I saved a dove the other day.
The cat came tearing into the house just as I was walking down the hall, something gray and limp in his mouth. A rat. It’s that time of year. I hollered to Rick (rats are not in my wheelhouse), who hollered back that he was on a call, and closed the office door.
I turn to chase the cat back out of the house while he still has control of the rat, but he puts it down (self-censoring of shrieks ensues; Rick’s on a call!). And I see that it’s a dove, and feel my chest get heavy.
Until it moves, and I think that I’d better contain it before it flies away in the house (if it’s well enough), and then figure out what to do with it (if it’s really hurt). So, I shoo the cat away, gathering the dove up in a towel. It breathes fast and shallow, its eyes dull and half-open, but I see no obvious damage (besides a patch of missing features on the back of its neck – dumb cat!). I remember hearing somewhere that when a bird runs into a window pane (or is attacked by a cat – dumb cat!), it’s the shock that can kill them, and if they can get through that, they’re sometimes OK; I made a note of it, because this isn’t the first time this has happened. So, warmth and hydration. OK. Wrapped in a towel; warm: check. I try letting little drops of water fall from my fingertips into her mouth, and she seems to swallow, but it’s tremendously inefficient. Standing at the kitchen sink, I look at the window sill and see the nasal aspirator (don’t ask) that I use to clean fountain pens, ah-ha! I try that – perfect. One drop at a time, her throat moves as she swallows. But her eye is still half-closed and dull, and her breathing rapid and hard.
I take her outside and put her in on the table in dappled sun, and sit with her quietly, abandoning my other plans, giving myself over to seeing what happens next, what I can do. I give her some water from time to time and let her rest, waiting to see what might happen. I watch the towel rising and falling with her breath. I read, I enjoy the sun and the breeze, I wait.
When I look up again, the towel has fallen still. I peek around the edge, nervous of what I might see. But – there is a bright black eye looking at me, aware and awake and very present. I lean in with the dropper to offer more water, and with a great clattering of wings and cooing, she bursts out of the towel, away from my hand, over the bushes, over the telephone wires, and vanishes, leaving me, heart racing, alone on the patio in the sun.
We walk out to the car, Kivrin and Tilly and I, she on her way to school, Tilly and I ready for a walk after drop-off. I look down the driveway as we go to the car, eyes out for Roxie, our neighbor’s dog, who sometimes lures Tilly away from the car – usually on the mornings when we most need to hurry.
Coming up the driveway, a person, in gray loose clothes, head down, arms crossed over chest, gender indeterminate. No-one comes up our easement unless they’re actually headed for one of our houses, and this person, as soon as they see us come out, turns around and heads back down the hill.
While we’re generally left alone at the top of our driveway, we did once have someone rifle through the cars in the night – was this person on their way up to do the same? Hating to feel automatically suspicious, I decide that maybe they’re looking for a lost pet, scanning the ditch between driveways where nasturtium grows wild and coyotes hunt the rabbits (and cats and dogs and chickens) who stray there. Either way, we’ll pass the person on the way down, and I can get a better sense of what’s going on then (back of my mind: do I call Rick and let him know to be on the lookout?).
We load up and start rolling and as we draw closer, the person steps off the driveway, into the dirt, and hunkers down.
I stop, not sure what to expect, and unroll Kivrin’s window. Are you OK? Can I help you?
She’s young. Her hair is long and unbrushed, with twigs and tangles in it. Her face is open and guileless, and her eyes are lost. Yes, she says. Yes. I’m confused, and I don’t know where I am. A little embarrassed laugh.
I park and get out of the car. She’s barefoot, her feet small and dirty and scratched. I’m Jocelyn, I say, and she says, I’m Sarah. I was out with a bad crowd, and I think maybe I was rufied. I’m lost.
