Bird Calls


Lake Huron, summer, 2018

I met my Waterloo in the loo of a Waterloo, Ontario Shopper’s Drug Mart.

“It’s Senior’s Day,” I said to my husband and daughter. Presciently, on my list was a large bottle of Extra-strength Advil. Lured by the 20% discount and bonus points on my loyalty card, we stopped en route to Point Pelee National Park.

For years, I’ve wanted to visit Point Pelee in early May to witness the massive annual spring migration of song birds heading north for the summer. Our Air BnB waited for us in Kingsville. We’d signed up for tours and workshops offered by Friends of Point Pelee. Binoculars and journals were packed. We were ready.

A cup of cappuccino from a local coffee shop gurgled in my gut and, as is wont to happen, jolted the peristalsis of my intestines into action. Wearing a suitable expression of chagrin, I approached a clerk.

“I don’t suppose you have a bathroom I can use?”

Short of patting my arm, but addressing me as “Dear”, she briskly led me to a door with a code lock. My request, coming on Senior’s Day, was probably not a surprise.

Seated comfortably, trousers slightly puddled at my ankles, mission accomplished, I reached for the toilet paper and that’s when my quadratus lumborum, or some other monster Latin back muscle,  decided to go out, along with my eyesight which was assaulted by bright white arrows bursting in my retina (or some other ocular ogre).

Sucking in my gut, activating core muscles I’d been diligently cultivating, I grabbed the waistband of my pants and hauled them up. Shuffling to the sink, I washed my hands, an underappreciated challenge when you can’t bend. It’s astonishing how the muscles in your hand connect to your back and fire like a cattle prod along your nerves.

I shuffled out and slumped against the nearest wall watching in amazement all the seniors, who appeared to be MUCH older than me, whisking up and down the aisles with ease. I hated them all. Where were those who needed walkers and canes who would offer me kind, condoling glances? Instead, as my husband, daughter and I minced out the doors and slowed down traffic crossing the parking lot, all we got were impatient glares of the 70-is-the-new-40 crowd. “Fuck you,” I muttered.

A Hyundai Elantra is not an easy car to get into when your quadratus lumborum is in spasm. Sitting was not an option so I leaned in, and faced backwards kneeling on the front seat. Off we went, bouncing  over spring potholes as I wept and yipped and moaned, frustrated our holiday to Point Pelee was clearly not going to happen. We were still two and a half hours drive away.

Installed in a dorm room at Wilfred Laurier University’s vacated student residence in yellow-painted cinder block splendour, I spent two days listening to urban birds taunt me through the window. Robins and Canada Geese chorused intermittently, the scraping geese honks and the robins sweet trilling mimicking the cycle of pain. I was a helpless tit.

My husband and daughter left me with a lousy book (Don Delilo “Zero K”) and made the best of Waterloo without me. The first night they brought me dinner, a salad with a chicken breast plopped on top, and no utensils. I lifted the chicken breast with my fingers and felt sorry for the bird but ate it anyway. I ate it because I was bored which seems unutterably cruel to the only bird I got close to this weekend. I apologized repeatedly to my family. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorrowfully sorry, though not as sorry as the chicken on the salad.

Once I found a mortally wounded bird while walking the dog along the Sawmill Creek path. I should have put it out of its misery somehow but I couldn’t bring myself wring its neck or hurl it against a tree so I left it on a sunny rock wrapped in tissue and walked away. It was gone the next day.

I’m grateful for being too large to wrap in tissue.

This morning, as my husband left the house to hike with a friend, and I lay in bed bolstered by many pillows, looking, I hoped, regal and pathetic, I heard him talking to a neighbour.

“You’re home early.”

“Yes. Sue put her back out.”

Like I did it on purpose.  The only reason I’d put my back out was if I could add it to the garbage.

“Honey, I put my back at the curb. Make sure the garbage men take it.”

