By Marika Price
I was four years old, the first time I learned that being single was A Bad Thing. It was when Sunny, our parakeet, died. To be honest, I barely remember Sunny, Sunny’s death, or even Sunny’s funeral, where I apparently said, “Dear God, please tell Sunny to stop chirping so loudly at night so she can make bird friends in heaven.” But what I do remember is what happened after Sunny died.
Our other parakeet, Breezy, who was even louder than Sunny, stopped making noise. Not a chirp. Not a tweet. Nothing. Then, Breezy stopped eating. And stopped drinking. And finally stopped moving. It was such a drastic change, my four-year-old self wondered if Sunny took Breezy with her to heaven and replaced him with a different, quieter, sadder bird.
Concerned we had an imposter bird in our cage, I finally told my mom: “I think Breezy went to heaven with Sunny.”
“Why do you say that, sweetie?” She looked at me like I’d had a profound realization that Breezy’s “spirit” or “soul” was gone. But no, I was thinking more literally.
“That’s a different bird in there.” I pointed to the parakeet like it was the bad person in a lineup.
“Oh, Koukla.” She put a strand of hair behind my ear, something she often did when I was little. “That’s still our Breezy. He’s just sad because he misses Sunny.”
“But now he has the whole cage,” I said, as if Sunny’s death was Breezy’s gain. “He can spread out more, right?”
“Maybe so,” she said. “But we all want someone to share our life with. That’s why we got two birds and not one. That’s why I married your father. And that’s why you’ll get married one day to a wonderful husband who will become your life partner.”
I paused, thinking about the choice of having a room to myself or having to share my room with some old guy I’d have to feed, do laundry for, and constantly remind where things are in the house. Wipes are on the bottom shelf. Remote control is on the coffee table next to the vase, like it always is. Milk is behind the orange juice. These were the duties of wifehood I witnessed my mother do daily, sometimes hourly.
“Do I have to?” I asked, completely serious.
“You’ll want to, trust me. Being alone is…” She looked at Breezy, who was as close to dead as something alive could be, and moved on to talking about what she was making for dinner.
The other time I learned being single was A Bad Thing was in sixth grade. I came home from school in the middle of March to find my mom making a lasagna dish. She only ever made that particular treat for Christmas.
“Are we having pastitsio?” I peered at the layered noodles on my tiptoes, mentally calculating how many hours until dinner.
“No, this is for Neighbor Joey’s family,” she said.
“Why?” I was skeptical of what our grumpy neighbor’s family did to deserve my mom’s pastitsio.
“Because, well, because, he died a few weeks ago. And his family is helping clean up his house.”
“What? Neighbor Joey died?…Weeks ago?”
“Yes, sweetie. That’s what I said.”
“How did no one know?” I was horrified at the image of Neighbor Joey lying dead for weeks on the floor in the same lime green shirt he always wore. “No one stopped by? Or called?”
She shook her head.
“What happened? I mean, how did he…” I lowered my voice. “Die?”
“He choked on something.” She squinted, trying to remember the dish that caused his demise. “I think it was tri tip? Or brisket? Something like that.”
I put my hands over my throat, wondering if he would still be alive if he had a partner to help, someone to scream for him.
The equation was clear: single was bad, and being with someone was better. Even if it meant I’d be folding stained boxers for the rest of eternity.
Once that formula wormed its way into my mind, I saw it everywhere: family reunions, movies, weddings, novels, funerals, school dances, hospital waiting rooms, and tax returns. I saw it in flocks of birds all going somewhere together, high and free, with one often struggling to keep up with the rest.
And this is why I dated Adrian. It’s why I dated Kevin, Bobby, Ryan, Luke, Lilly, Erica, and Jeremy. It’s why I was once in a four-year engagement.
It’s not that I was in love, though I wished I was; it’s that I didn’t want to end up in a cage, silently waiting to die alone.