Dan points to a spot next to the newly planted feijoa bush and says, “Is that a good spot? This time I’m going to dig it deep enough for several of them.” He’s wearing a flannel shirt and basketball shorts and I’m wearing dirty UGG boots, cut-off shorts, and a Mickey Mouse hoodie sweatshirt from Disneyland. We are both exhausted.
Behind Dan, the moon sits in the sky, not nearly as impressive as it is meant to be. It is just another moon casting shadows. At my feet, there are a pile of bodies, dark and light, feet like uprooted trees. I can see the claws, the scaled skin, and I think I will probably never eat chicken again.
I gather surface weeds and grass clippings while Dan digs. I rake dirt over the two graves he’s already dug. I promised the children that I would call them out when it was time to bury the ‘boof-head-rock-star chicken’, so I do.
Sol wants to see the body.
Zaviera stands at the edge of the garden and says, “I just feel like dead chickens give me excusement.” She waves her hands in the air and takes a step back. “What do you mean, sweetheart?” I ask because she was determined to say goodbye to the grey chicken and now she stands in the shadows, shrinking toward the light and warmth of the house.
“I feel like I have excusement,” she says. “Excusement means that looking at that,” she points to the bodies waiting in the freshly turned earth, “makes me feel yucky inside. I feel bad inside looking at their bodies.”
“I understand,’ I say, “I feel yucky inside, too.”
This morning, the children raced out to say hello to the chickens, to feed them, to befriend them and imagine names. Sol has been full of excitement since the chickens arrived. He has been ready to take on responsibilities, including cleaning up their poo. We all fell in love with the chickens. For me, they held an extra level of attachment because we’d inherited them from a dear friend going through a major life transition. I felt a spiritual guardianship over the chickens.
We were getting dressed, preparing to go buy materials for building their nesting boxes, when I heard the first cries of alarm. It only took a few seconds for me to register that something was wrong.
Pepita was in the aviary and she had one of the chickens in her mouth, shaking it. Feathers were in the air. I yelled. Sprinted. It was only seconds and I expected one dead chicken – the one in her mouth. I wasn’t prepared to find bodies everywhere. It put me in a state of shock. These bodies.
I chased Pepita out of the aviary. Closed the door. Knelt down to touch the bodies, one after another.
Something went quiet inside of me, somewhere in front of my spine, and in the center of my throat.
So tonight, I want to claim the immunity of ‘excusement’ to mourn what was lost in my care, including our beloved big oaf, Pepita, who is suddenly thrust into a new territory of blood and instinct and a path that branches away from our own. We are praying to find her a good home, free of smaller animals that tempt her lion-hunting compulsions. People she can guard and protect and love as is her hard-wired nature to do.
As winter curls around me with its cold, its falling away of greenery, its drawing inward, I feel death stretching, a shadow against the light of a very full moon.
I am grateful for the lessons wrapped in these small pockets of grief; I tell my children this as they process their sadness and anger and sense of responsibility throughout the day. Sol was in tears because he was the reason that Pepita got into the aviary. His sense of justice translated into his wanting Pepita to be taken to the pound, a life for a life. This included his own, he felt he should be given away. He didn’t kill the chickens with his hands, but he left the door unlocked. He went into the aviary when we told him not to. He didn’t want to go near the chickens again, afraid he might do something that would lead to more death or hurt. Zaviera cried at the loss of the chickens and at the loss of trust in a dog she believed would protect our family and all of its members. Joaquin ran around making loud clucking noises and scolding the dog.
One more day alive. One more day I realize this: we all deserve excusement from judgment, excusement from believing we understand what is right or wrong. These lives of ours are filled with grief and joy. More often than not, they seem so intertwined that I wonder if we don’t lose something in attempting to untangle them.