On April 28, 1999 I hatched my first duck inside a make shift incubator made out of a fish tank and a hot light bulb. I had surreptitiously stolen his egg from a mallard’s nest at a nearby park while his mother went to get a drink down by the lake.
I named him Goku, after the protagonist of my favorite television show who had super powers. I didn’t know at the time how significant his name would come to be, as his life was one of many trials and hardships. Goku hatched out with luxurious dark brown down and a white ring around his neck. That was pretty rare for mallard ducklings, as they usually had more yellow markings.
I used to take him to my piano teacher’s house while I had my lesson. As soon as the music started, his incessant peeping would fade into rhythmic snoring. He was a fan of Beethoven. I took him everywhere with me, we were the best of friends. I was a shy girl with few human friends. My mother cut my hair short like a boy’s and I had a deep voice which made little girls ask me if I was indeed a boy. It didn’t help that I enjoyed wearing my brother’s baggy jeans and skating shoes. I had trouble communicating with people, but I learned to speak duck pretty quickly from Goku.
We used to go for swims in the brown lake behind my house, which had a sweet taste like ice tea. Goku would hitch a ride on my back while I doggy paddled from one side to the other. He enjoyed dabbling into my hair, as it resembled the moss of the lake which often hid delicacies such as water beetles and insect larvae. Our summer fun was soon interrupted by the arrival of a boy that called himself Crosby. He wanted to join us for a swim in the lake. We hung out a few times, but he was a rough child who enjoyed torturing lizards by squeezing the eggs out of their bellies. It was for this reason that I never let him hold Goku or get too close to him.
Goku also enjoyed swimming in the pool with me. When I dove under the water, he would dive after me, wings and feet exploding under the water. At night, I would lock him up in his cage with a bowl of white rice, romaine lettuce and whatever meat my mom cooked that night.
Goku grew up fast. The older he got, the more independent he became and the less he needed me by his side. The lake was like the call of the wild for him. Before long, he refused to come home for dinner and be locked up at night. I was annoyed at him because I knew the dangers of the night – raccoons, foxes, coyotes, neighbor’s cats… Everything likes to eat ducks. A few times, I would try to catch him to lock him up but the more forceful I was, the more wild he would become.
Wild mallards and Florida Mottled ducks used to fly into the lake. He would swim towards them, excitedly, as he craved the friendship of his own species. When he got close, they would hiss at him or fly away. Rejected, he would swim aimlessly by himself. One duck, alone in a lake and no flock to take him in…
He was suffering from loneliness. The next summer, I decided to hatch him new friends. I went back to the same park I had stolen Goku’s egg from and saw that his mother had a new nest. I could always tell which one his mother was because she had a distinguishable thick white ring around her neck, just like Goku. I took two eggs this time, and held them up to the light. I could see that the eggs were completely dark, which meant they were ready to hatch within a week’s time.
I named Goku’s new companions Midnight and Friday. Male ducks are not normally friendly towards ducklings, as they can be very territorial. But Goku was a gentle, friendly drake. He took to them as if they were his own brothers (which they actually were!). As ducklings, I kept them in Goku’s old cage with a tiny makeshift pond that I dug out of the ground and some netting to keep the hawks out. Goku used to wait impatiently outside their cage in the morning for them to be let out. When they were large enough to not be eaten by raptors, I allowed them to go to the lake to live with Goku. It’s much harder to bond with a duck if you have two at time, because they will bond with each other more than their adoptive mother. We definitely didn’t share the same attachment that Goku and I had.
Midnight and Friday were handsome fellows who grew up to look just like Goku. All was well until Midnight disappeared mysteriously. Dismayed, I trudged around the entire lake, trespassing into my neighbor’s backyards to look for him.
I never did find out what happened to him until years later the boy called Crosby admitted that he had purchased a new beebee gun and used my duck as target practice.
