Flying and Falling

Posted on: February 17, 2015

I never understood why people kept birds. It felt wrong, seeing those creatures in cages. How can a bird live closed in? I used to dream of freeing all the birds. I explained this to my father at the zoo, as only righteous eight-year-olds can.

“I’ll release all of them and become a hero to the whole animal kingdom!” I exclaimed. To his credit, he didn’t laugh. He just pointed to a group of parrots.

“Where do you think those parrots are from, Leah?” he asked me.

“The forest,” I said, certain. I’d read books, after all.

“Not any forest around here. They’re used to warm climates. What would they do in the winter?” He rested a hand on my back as I turned away.

“I don’t know.” My eyes tightened in frustration. But I did know, and I hated it.

“They won’t make it. Is it okay to let them go, knowing they can’t survive outside?” He gave my shoulder a squeeze, but it didn’t help.

I nodded, hiccupping back tears. Even though I didn’t have the answer, I still hated seeing them kept from the sky.


Twenty years later, I made two decisions I regretted. One was agreeing to five tequila shots at my best friend’s bachelorette party. The other was wearing a tacky t-shirt claiming I was on Team Bride.

But I didn’t regret him. He was broad with buzzed hair and a strong jaw. With his sleeves rolled up, the edge of a tattoo peeked out. I was content to watch him joking with the bartender, his hazel eyes surrounded by laugh lines. Multiple shots of tequila made my staring obvious.

“Go up and talk to him,” the bride said.

“Oh no no no--” I shook my head. “Tonight’s about you!”

“Do it!!” she yelled. “It’ll be….my wedding present!!!”

I tried to be casual walking up to the bar. But I couldn’t ignore the hoots behind me. So, I sidled up to him and ordered water. Could I get away with a thirty-second conversation?

“Are you going to start a fight?” he said, turning to me.

“What?” I couldn’t believe it would be this easy.

“Well you have a bunch of women staring at you. So either you’re about to start a fight, or they dared you to come talk to me.”

I snorted water out of my nose. “Don’t know. Depends on how I feel when I finish this.”

“How long will that take?”

“How much time you have?”

I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache and his number in my phone.


In ninth grade biology I read a factoid about Peregrine falcons. They can fly up to 240 miles per hour, killing other birds in mid-air.

I wondered: was that death by falling, or by flying?


On our second date, we played pool.

“So,” I said, standing up from the table. “When did you decide to become a pilot?”

He laughed.

“Leah, you’ve set a new record.”

“For doing what?”

He turned from the table to look at me. “For taking the longest to ask that question.”

“So what do I get?” I said, grinning.

“You’ll have to wait and see.” His eyes made the promise clear as they roamed my body.

“David, I hate surprises.”

“I think mine can change your mind.”

I enjoyed the surprise, but he didn’t answer my question.


People always talk about about birds mating for life. Some species do form long-term monogamous bonds. But this choice comes with benefits. They often enjoy expanded territory. Long-term bonds also help them take care of their young.

Peel apart our words, our clothes. Survival is all that’s left.


It took four more dates and an hour in bed for him to open up.

“So, when did you decide to become a pilot?” I asked, tracing nonsense on his chest. He looked away from me.

“I didn’t tell you?”

“Nope, you distracted me with your pool skills.”

“Just my pool skills?” he asked.

“Stop changing the subject.”

“When I was ten,” he began, “my family flew back to Mexico City. My grandma was sick, and this was the last time we would probably get to see her. My parents gave me the window seat. You know, to distract me. The minute we took off, I loved it. The sound, the speed, the whole world felt brand new. I wanted to stay up there forever. But the flight ended. I came back down into the smog, the noise, the mess of it all. I knew then and there I would do whatever it took to get up in the air.”

“Do you still hate coming down to earth?” I couldn’t help asking, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I wanted to run. I wanted to stay still. I’d known this combo before: it was too late to run. I was already caught.

He kissed me and began working his way down my body. “Depends on where I’m landing.”


The bird with the shortest bond is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Once the birds have mated, the male leaves.He doesn’t help build the nest. He doesn’t help keep the eggs warm. He definitely doesn’t help raise the chicks.

There must be an evolutionary benefit to leaving.


Three weeks later, he had to leave; his assignment was changing. He was going to be out west, close to San Diego. As apologetic as he was, I could see the excitement in his eyes. There were new places to see, new skies to explore.

It was a relief, really. I’d started throwing up every morning as accurate as an atomic clock. I took a test, but I already knew what the result was going to be.

So I didn’t groan about tender breasts. I didn’t admit that motherhood terrified me. Saturday morning I kissed him goodbye and went to the clinic, alone.

You can’t fly weighed down with secrets.

Written by: Katie Simpson
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

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