It was still summer until Labor Day, and then, magically, it was fall, even though the gauge on the weather thermometer said no way.
We wore our new fall clothes to school anyway. As soon as we got permission to put away our white patent leathers, we stood at the bus stop, sweating in wool wraparound skirts and ribbed kneesocks and brown Woolrich corduroys.
Our new outfits signaled a change, a transition to a new season, a time for reinvention.
So we parted our hair on a different side and flipped it up in wings and carried our new book bags stuffed with new filler paper, even though we still had reams of yellowing college-ruled spilling out from the top shelf of the chest of drawers in our bedrooms at home.
We wrote with fresh No. 2’s because last year’s were pockmarked with teeth prints and the erasers were worn down to nubs. We hooked fat Bic 4-Color ballpoints into the spiral of our clean-faced notebooks, and none of us could figure out why in the world black was one of the colors.
Everything was brand new. A time to start over. This was our chance to make a clean break from the year before, to try out a new style, to be someone in the eighth grade who we hadn’t been in the seventh.
Three months ago — last season — I moved. Sold my house and everything in it and bought a new house and all new furniture. A rolled-arm sofa in a pewter stripe; a tufted leather cocktail ottoman; a tight-backed reading chair and a lighted china cabinet and a desk made of honey-colored reclaimed wood. Everything brand new.
On the last week in my old house, I washed my car in the driveway.
It took me about an hour to finish, and before I wound the hose back onto its reel, I turned the nozzle toward my plants.
I soaked my impatiens and petunias and drenched the basket filled with purple pansies hanging on a shepherd’s hook next to the front door.
And then I saw them.
Five tiny baby birds, each one no bigger than my thumb, floating in the nest that had been scrabbled together in the middle of the basket. The birds were, at best, two days old. Their mouths gaped open; it looked like they were gasping.
I didn’t know what to do. Pick up the nest to drain the water? But wouldn’t my human hand cause the mother to abandon her babies? Hadn’t I read something about that once? What if I made things worse?
Horrified by the thought that I’d drowned these little creatures — I don’t even kill spiders — I fled to the backyard and slumped down in the hammock. I buried my face in my hands and cried.
If I’d killed those baby birds, I couldn’t bear it.
I stayed like this for a few hours, paralyzed by what I’d potentially inflicted. Eventually, I forced myself to face what I’d done.
I went back to the basket and saw the mother bird. She flew away when I got close, but then I saw those little baby birds in the nest, maws still gaping, but oh my gosh, thank God, thank God, they were OK! The water had drained. The birds were soaked, but they were hanging in there.
For the next few days, I watched these birds. They grew at an astonishing rate. By day three, I could see a trace of feathers. By day four, their eyes opened.
By day five, two birds had moved to the edge of the nest. They were moving their legs, inching forward. I’d never seen anything like this in my life. I was watching a transition. A transformation.
On day six, moving day, I taped an index card to the shepherd’s hook: “Baby birds. Do Not Disturb.” I didn’t want the new owners not to notice. And then I got in my car and drove away.
I’m heartbroken that I didn’t get to see all the stages of the birds’ development. I wish I’d seen them stand up. I wish I’d seen them preening, picking at their feathers, getting their new outfits ready. I wish I’d seen their wings begin to beat. I wish I’d seen the ruffling, the fluffing.
I wish I’d seen them leave the nest, taking their leaps into the great unknown, stretching their wings, and flying.