When I was 14, I took my dog for a walk after a hailstorm. Growing up in Colorado Springs, hail was common, but not something we took lightly. I’ve seen ice rocks the size of softballs fall from the sky.
Seriously, go get a softball. Look at it. Imagine an ice version of that falling from the heavens onto the hood of your car, your roof, your head. Ugly.
This storm was particularly nasty with lots of lightning and hail the size of golf balls. The dog had spent the duration of it under the bed, but was now bravely investigating each hail stone as if she was invincible.
A few houses up, my dog pointed out a robin’s nest on the ground. There were two broken-necked adult birds and two baby birds dead in the nest. I paused at the tragic scene and felt such pity for these little creatures who really hadn’t stood a chance in their flimsy Aspen tree house. I grimaced, thinking, “cat fodder.” But, before walking away, I noticed a third baby bird moving around outside of the nest. I couldn’t leave this partly feathered baby in the carnage of his wrecked red-breasted family, so I gingerly scooped him up and tucked him into my jacket.
I ran home and made a little nest in a shoe box. I left it near, but not directly under a light to help him stay warm and packed it with soft bits of cloth. Keep in mind, this was before Google had the answer to everything. We were newly online like the rest of America with AOL, but I spent most of my time playing around on Instant Messenger or sneaking into chat rooms. Hard to imagine when Google searching solutions to everything in my life, from “how to care for a baby bird” to “Chinese Food delivery in Denver,” was not yet part of my second nature.
I checked in the phone book (remember this was 1998). The Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center across town was closed until 7 a.m. the following morning. My mom thought the bird wouldn’t live an hour, but she humored me in my efforts. We made a mixture of milk and molasses (not sure why we even had molasses, come to think of it) and I went to bed with the shoebox on my nightstand. I woke up every hour, essentially, every time I heard the bird rustle and fed him from an eye dropper. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t kill him with good intentions. The baby bird survived the night and we took him into the rehabilitation center first thing in the morning.
I’ll never forget the compassion and sense of responsibility I felt towards that little bird. I wasn’t sure if I had the ability to save him, but I was willing to do whatever it took. I truly believed if I loved him enough and sacrificed enough, he would make it through the night. And he did.
Unfortunately, my baby bird nurturing instincts have somehow become intertwined with my romantic intuition. In the past, I have fallen for the baby birds of the dating scene. These are the guys with the figurative broken wings. They have dark pasts with heavy baggage, trust issues, drinking problems, intimacy phobias, secrets, and deep throbbing emotional pain that keeps them up all night. They suffer from a chronic lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Whatever the broken wing that keeps them grounded, these guys fall into the category of “damaged goods,” and obviously are irresistible to me.
I believe in them. I believe they can heal and that their recovered selves will go on to achieve great things. I believe that with enough love and support, they will get stronger and fly again. I believe they need me. I tell myself that no one will care for them and nurture them like I can. If you haven’t choked to death on all the disillusion I’ve crammed down your throat, keep reading.
So, I get to work loving them. I pour my whole heart into loving them as they are. Acceptance and affection ooze out of every pore in my body. I apply affirming words and actions liberally to their wounds like a good nurse would with burn ointment. I patiently wait for them to heal, rocking them to sleep with figurative lullabies – I don’t actually sing to anyone. ever. as a matter of policy to protect my personal pride. I empathize where I can and listen patiently as they hash out issues that are beyond my experience. I subject myself to sub-standard treatment. I settle for less than I expect in a relationship. I martyr myself in the name of patience and tolerance and accept my role as emotional punching bag.
Then, they fly off, fully recovered, never to look back. 3 out of 4 actually married the next girl who came along. 4 might, he just hasn’t popped the question, yet.
Recently, I met another one of these broken-winged boys. I felt the familiar tug at my heartstrings; he was so cute. I knew I could have him healed and in the arms of some other woman in a matter of months. I’m pretty much a pro, after all.
Luckily for me, this time wisdom and logic prevailed. Finally.
I’m not going to try to save this little bird of a man.
I am done carrying other people’s baggage around. I have my own baggage. Just like everyone else. By the time we enter the realm of “somewhere in our late 20’s,” everyone has baggage. Everyone has been lied to, cheated on, dumped, divorced or worse by this point in our lives. So, while I don’t mind a man with baggage, I am going to need him to pull his own weight. I can’t carry it around for him; my arms are already a little full with my own trust issues, shattered dreams and broken heart shrapnel.
So, here’s my PSA:
You don’t need to be broken, shattered and tattered for me to love you. You can be covered in the deepest emotional scars, having barely escaped an ugly past, but you don’t need to be on the brink of self-destruction for me to love you. You don’t need to be self-loathing for me to love you. You don’t need to be lost and in need of rescue to catch my eye. You don’t need to be vulnerable, but it is ok if you are. I won’t judge you. I just won’t fix you.
I’m no longer holding a torch, screaming, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I love them still. I feel for them. I want to save them. However, survival not an option. In romance, I now hold my torch for the dreamers and achievers, the survivors who have endured the bludgeoning of love and come out stronger. Give me your exhausted but cheerful, your poor but strong, give me a man who believes in love, no matter how many times his wings have been broken in the past.
No more figurative baby birds.