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The Carolina Wren(s)

            For the past few years, ever since my Mom’s friend Olivia died one January, a Carolina Wren has taken to visiting the apartment over the winter. The first visit, within days of Olivia’s death, felt like a spiritual visit from Olivia herself, to let us know that she was okay, and to say goodbye. When the wren (or a different wren) returned the next year, it seemed like Olivia was checking in on us, and letting us know that her spirit was flying free.

“This is my good side.”

            This year has been different. A Carolina Wren has come into the apartment four or five times already, usually on the coldest, snowiest days. She (I always assume she’s a she) sometimes stays overnight, flying from one room to another, sampling the kibble, taking a bath in the water bowls, singing a few songs, leaving poop on the curtains and then heading out.

            The dogs never seem to mind the visits, even when the little bird is singing full out or flying over their heads.

“Go ahead. Eat as much kibble as you want.”

            On her third visit this winter, in the middle of a snowstorm, a second Carolina Wren came in with her. I don’t know if it was her mate (he was a little fatter than she was), or another bird, curious about where she kept escaping to when everyone else was freezing. Our Carolina Wren did not seem to appreciate the company. The bigger bird perched on the top of my bookcase while the little one did gymnastics on the curtain rod, and tried and failed to land on a bare lightbulb, and two-stepped her way down the curtain in my room. Finally the bigger bird decided to leave, but our little Wren stayed a while longer.

“Does this color make my foot look big?”

During her next visit, when I was practicing the alto part for a choir recording, she decided to sing with me. She didn’t sing the tune I was singing, she sang her own, but she sang it in answer to me and along with me, insistently; maybe trying to figure out why I was singing the wrong song. Her voice was much bigger than mine, despite her tiny size, and it filled the whole apartment. There wasn’t much harmony between her song and mine, but there was a magic to it anyway. There was communication and echoing and solidarity and questioning; and it was beautiful.

            It reminded me of how my old black lab mix, Dina, would hear us singing at Friday Night dinner and add her howl to the song. I found out that if I hit certain notes, usually higher up in my register, it would set her off. And even if we weren’t singing the same song, we were singing together; and even if it didn’t sound right, it sounded like love.

My Dina.

            I don’t know what it means that the Wren is visiting us more often, or even if it’s the same Wren each time. Maybe we’re listed on the Wren-airbnb site; maybe she’s looking for a nest, or for nesting materials (we have an enormous collection of fabric scraps); maybe she needs a respite from her mate and we seem friendly enough; or maybe there really is some communication between the spirit and bird worlds, and old friends are coming to visit in bird form. I’m not an expert on the afterlife, or on birds, but it’s nice to be visited, and it was nice to have someone to sing with in person, in this year of social distancing.

“I can play while you sing, Mommy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?