Jolene is dead.
She was the greatest thing in my life.
And I loved her.
I went through quite a lonely spell as a younger child. It is possible that I never grew out of it.
When I was much younger I used to be constantly transfixed by the birds that took residence near my home. I was the type of child who enjoyed being by myself in the woods or sitting on a back porch watching the birds. When the weather was sour, I gazed through the window to the edge of the wood line outside the back of our home. When I did happen to turn on the television, I was held captive by the nature channels. It was an utter obsession, and the birds took the center stage of my life. Meditating on those years, I would have to say that they were the most emotionally fulfilling of my life.
I was birthed by a single mother and she chose to raise me with a rather absentminded parental approach. A child should never be the source of strength in a relationship between the child and the mother, but that was very much the dynamic my mother and I had. I would not have traded it for the world, but I do sometimes wonder if being forced into maturity so early was the proper path for me.
The times I would be allowed to spend with my mother were very precious and we always were able to enjoy each other and our laughter. My mother was the one who introduced me to the knowledge of birds. She would spend hours telling stories about each type of bird and why they were all significant. Then she would be off to work again, and it would be several days before we were able to spend more time together.
There were no surrogate fathers in my life. My mother appeared to have been celibate, save for one night. I had few friends throughout my schooling and never maintained contact very well, especially as I grew older. I was never picked on or tussled with. I was simply the child who was there. Recesses involved sitting and observing.
The beauty of birds is that they are always present. There are very few places on this Earth that do not have some form of bird attempting to remind us to look up into the expanse.
The thought of flying was extraordinary. I yearn to know what people must have thought before human flight was feasible. I still often wonder if even then humanity took for granted the gifts of the birds. While I was in constant awe of the miracles birds could perform, it was their fraternity that most attracted me to them. Several species of birds mate for life, just like dolphins, or the way we like to think of humans as doing.
The most beautiful times of the year were when the migrations would occur. I once read a story saying that when a goose is worn down with age, the dying goose would be accompanied by two of its friends on the journey to the ground—even mid-migration. The dying goose would lay down, and while it died its friends would remain for comfort and protection. Whenever the migrational season would come, I always looked for the geese flying in small groups. If I saw three, I would always wonder if that was a final flight, and if I saw two, I knew that there was a goose somewhere on the ground that would never raise its wings to the sky again.
The thought of a goose never dying alone touched me. Often, when I was lonely, I would visit the story in my mind. A final flight seemed romantic in many ways. I would always wonder what feelings had to go through an animal’s mind when it knew its moment had come to fall asleep for the final time.
I was rather young when I realized the wisdom of birds in relation to death. I watched birds all of my young life, and I had never seen one simply fall out of the sky. They would glide back down to Earth every time. I realized that birds must always recognize the moment when death is upon them. They face that moment with dignity and grace. They know when the final descent is, and they don’t attempt a last flight when their time has arrived. I respected that stoicism.
In the window of my youth, there was always a beautiful white pigeon that would dance in my yard. Of all the birds I had ever admired, she was my favorite. Pigeons and geese have always been glorious in their own right. Often overlooked, and ever graceful.
If you take the time to observe nature, you will eventually be given the gift of photographic moments. Birds defending their nests in my backyard. Birds discovering their mates for the first time. I was privy to a front row seat in the circle of life. My window was open to everything I would ever need to understand about Creation. I learned about sex at that window. I experienced my first death through that glass. I had gone into a trance and been sitting there for hours. I remember that I felt as if I could almost feel something leaving when the bird fell down off that branch in the backyard. The bird did not appear to be about to fall. But it did. My favorite white pigeon.
I thought of the story of the geese, and I ran to be with the pigeon so it wouldn’t die alone. I had often daydreamed of actually touching the white pigeon, but in that moment, when I was finally able to hold her, I wished I had never felt those desires. I had nightmares about the eyes of the bird. After thirty minutes, the eyes glossed over and the twitching stopped. Sometimes I can still vividly recall her flying.
She was the greatest thing in my life.
And I loved her.
Holding a loved one in their final moments is the most tragic sensation I have ever experienced. Years after holding the white pigeon, I was present during the death of my mother. We had been arguing about something trivial. She was lecturing and I had allowed myself to fall into a trance of indifference, as if I was staring her down from my mental perch, high in the trees. The regret I’ve held from those moments can at times be overwhelming.
My mother started shaking and screaming and she let go of me with a push when I tried to see what was wrong. She was looking into my eyes, unable to blink. Her knees caved forward and her body twisted while she fell to the ground.
I attempted to be closer to her to help. Anger passed, and the moment between me being angry and becoming scared was the swiftest change in emotions I had ever experienced. Every time I tried moving closer to her she pushed herself back further.
My mother continued shaking and screaming, crouching down on the floor, her gnarled hands moving over her ears. I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew of life were stupid stories about birds.
At some point my mother stopped shaking and there was a moment between her and I. When you’re the child you never have to be the source of strength. You’re not supposed to be. But you do have to be from time to time when it’s just the two of you. I squeezed her hand while we both cried. Hopefully she knew I loved her, but in the moment the words weren’t there.
The doctors later said it was something with her brain, something about a cavity and pressure and extraordinary circumstances.
The longer I considered everything, the longer I realized that there was another possibility.
Today is when all of the events of my life came full circle. Jolene and I have been living together for years. Today, Jolene was being a little more frustrating than I was used to and I had hit my wits’ end with her. She kept repeating herself and repeating herself and I could not stop myself from simply staring at her.
I tuned myself out until Jolene started shaking. She fell down in her cage and I had to scoop her out so I could be there for her. I did not realize what I had done until after it was too late.
It had always been me.
I’ve sat with Jolene all day. And I think I have found a way to escape everything. Maybe my gift won’t just work on animals and people. Maybe it will work in a mirror, and I will not have to be alone. I will take with me my memories of Jolene, my mother, and the days when I knew the joys of companionship.
Credit: Ashley Franz Holzmann
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