First day of a four day long weekend for me, so tried to sleep in a bit, then went to the zoo for a while.
Headed out later than usual to avoid the school crowd, and that actually worked out pretty well. More people were leaving than arriving, by that point.
I’m still not in a good space, and even he happiest place on Earth couldn’t cure my blues, but it still had its moments. I decided to not visit the pandas because I needed something more immediate than a half hour wait for thirty seconds of time, so I headed straight for my friend, Juno, the polar bear cub. Back in her big brother’s day, it was the Tundra Trek where I spent the beginning and end of my day, so it seemed a better fit. I tried taking a few deep breaths once I was in the relative quiet of the Core Woods, too, just to try and wash some of the “me” off of me.
Juno is really freaking cute. She spent a lot of time trying to get her keepers to bring out some more food once she had emptied her bowl (saving some on her nose for later like the delicate flower that she is), but did come over closer a few times, and I got some golden shots of her adorable little face. She’s getting good at taking a running jump up onto her rocks, now, too. I still have yet to see her in her pool, though.
I swung by to check on a few other friends – the giraffes, white lions, Watusi, penguins – but I spent a great deal of time with the gorilla troop. I was even there for most of the keeper talk, and then spent several minutes chatting with the keeper more after, too. I love being around that family. They never fail to just calm the world down. My heart was so down today that I had tears in the corner of my eyes more often than not, but still…they are just so much love. And Charles is such a big kid when it’s treat time during the keeper talk. Totally chill, but so kid-like he makes me heart explode sometimes. Don’t even GE me started on Nneka, either. That baby girl, man. She is really something else. I will miss seeing her and Nassir together, but she’s really growing into a sweet, hilarious, Independant youngster, and I’ m enjoying watching her interactions with everyone else, now, too.
Baby Lynx, a zoomobile ride through Eurasia, Dairy Queen, time spent with a friend, and then home to the critters I love most.
With the very real possibility that I’ll do at least some of it again tomorrow. Maybe by then I’ll be able to enjoy it more, too.
Two years ago today – March 7th, 2014 – I had the day off work. It was a Friday, and while there was a very busy Mind Reels weekend lined up (Canadian Screen Awards broadcast gala and, I believe, Toronto Comicon, as well), I’d decided to go to the zoo for a while, before things really kicked into high gear. It was a nice day, and not only was there a handsome polar bear cub named Humphrey I wanted to visit, but there had also been a tiny gorilla baby born recently, and while I’d seen the top of her head, or a limb, and several photos of her, I’d not yet gotten a good look at her in person. I thought I’d give my luck another try that day.
I could never have guessed how impactful that day at the zoo would be for me, and in how many different ways my life would change – was, in fact, changed before I even left my apartment.
I think that was one of the first times I went to the zoo alone. I know the very first time was for Hudson’s birthday, because he was my bear and I wasn’t about to miss his first birthday, especially given that he almost didn’t live long enough to have it. But while I’d made my way out to the zoo on March 7th by myself, I did manage to meet up with a couple of people I’d recently befriended via our mutual love for the zoo and everybody in it. So there was that. I wasn’t completely alone.
I visited with Humphrey for awhile – and Steve, one of my new friends – and though I don’t remember much else from the first part of that day, I know I eventually made my way over to hang out with the gorilla troop. My other new friend, Laurel, was there, too, and because of her, I had the great honour that day of meeting Johari, the gorilla I’d seen as a baby on Zoo Diaries, but whom I couldn’t yet tell apart from others in the troop. I knew Charles the silverback, and Nassir (because he’s smaller than the rest), and Ngozi because she had a baby riding around with her all the time at that point. I was pretty sure I could tell Josephine from the others, but Sadiki and Johari in particular, I kept getting mixed up. I’d really wanted to meet Johari in person, so was thrilled when Laurel introduced us. As soon as I said her name, her beautiful eyes fixed on mine and I was in love.
Even though I still get her mixed up sometimes. Sorry Johari – I’m learning, I promise!