Life in the lake can be treacherous and transitory. One of the moorhens Goku used to be friends with became very territorial when she started nesting. I went outside to feed him his dinner, down by the lake, as I usually do. Unfortunately, he swam too close to the moorhen’s nest. The moorhen called, “DDDCKK!!”. Wings open, she ran across the surface of the water and pecked him right in the left eye. Disoriented, he started to swim in circles and drift farther from the shore. I screamed and jumped into the water to bring him onto land. I held him in my arms, crying because I could not foresee the danger. His eye was broken into pieces and the blood immediately coagulated instead of running down his face. I called for my mom to bring antiseptic ointment so I could treat him.
I locked Goku up inside his old cage while he healed. He ate heartily which helped him heal very quickly. Within days, he was energetic and quacking to be let out. He was still quite mobile with only one eye. In fact, nobody really noticed that he was missing one.
Friday was eagerly awaiting his return, and greeted him with a familiar head bob and “wak wak!”.
Many happy years passed in the lake until the Boogey man came. The Boogey man strikes fear into every duck’s heart, for he moves on both land and water at lightening pace.
It happened around 6am down by the lake near my house. Goku was dabbling in the water when the otter swam at him. A four year old veteran of the lake, Goku knew the routine all too well. Something moves fast at you in the water, you fly onto land ASAP. Unfortunately, he did not realize that the danger was still present on land. Goku’s blind eye was facing towards the otter. The otter ran up, grabbed his head in his jaws and started to drag him back down to the water.
I was sleeping, but my dad was already awake and cleaning the pool. He ran over with the pool net and scared the otter into dropping Goku. Goku’s body dropped limply to the ground. The top of his skull was squished and slanted, both his eyeballs were gouged out, and his neck was twisted at an odd angle.
I held Goku in my arms and cried. My parents shook their heads. They always knew something would happen when I let my ducks roam freely in the lake. But I was stubborn, I knew how happy they were in the lake. “Better dead than not free!” I would say. Both of Goku’s eyes were torn and looked like peices of black jello hanging from his face. There was no blood. He didn’t make a sound.
I placed him inside his old cage and gave him some rice soaked in water. Goku was quiet, in a strange meditative like trance. I applied antiseptic and antibiotic ointment to his eyes. I couldn’t afford to bring him to a vet. Goku meditated for 2 weeks straight, standing in the same position and moving only to eat bits of rice. In a miracle which can only be described as chi gong healing, Goku healed himself. His eyeballs grew back partially and he could sense movement, light and dark. With the near loss of his vision, his hearing and sense of touch were heightened. He walked out of his cage like an old man, using his beak as a cane, swaying from side to side.
With his new condition, there was no way he could live outside in the lake. I kept Goku inside my fenced in yard with a big water bucket to bathe in. When it rained, I carried him under my arm to the golf course to feed on worms that came out of the earth. When I called “Goku-chan, Goku-chan…” he would raise his head, quack and walk towards me. I fed him noodles because they resembled worms, and he liked those the best. I used to sing to him, and he would raise his head, as he was always a fan of music.
Unfortunately the day came where I had to go off to college. I would be living in the city and unable to bring Goku with me. I felt heartbroken, he was my best friend of six years..and now I would have to leave him behind. My father let him in and out of his cage in the morning and at night, but there was no one who talked to him or took him out for adventures.
One fateful Sunday, when my parents were gone for the whole day, Goku disappeared. I talked to a retired cop who lived on my street. He said that one of the neighbors had called pest control to remove the geese which I had released into the lake the summer before. Sure enough, they had taken my two Chinese geese. But there was no reason for them to take Goku! It’s like someone coming to your yard and taking your dog, and you never get to see it again. It’s as if they think ducks don’t count as real pets! I was so angry.. but there was nothing I could do.This all happened during the “dark ages” , before it was legal to own backyard ducks and chickens.
Goku had survived all the hardships of a cruel lake, a lake which he loved. A lake which gives life, but also takes, in return.. But rest assured, human or animal, nothing could break his will to survive, nothing could part his love of life from him..the love of digging in the ground, the love of swimming in the lake, the love of flying through the air… He was, and always will be to me, legendary.