The birds in my neighbourhood are having an existential crisis. They’re hesitating on their branches, resting for a moment longer than they should. Even when I scream and stomp my feet at the foot of the tree, they stand there, thinking about whether or not to fly away, wondering if it even matters.
I learned the term “existential crisis” from my English teacher because we’re reading The Stranger by Albert Camus. I’m in this advanced class where everything is so deep. I love it. Anyway, the birds, right? I think I noticed it before I learned the word—is that possible? Can you notice something subtle like that and then learn the word for it, or is it kind of invisible until you can name it? I guess it doesn’t matter—the point is I’ve learned it and I can’t unlearn it.
It’s weird because I was pretty sure flying was autonomic. That’s another word I learned recently—it means things you do without thinking. The fight or flight instinct, for example. You feel it in your body and you’re off. Thinking is a problem. It interrupts the things you need to do to survive. Like, imagine if you had to decide to take every breath—you’d die.
I kind of know how the birds feel. Lately, when things get confusing, I slow down and get stuck in my thoughts. I can’t even choose between flavours of ice cream anymore—I just stand there at the 7-11 with the cooler door open, breathing in Freon-tasting air. When my mom yells, I used to go hide right away. Now, I just sit there thinking about what to do. Half the time, I end up doing nothing at all, and that just makes her angrier.
The other day, she was yelling because I’d forgotten to let the cat in before we all went to bed. She said she thought the cat was probably dead. She asked me for the millionth time why I was so stupid. I snapped and yelled at her to fuck off. I’d never done that before—it just bubbled up from inside. I guess that’s the fight part of fight or flight, huh?
But the problem with things that you just do without thinking is that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I think she was as surprised as I was when she slapped me across the face. Her eyes got really big, and we just stared at each other. We’re the same height now, I realized. Then she was gone, up the stairs to her room. I guess it was her turn to hide. Once you’ve learned something you can’t unlearn it, especially about yourself. My poor mom. Maybe that’s when I started slowing down like the birds, sinking into my thoughts all tangled like yarn. I worry for the birds. I think someday something terrible will happen to them.