“I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –” 

Emily Dickinson


I open the door to the terrace and there is a baby bird. She is a milky translucent gray, her only color the small yellow beak tucked into her chest. A fly buzzes and lands on her body. 

One week in Auvillar, and I have seen five dead birds. They come in different sizes and shapes, different stages of decay. Some with feathers fresh, others with feathers falling out. 

I run away from the terrace to hide on the first floor. I refuse to go back to the second floor kitchen. The items I had taken out for lunch sit waiting on the counter to be spoiled by the heat. 

Dead bird. Noun. One whose death or failure is or seems inescapable. 

The flies follow me. Darting about my body. They buzz, buzz, buzz in my ear. All I can hear is their restless vibration, now inside of me. I decide I am dying, or am already dead. 

I call my mom the next day and break the news to her. The birds, the flies – there can be no other explanation – I am going to die. 

“You have it all wrong,” my mom’s voice responds from half the world away. “Don’t you understand? We can’t have life without death.”


“You will have just as much pain as joy in your life. Stop running away. Go up to death and study it. Thank it.”

On my way home I talk to the owner of a new family of cats. She tells me the mama cat caught a bird and brought it home for her babies. We watch them. The babies curl up on their mother, tucked between her legs, heads on her belly. She licks them proudly.

I walk up the stairs to the second floor. On the terrace, I clean up the dead baby bird. Gently scoop its little body into a plastic bag. 

“Close your eyes,” a classmate tells me as I go in to grab. 

But I keep my eyes open.


“A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life.”

Maude from the movie Harold and Maude


Keerthana, my friend from school, sends me a playlist. Thirteen songs meant to create a “look-at-how-beautiful-this-world-is vibe.” She writes me a long note as an accompaniment. “In all seriousness, Tiger,” it reads. “I hope you can find your own special ways to bring out joy.”

I am in Southern France, escaping myself. I walk down the cobblestone streets and see my reflections in windows and doors and storefronts. 

“Go write your beautiful words,” Mama told me when I left, going for a summer month to study and write. But, how can I put words on the page when they catch in my throat and chafe at my tendons, refusing to come out onto my tongue or through the tips of my fingers?

I listen to the words of the playlist songs. The Cults, Strawberry Guy, Sufjan Stevens. The songs sound like colors – golden hour orange and sunrise pink and seaside turquoise. I get to Mac DeMarco and I hear him sing “I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river, everybody dies.”

I keep walking. Thirteen miles on the Camino de Santiago canal path I walk and have nothing to do but look. I listen to the playlist. The path is edged with flowers, some brown and withered, others flush and grown. There is another dead bird — this one is squished and looks like its insides have been sullied with little red pomegranate seeds. There is a burning smell. Black strips – feathers? – fall from the sky. 

An older man walks alone on the other side of the stream. He shuffles along, and for a moment our eyes meet. I wave. He – a little unsure? surprised? – waves back. Then he puts his hand down and keeps walking slowly along.

I am one of thirteen students in this study abroad program. Some days life is easy, effortless. On others it feels hard, heavy. 

Three weeks into the program, I go into hiding. This is something I sometimes do. Close the door and shutters and curl up into myself. Like a bird burrowing in the winter, hiding head and feet in her feathers, so she looks only like a little handful of fluff. I will stay in here forever. Or at least until I stare at my blank computer screen for hours, but really sleep for hours, and cry in intermittent spurts, and try to stare at my blank computer screen again, and then sleep again, to wake, feet curled up, head pulled in, wondering when it will end and be time to open the door and the shutters. 

Patrik knocks on the door, and he has three bits of Finnish chocolate wrapped in purple paper. He places them on my bed like an offering. An unexpected friendship. He is blond and Finnish and wears button-ups. I am brown-haired and American and wear punk rock t-shirts. Now, we have matching thin golden friendship bracelets which we click together like pre-teen girls. 

I do not know how to thank him, but take one piece, unwrap it, and taste the milky chocolate on my tongue. He sits on my bed and we talk, and then he holds out his hand. He is going to a concert at the outlook of the village. I know about it. I am avoiding it. All the people, the noise – it wouldn’t be good for my condition. But he asks. Would I like to come? I look around the room, shades already drawn, stuck between staying and leaping into the living. Okay, I finally say, and take his hand. 

For the first thirty minutes I look for an excuse to leave. This is not good, this is not the place where I’m supposed to be. But, the band, all dressed in pastel pants, is good. And there is a woman in bohemian bottoms and a flowing black button-up blouse who is dancing like it is only her in the world. Letting the music carry her, she moves every part of her body – head and neck and fingers and toes. She stamps and swerves and kicks her feet. She closes her eyes. I wish to be like her. 

A few songs pass. And I look up at the woman, and our motions lock into each other, and I am dancing too. I am feeling the music, letting it roll over my body, letting it rattle my soul. 


I find ecstasy in living – the mere sense of living is joy enough.” 

Emily Dickinson 


I spend a day with the owner of the cats. She walks barefoot or in those shoes that wrap around each toe like a second layer of skin. She wears green dresses and bright beaded bracelets. In her walk, in her eyes, in her smile – an ease. We sit inside the bar she owns and bunch bouquets, picking out dead roses and rearranging the living. We go to the supermarket and dance in the aisles. We walk her dog along the canal. 

She tells me her story. It is dark. Her family was dysfunctional and abusive. 

“But, what is your secret?” I ask her. “How did you get to the other side? Now, you seem so free.”

She answers right away. “Don’t escape from the pain. Don’t run away. Go straight into it.” 

She sums up my life-discovery in three sentences. For the moment I have her ease. 

“Nature is like an open book about life,” she says, waving at the world. “You see everything lying on your path. You can see flowers blooming, and you can see a big bird eating a baby bird of another species. You can’t save any baby bird. But you can stand and watch with love.” 

We walk, the trees swaying by the water. We feel the breeze and her dog dips his paws in the canal. 


I let a fly land on my hand. Six thin legs — he presses his front two together like he is in prayer. He tickles my skin as he walks. He perches on my ring while I write with my pen.

Tigerlily Hopson covers diversity and inclusion at Yale. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Berkeley majoring in English.