Have I ever told you about how a bird full of hate changed the course of my life?
It was 2009. I’d been out of school for a year, and estranged from my family for two.
Work wasn’t going very well (as I would later learn, employment never would) and there was a lot of pressure on me to decide what I was going to do with my life.
The thing is … my life was in shambles. I won’t go into too much detail but it was a dark time in which I didn’t belong anywhere and could no longer imagine that I ever would.
But Joh and I had been volunteering at a local animal shelter, which was a really good thing in my life. I cleaned out goats, fed pigs, raised poorly kittens, scrubbed kennels, and walked dogs.
I liked it; there was a need and I could fulfill it. And I’d always been more comfortable around animals than people.
I was eventually dragged to a careers advisor who tried to push me to the usual terrible fits.
It wasn’t going well.
Then, in desperation as it became clear that I might flee at any moment, Joh’s mother said: ‘They really love animals!’
And the career advisor, equally desperate, said: ‘Oh! What about animal care? There’s a local college for that!’
… This also seemed like a terrible idea.
It was a residential college and quite far away. I didn’t travel well and I was a wreck of nerves. I loved animals but couldn’t see college working out under any circumstances.
‘Just go to a taster,’ everyone said. ‘See what it’s like.’
I agreed that I would try, but honestly I didn’t have a lot of control over what I could and couldn’t do. I was a traumatised teenager with little sense of self, overwhelming anxiety, and a strong aversion to other people. When I woke up in a morning, it was a coin flip as to whether I would be able to do *anything* that day.
But everyone seemed very keen and nobody had ever suggested it before, so I would try.
When I arrived for the taster, with Joh supporting me, I instantly knew I wouldn’t belong.
A stately manor and gardens made up the main building. The prospective students were younger than me, wealthier than me, and much more rural. Expensive country brands were stitched into every jacket. The staff were much the same.
The campus was beautiful. Sweeping countryside and woods on all sides. A private zoo and farm for students to work and learn.
But nobody like me.
I was prepared to let it go. It looked amazing, but the demands would be too high and the thought of being a misfit in yet another area of my life was unbearable.
But as we did the tour, our guide took some questions in the small animal house.
Which for some reason, housed exactly one bird.
It was a kookabura. Flat head, furrowed brow, and a hot glare. It sat at the front of its enclosure in a position of clear threat.
‘Best stay away from him,’ said the guide.
‘He’s not friendly.’ Which was why he wasn’t housed with any others.
And while the guide chatted idly on, I stared at this bird.
Because I *loved* this bird.
It was so full of character. It was beautiful and angry and not afraid to let people know it. Three times during the guide’s talk, it let out a long, vicious laugh so loud that I could feel it in my chest.
I had never really paid much mind to birds before but I couldn’t look away from this one.
It reminded me, like a punch in the gut, that I can be happy anywhere there are animals, because they were people in a way I understood. And this bird was clearly a person.
So I made my application, and after an anxious few weeks, I was accepted.
And while I never fit in with my fellow students, I flourished in that college. I learned everything I could, volunteered for everything I could, discovered a passion I hadn’t really known I had.
The kookaburra, disappointingly, had vanished by the time I arrived as a student, however.
I thought of it fondly, for its affect on my life.
But mid-way through my first year, we were invited to help the centre manager with his private collection.
He needed to get a blood sample from an aggressive bird and it seemed like a good learning opportunity for the class.
And I volunteered to hold a bird full of hate, my fingers under its beak so it couldn’t bite them off.
(I was the only volunteer, for some reason. And I was blissfully happy.)
Anyway, that’s how a very mean kookaburra siren-called me out of an identity crisis.