A couple of weird things had happened that morning, as well. A friend texted me out of the blue asking if I’d “heard about Alysia”, one of our coworkers, and one of my favourite people on the planet. My platonic girlfriend, we’d decided once day. I’d been texting with her the night before a bit as we sent each other selfies that our cats had taken with the Cat Snaps phone app her mom had discovered. After that text, though, I had a bit of an uneasy feeling, like maybe Alysia been fired, or something. I texted back that no, I hadn’t heard anything, what was going on?
When I didn’t get a response after a period of time had gone by, I decided to just go to the source, so I texted Alysia herself.
“Are you okay? Is something going on?”
No response from that, either, which was extra weird, because she’d know I’d start to worry if I didn’t hear back from her. My uneasy feeling grew, but I pushed it aside. I was being paranoid, and I was at the zoo, so I turned my attention back to the present moment. I knew I’d be there for Alysia, whenever and whatever she needed.
So, as if getting to interact with Johari a bit wasn’t enough, I also finally got my wish of getting a better view of baby Nneka for the first time! Ngozi brought her over closer to the window while I was there, and despite some little kids being in the way, I still got to look on her adorable wee face for a few moments before moving out of the way. I went off to the side then, used my zoom lens, and caught a couple of sweet pics of the little one lifting her head up and looking around a bit more than she had before. Once again, I was in love.
Then my phone rang.
It was Tim. I figured he’d forgotten that I was at the zoo, and wanted to go over our plan of attack for the weekend, or something, so I answered.
It wasn’t what I thought. At all.
After some back and forth about whether or not I should sit down, he finally got it out: there’d been a huge fire. He didn’t need to say any more. My stomach dropped, and I spoke her name aloud.
In that moment I knew, and my heart exploded. She was gone.
A lot happened after that, but I don’t remember most of the details. Some I remember very clearly, but most not.
I told Laurel, and she hugged me and cried with me. She’d heard about the fire on the news earlier, and agreed that the kitten wouldn’t have made it, either. It was all too overwhelming to really take in. I texted Steve to tell him, and by then I was feeling really confused as to what I should do next, so when he offered to drive me home, I agreed. He asked if I wanted to leave right then, and I didn’t know. He asked if I wanted to see Humphrey again before we left, because the area had cleared out a bit since I’d been there earlier. I pictured the little furball in my mind and said yes. Yes, I want to be around him again for a few minutes.
I couldn’t breathe very well, and there seemed to be a huge hole in my chest that no one else could see, but it was hurting. A lot.
I got lost in the African Pavilion, and fought panic as I tried to find my way outside. I eventually did, and gulped air while taking stock of where the hell I was, and where the hell I needed to go to get back to the polar bear cub.
I finally got sorted out and headed in the right direction. My mind was spinning the whole time, trying to figure out how what I knew to be true could possibly BE true. I’d just been talking to her the night before. I’d hugged her goodbye when we’d parted ways on the subway, and told her to get home safe. Maybe there’d been some kind of mistake. But there wasn’t. I consoled myself with the idea that maybe they’d all slept through the whole thing; that the smoke had taken them before they could wake up.
That turned out to not be true, either, and it wasn’t really much comfort even when I hoped it was, anyway. I cried off and on the whole way back to the Tundra Trek, and as I got closer, a flash of colour out of the corner of my eye. A red-tailed hawk flew by, low, not much higher than I stood.
“Alysia…” I whispered her name into the breeze and started to cry again.
Just then, the Arctic Wolves began to howl – the whole pack. It felt like they were giving voice to my shattered heart, and I stopped to listen to them a moment, waiting for the tears to take another break.
I continued on my way.
I found Steve, and moments later, young Humphrey wandered over, stood up and put his front paws on the fence, and just looked up at us for a few moments. Then he started to play, as though he knew being his entertaining self was exactly what was needed. It fixed nothing, changed nothing, but it did make me smile.
That day, the day the whole world changed, is now two years passed, and the Earth has continued spinning the whole time. The sun still rises and sets, I get up and come to work, I pay bills, I watch TV, I go out and laugh and have a good time. To all outward appearances, everything has carried on much as it did before.
