts on pet loss? Please share in the comments.