44 thoughts on “Bird Calls

  1. I wish this was fiction – so so sorry for your pain.
    Pain is a warrior that can be defeated for a period of time with good meds but, in the long run, seems to rise from the ashes even in a public restroom to deal us another blow.
    Fuck pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am slowly improving though I’m still not able to sit for any length of time. I’ve rigged a standing work station at home using an ironing board and a stack of books. Works like a charm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Feel better soon!! Your lemons-to-lemonade transformative tale is wonderfully written. And I hope you have better books and food within your reach now. Heal well! And please keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gah. Maybe he should put your back out and hunt you a new one. That sounds so painful and awkward. 😦 I hope you’ll find some relief?
    May as well eat the chicken, can’t live on air.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel as thin of nerve as a tissue these days, Donna. Bless the cappuccino maker and the dog and the firm couch whereupon I sprout like a potato.


  4. So sorry to hear of your back woes! They are the worst. But you got a hilariously wonderful piece of writing out of it, so there’s that I guess? (Looking for a silver lining for you…)


    Liked by 1 person

  5. That all sucks! I’m impressed you could take such a dismal episode and turn it into a fun read . . . but that doesn’t change the fact that you couldn’t enjoy the outing! I hope you’ll figure out a way to go have this adventure at some future time, when your back will behave.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OW! So sorry to hear this! Sometimes, all it takes is the smallest movement to set you on your, um, major muscle!
    I am so sorry you are in pain, and I hope you have good meds and better reading to get you through recovery.
    Great post, in spite of your misery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a humbling and somewhat humiliating moment. I have a good book, some supportive pillows, a kind husband and an attentive dog to weather the worst. Thanks, Maggie.


  7. I’ve been away too long — despite the fact that my son was at Waterloo for several years — so had to google those distances. After all those hours in the car, no wonder your back spasmed (and you needed the large Advil…)! Sorry to hear you missed the birds but glad that Shoppers Drug Mart staff are understanding. 😏

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  8. Oh Susanne, how frustrating! I’m so sorry this happened. It’s bad enough to throw your back out on a regular day, but to have it ruin an amazing planned experience is just absolutely the pits.

    I’ve broken a drive like that into two days before (that was the trip when I discovered the orange moose, actually) and it worked well. Bodies are so uncooperative sometimes, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I hope you get feeling better really soon! And I hope you have much better luck in the fall!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Crystal. The plus side of going in the fall will be fewer mosquitoes. And definitely we will break the drive into two more manageable chunks.


  9. Oh so very well told ! I’m recovering still from the bout that laid me low for a week….. This is the first time I’ve experienced what happens when I stop my twice daily walks and all the other usual activities and am forced to sit stiffly upright supported by pillows all day. Who knew so much stiffness and congestion would congeal around the afflicted area and refuse to leave? Note to self, take care of back, don’t do anything to upset it again!! Hope you are in much better shape now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is SO important to keep moving so we don’t stiffen. I hope your situation improves soon, too, Pauline. Thank goodness for the company of devoted pets, eh?


  10. Oh no!! I’ve heard of many ways to throw out a back, but you’re in a category of your own 😏

    Glad to hear you are making a recovery, but it really killed the birding plans. As Manja said, maybe the birds will feel sorry for you and stop by for a visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once the flood waters of the Ottawa River recede there will be some good bird watching along the shoreline as those Point Pelee birds wing their way north. I do love the sound of redwing blackbirds in the spring and the way they perch on top of dried stalks of tall grasses like little lumberjacks.


  11. You are too funny! But it shows a lot of character to find humor within the humilities that mortality and age dole out. If only we could all put our ills out on the curb to be hauled away! Glad to hear you are feeling better. I’m sure the humor helped. Wishing you better, happier Waterloos to enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Delicious writing topped with the laugh out loud cherry at the end. Great way to wake up here on the West Coast. But what a horrible experience! So sorry—!!! Treat yourself this summer to a consolation prize trip and maybe a guilt free tofu stir fry. And resist the temptation to put your back out again—geez. 😉

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