I visited the zoo today and return home with a head full of wonderful experiences and memories. For now, I offer up this suitable story that I wrote a while back.
Despite the sweltering heat Amy found herself in the one of the few places where she could relax, the city zoo. Even as a kid she’d loved animals, from the bugs she brought home in her grubby little fists to the time she managed to pester her mom into letting her have a hamster. She had surprised her mother by keeping that little fuzz ball alive until the end of its short, natural lifespan and when it passed her mother humored her when she insisted to have it buried in the back garden, under the gardenias.
So, it was hardly surprising that the zoo had slowly become one of her safe spots. It had been the only place she had insisted the family visit at least once a year when she was little and after her parent’s divorce it was the zoo her father took her to when it was his turn to be her parental figure for the weekend. By the time she was an adult, she had already acquired a membership to the zoo, so she could visit it free of charge whenever she felt like it.
The only really surprising thing was that she had never tried to get the appropriate education so she could go work there, with all the animals she had slowly begun to identify about as well as their zoo caretakers. She supposed in the end the thing that had stopped her was the pressure from her mother to try and do more with the good grades she got in high school. So when she’d been able to enter college on a scholarship she had her best to please her mother by picking the right classes. In the end she had picked biology as her major though.
But the reason she was here today strolling through the zoo towards the big cats had nothing to do with classes or college. What had fueled her mood today was a certain person who had taken up too much of her time lately, someone who had managed to steal away with part of her heart, leaving it raw and bleeding inside her chest.
It had started so well, on an internet forum designated as a safe haven for nerdy girls, where they could hang out without fear of harassment or judgment from the worst kind of males out there. That’s where they’d met, brought together by something as silly as their shares fondness for a certain comic book pairing and then they’d divulged into other areas as they started to trust each other.
At about the same time that Amy found out that she was attracted to girls she began to suspect that she had feelings for her online friend.
It could have been so easy, she reflected. But her online friend had recently broken up with her girlfriend and she didn’t want to seem too pushy. If she wanted to be her friends first and foremost, she would have to be nice and allow her the time and breathing space to recover.
So they had carried on, as Amy desperately tried to keep the love she felt for her hidden, hidden while posting on the forum, sending texts and video chatting over Skype. It had been very hard at times, but she told herself it would be worth it in the end, that dream future when her feelings would be requited.
Then, just as she was working herself up to the suggestion that they make arrangements to meet up in real life…Disaster. Her online friend confessed in the middle of a Skype conversation that she had feelings for this other girl in her dorm and that it seemed requited.
Amy wasn’t sure how it had happened, but after a few horrible days of desperately trying to dodge the subject, she ended up confessing her own feelings towards her friend. It turned into a sad, ugly confession with more anger in it than she intended but she supposed that some small part of her had hoped that her online friend had started to feel something for her, that this meeting might be the thing that would seal the deal for them both.
They continued to talk for a while after that. Amy tried to cling to the friendship they had, even when she sensed that her friend was keeping things from her, unable to talk about her new girlfriend to spare her feelings. Amy even brought up the idea of meeting, despite everything, but when they talked about it over Skype, she could see that something in her online friend’s eyes had gone out. It was with a jolt to the heart she realized that her friend was thinking of a way to slowly pull back and end this friendship which was no longer what it used to be.
And really, wasn’t it Amy’s own fault? Those stupid feelings that didn’t want to go away…
When she woke up this morning there had been a message in her email inbox, with a formal message announcing that they should stop talking for a while. Maybe for a few months, “it would be good for you, you could hang out with some of your other friends more”.
Only, she didn’t have all that many friends around, her old high school friends had been left behind in her home town and she hadn’t had much success with socializing at college. She’d always felt more comfortable around animals than humans.
So here she finally found herself, in the 90-something degree heat, sipping slowly on a slushie to prevent herself form suffering an ice cream headache, watching the Amur tigers play and swim in their pool. Even the animals were clearly suffering from the heat.
“They look just like overly large kittens, don’t they?”
Like a startled deer she looked up to see a girl, roughly her own age wearing the uniform of the zoo, leaning against the railing over the moat to the tiger enclosure.
Shyly she nodded and then quickly turned back to watch her favorite, the yearling cub Noh as he played with his sisters by the edge of the water.
“I got to see them when they were really tiny”, the girl said, not at all discouraged by Amy’s reclusive behavior. She had always been rather awkward in social situations.
Though to be honest, Amy found it quite flattering that this girl was even trying to have a conversation with her. That was more than she had come to expect.
“So…You look after the tigers?” Amy finally asked meekly, clutching the railing tightly with her free hand, still not brave enough to make eye contact.
“Not just the tigers, the other big cats too, though that might change after my internship is over”, she girl said and ran a hand through her short cropped curls. “I really had to jump through hoops to get an internship here at all…”
“That’s…really awesome”, Amy mumbled.
“Come to think of it…Haven’t I seen you here before?” the girl said.
“I like to come here a lot…I got the membership card and everything.” Amy almost dove for her purse to show the other girl the card, as if she was an officer asking for ID, proof that she belonged here.
“It’s a really great place, isn’t it?” the girl said and rocked a bit on her heels. “Maybe I could get you a private behind the scenes tour once I’m formally employed here.”
The girl winked and grinned widely, the kind of grin that made Amy’s stomach do flip flops and she found herself trying to figure out the color of the girl’s eyes. Were they brown or more of a hazel color? It surprised Amy that she was still able to feel like this even though she only had half a heart left.
“Come to think of it, I’m about to have my lunch break, maybe you’d like to come along? I could get you some special scoop on anything zoo related. I’ll even buy you an ice cream.”
Amy found her face growing hot in response to the girl’s smile that seemed to brighten up her face, though fortunately her change of complexion was hardly noticeable in the heat.
“It would be nice to get out of the hot weather for a bit…” she said shyly, shuffling her feet slightly and playing with the slushie straw.
“Come on then, you can hitch a ride on my golf cart”, the girl said with another quick wink. “But you can’t tell anyone I let you ride with me, strictly against zoo employee policy.”
“I promise”, Amy said and managed a smile.
As she glanced back at the tigers one last time she thought Noh was giving her a knowing look his tail raised in confidence, like he was trying to tell her “That girl is cool, you should totally go with her!”
It seemed like the day would end on a much more positive note and for the first time in a long while Amy felt some hope for the future.
And she suspected that she might have another reason to visit the zoo more often soon.