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Your Chickens

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Dear Waldo,

I've known Carla ever since we were little girls in kindergarten. We were best friends right up through high school. But now we're forty-six, and when she calls, I've been having the thought that if I didn't know this person, I very well might just hang right up on her. She never asks me about me. I bet if I gave her a full minute she wouldn't be able to come up with the names of my husband and my three kids. She has lots of things to say about everything, but mostly angry things or nasty things or sarcastic things. She has this bitterness. My husband says that whenever it's her on the caller ID I just shouldn't pick up. But then she'll leave a message. My husband says fine, just don't call her back. But then I feel bad, hearing her voice and remembering the way it was when we were little. Why do I not want to pick up the phone and talk with this person I once loved?

Jane

Dear Jane,

You have busted into a fabulous, rich topic, and I have exciting news for you which hopefully will keep you connected with this friend of yours forever. If you drink coffee, or if you might be a casual smoker of pot, please have some now so you can focus on my somewhat long-winded answer to your wonderful question.

A while ago a neighbor called and said she had found a chicken in her barn, and that she had no idea where this chicken might have come from. She knew we had a few chickens, and so she wondered if we might want this one. My wife said sure. So that evening we drove down the hill, cornered the horrified chicken, brought the chicken home.

In the light of the next morning we discovered that this new chicken had a big gooey hole beneath the feathers of one wing, an ugly wound exposing ghastly interior scenery which no one had noticed until now. Let's back up to the phone call, shall we? If our neighbor had called and said Hello, I got a chicken in my barn with an ugly, yawning, gooey, festering hole in its side and would you like to add her to your flock, we would have sputtered out some polite version of What, are you fucking kidding?

What we said instead was Absolutely. And when we said that, the chicken with the gooey hole became ours. That is, our yes transformed the chicken from Big Flapping Thing With Concealed Oozing Gooey Wound to Creature Sleeping Feet Up In Lap of Wife, Possibly Snoring, As Wife Applies Herbal Ointment To Disgusting Gash While Cooing Mama's Got You Honey, Mama's Got You.

We named the chicken Moxie. Moxie is thriving. All because we said some form of this word: Okay.

Jane, there is absolutely no question about it: What you consider to be yours makes all the difference. You pick out two small earrings from of all the billions of earrings there are on the planet -- Presto! They become special when they become yours. Same with a dress. Or a car. Or a parakeet.

Or a person.

So Jane, here's what I'm asking you to do. Find a comfy place where nothing will pester you. And then try this: Think about those chickens in your life that won your attention, that smacked you sweetly in a certain way. That surprised you with kindness. That made you slightly different. Chickens you fell in love with. Chickens that puffed you up. Chickens that made you feel shy. Chickens that startled you with new possibilities. Chickens you don't see anymore but can't forget. Chickens you enjoyed that came with other chickens you had to put up with. Chickens that broke your heart. Chickens you have no idea why they stuck in your head. Chickens you never got to say what you wanted to say to. Chickens that starred in lovely fantasies in your head. Chickens that brought you to rages you're grateful for. Chickens that had horrible things beneath their feathers which now you hardly notice. Chickens whose funerals you shall certainly attend.

Take your time. You'll find that the more slowly you mosey through your recollections, the more chickens will come flapping out. Those are your chickens. They make up your life. When all is said and done, pretty big flock you got there, yes?

I agree. But as they continue to come flapping out, consider this: There are billions of other chickens out there that never entered your head, never intersected with your life, never flapped out in front of you. Realize that these are all somebody's chickens too. Just as you, Jane, would howl at the sky if one of your chickens -- say, your husband or one of your children -- was disappearing into the forest in the mouth of a wolf -- so too would everyone else on the planet wail if the chicken disappearing into the woods was theirs.

That is, every chicken is both a special chicken and just some chicken in some barn.

And so here's a suggestion: The next time your childhood friend Carla calls, pick up. It's perfectly fine to hold the phone away from your ear while this chicken of yours blathers on and on. You can even make faces to your husband, do the blah blah blah thing with your free hand. This will have nothing to do with your appreciation for Carla, or with your gratitude for her being in your life. So what if she has a gooey hole or two. Who doesn't? And before you hang up, be sure to say Bye Carla, I love you. Because the fact is, when you really get down to it, you do.

Your Fan,

Waldo Mellon