None of this was supposed to happen.
I wasn’t supposed to end up with a chicken in my life. I mean, who has chickens? People in overalls or Birkenstocks, and I own neither.
But there was that grammar school science fair, the egg that hatched, the chick that came out of it. Pretty soon, the fuzzy little creature was chirping on the couch night after night from the laps of two young sisters watching another episode of “iCarly” on TV.
The chick was supposed to be long gone by the time it grew up, but no local farm would take it. So it started living in the yard, leisurely hunting for bugs, constantly pecking at the front door to get back inside. At dusk, it would stroll to the garage, where it would climb on a chair, jump onto a table, then flap up to a shelf lined with soft quilts.
The chicken wasn’t supposed to be a rooster, but the newly sprouted comb and increasingly voluminous voice was indisputable proof. It crowed at first light. It crowed in the middle of the day. It crowed whenever the mood struck, which was often.
We moved into a new house, me, Pam, her daughters, our dogs, their rabbits – and of course, the rooster named Buddy, variously known as Boo-Boo, Nu-Nu, Schnoodle, and Boo-Disk. By day, he had the run of the yard; by night, Boo-Boo slept in the most expensive shed in the history of the construction trades. Chickens aren’t supposed to have transom windows, but he did.
He loved the kids, following them like a puppy, cackling with joy as they played outside. He worshipped Pam, sprinting across the grass with his dinosaur gait whenever he saw her, screeching “Ba-back, ba-back” the entire way. I often peered out the kitchen window to see a woman and her rooster sitting side-by-side on the front steps.
Me, he despised. He’d ambush me in the yard. He’d sidestep me as I cooked hamburgers at the grill, chase me after I delivered his breakfast of cracked corn and cheese. He had a way of crowing at the nearest window the moment that I picked up a call. “Buddy, shush!” I’d seethe. His face would twitch into a taunting smile and he’d scream again.
So how to explain my growing admiration for him, for the way he seemed so content in his own feathers? He sprawled in the grass with the dogs, dug deep holes beneath a maple, and delighted when passing cars slowed down so kids could call his name. He ruled his world, our yard, so effortlessly that I often asked, as I shut the doors to his shed at night, “Buddy, how did you figure it all out?”
This wasn’t supposed to happen either: The call as I ran errands Sunday morning, Pam, distraught, on the other end of the line. “Come home,” she cried. “It’s Buddy.”
There was no rooster when I raced across the yard. I came around the corner to find Pam sitting quietly on the back deck, Buddy cradled in her arms, his small face, impossibly still, resting on her shoulder.
“He walked out of his house,” she said softly, tears rolling down her cheeks. “He tumbled into the grass. When I picked him up, he cawed once and died.”
Her voice quavered as she said, “All he ever asked was to be part of the group.”
No, none of this was supposed to happen – not the celebrations for each of Buddy’s three birthdays, not the mounds of droppings he left on my porch, not the fear of castration he put in me every time he charged my way – not the laughter, not the cackles, not the recent tears.
Yet, in many ways, it’s important that it did. Rest in peace, my worthy nemesis. I’ll watch your flock from here.