His new friends noticed Bert’s erratic behavior. Bert could see the signs of suspicion and fear on their faces. They were frightened for themselves as they watched Bert change. He became distant, drifting away from reality and becoming something other than human – or so it seemed. Bert was losing parts of himself. Everyday there was less of him. He forgot the names of his friends – he forgot familiar places. He wandered aimlessly. He was old and his friends recognized the signs of dementia – no one wanted to face the dilemma of old age.
Bert Bindle worked in an office for forty years — then he retired. Bert led a colorless life, but that was what he wanted. When Bert was a young man he was slightly more adventurous. He married Myrna when he was twenty-one. She was the love of his life. Myrna left after two years for an older man. Bert closed down and stumbled along in his colorless job doing what he was told and never complaining even when he was forced to do work no one else wanted. He was the person who cleaned up the messes and mistakes made by his co-workers. He never received credit and he was never promoted. Bert kept his mouth shut and tried to blend into the walls. In time, he became invisible. No one celebrated his birthdays. No one socialized with him … and that was what he wanted. Then, Bert retired. At first he was overjoyed, eager to experience everything that he had bottled up inside – eager to take trips, meet new friends, and pursue his love for the arts. Very slowly he came out of his shell. He started painting and writing poetry. Some of his landscapes were singled out as exceptional. People began to take notice. Bert began to socialize and make close friends for the first time in his life; then everything changed. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Everyday pieces of the world disappeared. People who knew Bert watched as he became invisible.
When he was a child his parents called him Bertie and the other kids called him “Birdie.” He was not an appealing child. His face was puffy and his body appeared lumpy. From an early age he was bullied. Older kids would laugh and yell, “Birdie, Birdie when you going to fly, fly away.” He withdrew and sought refuge in the dark shadows between buildings where he could hide. The darkness was safe. The young child met allies in the shadows, odd-looking people who helped him escape the harsh circumstances of his life. They told him not to be ashamed of who he was – and not to be ashamed to be called “Birdie.” The people he met could have been homeless vagabonds dressed in rags who slept in alleyways, but they appeared magical to Bertie. They told stories. They said the boy could fly like a bird – and that he came from a world where birds were far more intelligent and powerful than men. Every story was like an adventure that helped Bertie cope with the real world. He grew older and his name was shortened to Bert. He stopped seeking shadows – he forgot about the people he met in the dark places. He began to focus on practical matters – he was never good at conforming, getting a job, or starting a family; but it was necessary. He did his best. Once he retired his life changed, then his mind started to slip away. He was retreating into the shadows, slipping across the barriers … taking his place of honor in the Kingdom of the Bird-people.