The Hummingbird, or Why I Lived Alone for Five Years After This
*Names have been changed to protect the filthy.
In 2008 and 2009 I lived in what will in all likelihood be the nicest house I’ll ever have. It was a four-bedroom, impeccably restored, early 1900s Victorian in Berkeley. Wisteria climbed the front porch. There was a big backyard with a chicken coop. A white picket fence lined the front. It was, quite literally, my dream house.
What was perhaps less than dreamlike were the four housemates I had. Not the girls themselves—they were, for the most part, pretty awesome–but the fact that they existed in my living space at all. But we had a lot of room and got along well and it was kind of like a little post-college, figure-your-shit-out family. I got into the group through my roommate from school, Emily, who was friends with one of the other girls, Rebecca. Rebecca had lived with Kate and Ali for most of college. They were a little mismatched, but close, and I felt honored to somehow get into their world.
Now, I had heard stories about Ali before I moved in. She was an art major and a cellist. She was socially awkward, in that she purposely liked to make people uncomfortable by asking them super personal questions out of the blue. About a week before I moved in, the other girls came home to find that she had trimmed her pubes and left the leavings on the dining room table. It has been speculated that she may have a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. She is brilliant, both creative and book smart. But common sense and social graces were always missing from the equation.
One morning she went out onto our (beautiful) back patio (beside the hot tub) and saw on the ground a dead hummingbird in perfect condition. As though it had just laid down to take a little nap.
She brought it into the house.
When I got home from work that day, I could sense a certain tenseness in the house. I was the only one with a nine-to-five job, so obviously I’d missed something. Ali had left the dead bird in our basement laundry room. She wanted to have it stuffed, she said. She was going to the movies with some friends and wanted to leave it out to show them when they got back.
“Ali,” I said with more emphasis than I’m accustomed to using. “If you’re going to keep the hummingbird—IF—you need to put it in the freezer.”
Okay, but she was just going to leave it out until they got back from the movie.
“No. You cannot leave a dead animal sitting in the laundry room. It needs to go in the freezer while you figure out what you’re doing with it.”
And into the freezer it went.
Over the next few days, the rest of us tried, for whatever God forsaken reason, to help her find a purpose for the dead bird. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it’s illegal in the state of California to taxidermy a hummingbird. So then we started looking into places in San Francisco where she could have the bird cast in resin. To this day I cannot believe I participated in this. The poor bird was dead. It should have been left to nature’s doings. But instead it was in our freezer.
As with most of Ali’s endeavors, the project of casting the hummingbird in resin faded over the coming days and weeks. Which was fine. It completely disappeared from my mind. Which was also fine. Until a few months later, when Rebecca went on an uncharacteristic cleaning spree. She made it her mission to use up all our random dry and canned goods, concocting different odd grain dishes and baked goods every day. She purged the refrigerator of all expired and rotting products. She also went through the freezer.
If you think you know where this is going, you might be right.
It was about 9:30 on the night of the Great Cleansing. I was in the kitchen doing dishes and chatting with Kate, our resident neat-freak, when Ali came in. She opened the freezer and rifled through it with increasing fervor.
“Where,” she asked pointedly, “is the hummingbird?”
Kate and I were quiet at first. “Um, I don’t know. Becca cleaned out the freezer today.”
Ali marched downstairs to the basement where Rebecca was watching a movie with some guy she’d met at the neighborhood garden center.
“Where is the hummingbird?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing it.” She doesn’t look it, but Rebecca is an excellent liar.
The next morning was garbage day, so our trash cans were already out on the curb because we were relatively responsible humans. Ali marched out the front door, pulled out the bag filled with old crap from the freezer, and marched back into the house, where she proceeded to go through the contents of the bag. Directly on the kitchen floor.
She pulled out previously frozen peas, ice cream bars, raw chicken in her quest for a dead hummingbird wrapped in a paper towel. Kate and I just stood there and watched the disaster unfold. I’m sure at least one of us made some noise of objection, but it didn’t make a difference. There was garbage—true, rotting food that had been sitting out in the sun all afternoon—on our kitchen floor.
When Ali unearthed the bird, she wrapped it in a new layer of paper towel, labeled it “humbird,” and shoved it unceremoniously back into the freezer. Kate and I proceeded, in our pajamas, to clean the wreckage.
About six months later, all of us except Kate moved out for one reason or another. She found new roommates, one of whom asked her on day, “Hey, what’s that humbird thing in the freezer?”
Ali is a real, live nurse now. She’s very intelligent but has, I’m sure, little bedside manner.
TL; DR There was a dead hummingbird in our freezer for almost a year, and at one point there was a bag of garbage open on the kitchen floor. Garbage.