At the end of August, a chicken moved into my neighborhood.
She appeared out of nowhere. We live in a dense suburban community close to New York City. Deer are scarce. Strange, black squirrels are plentiful. The wildest critter is the occasional raccoon that shows up dead on the side of the road. The fauna here has never included a chicken, so the arrival of this fowl enlivened my family and the neighbors.
She struts between the houses, and one day I got a picture of her crossing the street. I couldn’t resist posting on Facebook, “Why DID the chicken cross Burkewood Road?” I got 52 likes.
My neighbor, Wendy, across the street was the first to notice our new resident in her bushes. Although, some say “she” is really a “he” rooster because of the red neck, one neighbor confirmed that she’s a hen. “A Long Island Red,” Mrs. B. said with authority. She also knew that a bug is chicken grub so food would be plentiful.
A few of us got together one afternoon to discuss whether we should call someone to take her away. I was in the camp of “Let’s let nature take its course,” while others worried that something bad would happen to her. As the days went by we all became more attached. No one made a call. Instead, “Did you see her today?” became the burning question on the block as we picked up our newspapers or hauled in our garbage cans. I find myself going on a chicken hunt each afternoon and am always relieved to find her under her favorite rhododendron plant in Jen and Michael’s yard. They even put out a bowl of water. And, named her Henrietta. Jen stopped counting the concerned citizens who knock at her door saying, “Do you know you have a chicken in your front yard?”
B.C., or Before Chicken, I didn’t realize how much I needed this wonderful feathered distraction. It had been a difficult past few months. My father had unexpectedly passed away in late spring. He was sick for a very short time before the doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer. There was no time for any treatment as he contracted pneumonia and died in the hospital one month later. Grief overwhelmed me. Mostly, I felt unmoored. A part of my life was taken away that could never be replaced.
Then, a few weeks into summer, a thief broke into our house while we were sleeping. The downstairs window was left open. He slashed the screen and burglarized our home. No one heard anything. He silently pillaged our kitchen and family room, gathering electronics and cash before exiting through a back door. My daughter had been sleeping in a bedroom off the kitchen but, thankfully, didn’t wake up. The rest of the summer I never slept a full night without waking up, going to the window to look out, wanting to catch someone and ferociously scream, “Get the hell out of here!” The fear of it happening again hasn’t left me.
My computer where I had all of my stories was stolen that night. Even though I had most of my work backed up, I went the rest of the summer without buying a new computer. I borrowed my daughter’s, but still did very little writing. I was too depressed. It felt as if everything was being taken away from me and I didn’t have the strength or the motivation to try and re-build. Then along came Henrietta.
It’s strange how this chicken has affected me. Her arrival and her daily appearances have brought me surprising happiness. Humor. Hope. She gave me a new mindfulness of the unexpected in life. Not everything makes sense. People we love so dearly are suddenly taken away. A thief arrives in the night to steal your sense of security. We’re here, and then we’re not. We’re safe, and then we’re not. One day a chicken shows up. It comes to heal. To show me that life still goes on. It can be fragile and it can be scary. But, there’s comfort in knowing that the chicken isn’t bothered by any of this. She’s happy in the place she is today. She takes each day as it comes. She basks in the sun.
It’s fall now and I’ve accepted that our chicken won’t be with us forever. I worry about what will happen, as the nights get colder. Or how she could survive in the snow. Henrietta’s days are numbered in our neighborhood. Jen is in the process of finding her a new, safe home. Even though I don’t want her to cry fowl on our pet chicken; I realize that it’s the best decision.
Now I know why the chicken crossed my road: to bring me to the other side.