Let’s get you up to the house, I say, and get you some help. My mind is going in five directions – Kivrin’s in the car, and the dog. I don’t want to stick this young woman in the car with a dog who might be hyper and bark – I want to be able to hear what she’s saying. Kivrin can’t drive the car back up; I don’t want to leave Sarah to hike up to the house myself while I get the car back up there. These thoughts race as I begin to guide her up the driveway; Rick can come down and drive Kiv to school in my car while I figure out who to call. That will work.
We’ll call someone, I say.
She says, I know my grandmother’s number – she lives somewhere around here.
We stop. I go back to the car for my phone. I ask her the number, and she says it while I’m still getting to the right screen to dial, and I ask for it again, hoping that she can remember it twice, that it’s a real number, that it’s actually her grandmother. I realize I don’t remember her name now, and ask for it again as the phone dials, apologizing.
It’s Sarah, she says slowly. Sarah Lyn – tasting the words on her tongue.
The phone is answered. Hi, I say, my name is Jocelyn, and I’m here with your granddaughter, Sarah…?
Expressions of relief. Where are you? I can come get her right away. I’ll be right there. I tell her my address, and the cross street – it turns out she lives right on my cross street. I’ll be right there, she says again. I tell her we’ll wait at the bottom of the driveway.
I turn to Sarah, asking if she’s OK getting in the car with the dog, so we can wait for her grandmother. I’m looking at her bare feet, imagining that they are cold on the pavement. She loves dogs, she says; she’d gone out to walk the dog – she was staying at her grandmother’s to detox, she thought she’d already detoxed, she should have known better when someone offered her a bong, they must have put something else in it. She’s trying to make sense; each sentence does, individually, but the narrative isn’t coherent.
She gets in the car. I introduce her to Kivrin, wanting Sarah to know that we see a person there in the backseat of our car, wanting to create a semblance of normalcy, of okayness. I can’t believe I’m lost, she says, I’ve lived here all my life. This is embarrassing. I tell her not to be embarrassed, it’s OK – we all get lost sometimes.
We wait at the bottom of the driveway, for a few minutes that feel much longer, as we talk about dogs and drugs and being lost and feeling embarrassed, until I see an SUV marked with the sheriff’s logo across the street. My first thought: her grandmother called the cops to scare her? Then I realize – she’s been missing; her grandmother called the police to help find her.
I get out of the car as the sheriff pulls to one side of me, the grandmother’s car right behind, pulling to the other. Sarah gets out, saying thank you – I tell her I’m really glad we could help, glad that she found us. I mean it. The sheriff is eyeing my car, taking in the bumper stickers, the dirt from driving to the barn, the long driveway behind us. The grandmother gets out of her car, jerks her head at the passenger side door as Sarah passes, comes up to me.
And throws her arms around me and doesn’t let go. She’s crying and thanking me. It’s OK, I say. I’m glad Sarah knew your number, I say (I think I said, I’m pretty sure I said). When she finally pulls away, she tells me that she’s been so scared, this is the first time for her – Sarah’s done this before but her parents have given up on her and she’s come to live with them they have appointments for her but they haven’t happened yet she just didn’t know what to do. And I tell her it’s OK. I’m glad that we found Sarah – and I am. I tell her that she has my number now, and truly, she should know that we’re right there, and it’s OK to call. I mean it.
I give the sheriff’s deputy my name and (at his request) birthday (not my cell phone? not my address? right – they can find me with my name and birth date), say goodbye and good luck to Sarah’s grandmother and wave to her through the window.
I turn back to get into my car, where my daughter sits in the front seat, clean and safe (no dirty feet, no twigs in her hair or blood on her knee or bruises on her wrist, not cold, not hungry). I turn to her (her eyes clear, not lost, not confused), and for one moment, it’s almost too much to bear, this juxtaposition (please never let my daughter have that lost look in her eyes, pleasepleaseplease; please never let her have to rely on the kindness of strangers – please let strangers be kind to her when she’s in need), and my breath catches in my chest.
You OK, I ask? Yes, she says.
And we drive to school, leaving the cars and Sarah behind.
When I get back, they are gone.