It’s two weeks ago, a Friday after 5 pm, and a bird is trapped beneath the roof of our house. Black wings flap frantically, leaving smudges of blood on the white cornice. Kyle points the bird out to me, but he doesn’t want to save it. Or maybe he just doesn’t believe it can be done.

But I believe in saving birds. As a child I watched my father hurl himself across the road to rescue a broken-winged crow from an oncoming truck. It lived in a yellow bucket in the backyard till it could fly again, my sister and I fattening it on worms, and I still remember that moment of unlikely takeoff when it spun itself off the branch we held and went free.

Kyle watches while I call neighbors and wild animal control. Call and then call again. When a wildlife rescuer (or exterminator, he is what his customers need) finally comes out, the bird is gone. Our rescuer says we won’t see the bird again; birds don’t return to places that hurt them. Birds, at least, learn their lessons.

But the man is wrong. The next day Godiva and Kyle find the bird lying in the snow with a broken wing and mangled leg. So as we renovate the downstairs unit the bird sits in a box, feasting on peanut butter and berries and mealworms. Inexplicably, the starling (one-legged, one-winged, one-eyed) has enough strength in her to make her way out of the box several times, enough verve to find her way downstairs into the basement, enough moxie to find her way into a hole in the bedroom floor.

A friend says to me (jokingly, I think): Don’t you feel bad about disrupting the cycle of life? But I am unrepentant.

Unlike birds, we have not learned to avoid bad places. Kyle spends a week tiling the downstairs shower in the New House with lovely new subway tile. We dream about having one finished room, one beautiful room, in the midst of the chaos in our two homes.

But when he is done, it’s wrong. Old houses are wonky. Young men are colorblind. We can live with our mistakes or we can do the hard work of starting over.

I want us to be people who do things right. But we are exhausted. We are nine months into renovating and I just started a new job (well, two, technically) and Kyle will be gone for two months come March. So we leave it.

And then, two weeks in, the bird dies without warning. That’s when I cry (while operating power tools, of course). “Kyle,” I say, “aren’t you a little bit jealous that I can cry like this? You know, like, that I know my emotions so well?”

He says, not unkindly, that he kind of just thinks I’m crazy.

We keep working, doing our best to make ugly things pretty. Our bathroom, almost finished, now looks like this:
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We get it, House. Nothing as we expect it. And still, somehow, it will be okay. Remember, it looked like this:
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And I’ve made some old hollow core doors go from looking like this:

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To this:
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To this:

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The cage we bought for the bird just before it died sits by the window, empty. Neither of us move it. Kyle asks me if I want to get a bird, or a hamster, or something. And while, yes, I totally would have kept that bird and cuddled it! But only because I had to! the truth is I never wanted a bird and I don’t want one now. What I wanted was to see the bird fly free.

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