Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


When the life force unravels

In a 2017 interview, Anthony Bourdain told the reporter that in conversation with Warren Zevon as he was dying, Zevon advised him to “enjoy the sandwiches.”

Bird nest

A rather ugly robin built her messy nest right in the crook against our back door, the twigs falling on the step every time I open the door to go over to my studio, its poorly knit jumble sticking in the screen, threatening to tumble off the crossbar. Ugly bird, ugly nest, although I have become very fond of both of them. The robin’s head is asymmetrical, her eyes not quite placed right, and she has a white blotch on one tail feather that looks like bird shit. That’s how I know it’s her. For weeks she has screamed at me, tracked me around the building, watching me through the windows, cackling and cajoling me for intruding on her vigilant nesting. I’ve seen no sign of life from inside the nest and I perseverate. The mama robin is fierce and I wonder what will happen to her if the egg doesn’t hatch. I think about my own post-partum depression, I think about Kate Spade’s daughter.

My robin drags worms around in her beak but I don’t see who she feeds them to. Lately she has grown less timid and sits closer to me on the stone wall, along with another robin, maybe the father. They rush me, screeching and swooping. Sometimes I worry they’ll poke my eyes out.

I talk to them. “It was your choice to build your nest there,” I say. “Sorry but not sorry.” But I am sorry. This whole thing has me consumed. My husband gets daily updates. Sometimes I avoid even opening the door.

Early this morning I ventured outside. Both the adults dashed out of the nest, dislodging twigs and toppling a fledgling onto the rocks of my herb garden in their haste. My first panicked response was to try to get the fledgling back in the sloppy nest but wisely decided to just give the family some space. I locked our cats away from the window and did not go to the studio. Checking back in a half hour the fledgling was gone from the rocks. I will wait, I decide, to see if all goes back to normal. The sheer parental will of survival in these robins has astounded me, frightened me.

Back inside, drinking my coffee, I read about Anthony Bourdain from friends on Facebook.

In the studio I usually listen to NPR. Suicide bombers. Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. The overdoses in the area, names that sound familiar. “Death by cop” scenarios on the local news. Names I know from the work I do when I’m not in the studio–my day job in psychiatry and addictions. The job I do to counterbalance the often exhilarating narcissism of being an artist and writer.

In my office I listen to people whose life force is beginning to unravel, and it is my responsibility to try to knit it together, hold it tight. Make the right decision.

And then there are the robins. A life force that is simple. Instinctual. No intellectualizing, no existential crises. No shame. They don’t have to think about being alive. Just about staying alive.

The fledgling is gone from the rocks. I search for tiny feathers, did the ground hog get him? Were the parents able to help him fly away? The nest is empty. The yard is still.

So I go back to work where I’ve collected broken shells and an abandoned blue egg and tiny porcelain bowls and shards, beginning a three dimensional collage that I’m thinking of calling “Origins,” and thinking about how life is so full of coincidences. It is at that point that my husband comes in to surprise me with a sandwich.