But it’s not the same. The hole in my chest has taken up permanent residency, and while it’s settled into a general ache most of the time, there are still those moments that it blows wide open again, as though to remind me that it’s still there. Alysia’s dog, Brody, lives with me now, and is a bright shining light in my everyday life, just as she was. Her family feels like my family now, too. Her friends feel like my friends.
I’m sorry that I never met Jordan, Katie, little Frankie the kitten before they were taken in the fire, too. I’m sorry that I didn’t know Ethan before his world fell out from under him. I’m sorry that I didn’t know the Grahams or the Boyers as families before they were torn apart and forever changed by their unfathomable loss. I would have liked them, seeing them together, knowing who they were before this.
But I’m not sorry to know them now. I’m not sorry to love them now. And though I hate how I feel now, I’m not sorry I got to know Alysia as much as I did, even for as short a time as it was. Knowing her changed me a little, for the better. Loving her did, too. Losing her forever altered me in ways I still haven’t figured out yet. And as much as it’s a constant ache that I don’t think will ever go away, in a way, I embrace that, too. It means she’s a part of me, even now. Maybe especially now. And if getting rid of the pain means forgetting I ever knew her, then I vote no. Absolutely not. My pain and I shall remain forever entwined as I forge ahead through the world as this new me, whoever that is, and whoever that will be.
I made a trip to the zoo on Saturday, and since my workday Monday is kicking my ass, I thought I’d use my lunch break to write about it. Just in case it helps me calm down a bit!
I love being at the zoo. I walk differently there. Happier. From the moment I step off the bus, though some of it could probably be attributed to the fact that I just spent a good 40-45 minutes on a bus.
But I digress. Being at the zoo makes me happy (especially when there aren’t a ton of people around), and I’ve not only learned a lot about animals in captivity and their counterparts in the wild, but also about how to be a better mom to the non-humans I keep captive in my apartment. That I continue to learn new things every time I go there makes me even happier, but mostly it’s just getting to be around the animals themselves. It’s peaceful.
I usually have goals in mind for who I want to see when I go, too. I have my staples, like the gorilla troop, and currently the white lion cubs on the weekends. There are always others that I either plan to see before I go, or decide to visit once I get there. This time I was meeting friends, but had a few minutes to spare before they arrived, so I went to check in on the clouded leopards, Mingma and Pavarti. Mingma had been out and about, but when I got there, they were cleaning the cages and he refused to leave the spot where Pavarti was, so he was tucked away in a corner. I still got a look at his handsome self, though, and that’s all I really needed. This time.
I had time to check in on Ashakiran the Indian Rhino and the two Barbarusa’s before I headed over to the brand new Tim Horton’s (!) to meet up with my pals, where I was then coerced into having some ridiculous creamy chocolate chill beverage and a chocolate caramel donut.
While waiting for the diabetic coma to set in, we chatted and laughed and figured out our plan of attack for the next few hours. Our first stop was the polar bear enclosure, to hear the daily keeper talk. The girls, Aurora (mom to Hudson, Humphrey, and new baby girl Juno) and her twin sister Nikita were ready for snack time, even though the Keeper Hollie had not yet arrived. They knew what time it was! Inukshuk (dad to all of the cubbies) was in the back, peeking over the rocks to make sure he didn’t miss anything.
After the Keeper Talk, I got to meet Hollie, and found out she was the one who’d seen my post about Hudson back when he was leaving, and brought it to Jeff’s attention, leading to my chance to throw the bear some fish on his last day! Yay Hollie!!!
Next up was the white lion cubs, of course. They were being their adorable bratty selves, but as soon as the crowd started to grow in anticipation of the Keeper Talk, we headed out of the area. My friends all had a volunteer meeting to get to, so I was on my own for the rest of the afternoon, which was fine, too. I headed straight for the gorillas, and as soon as I walked in, I immediately felt that sense of calm settle over me. I just stood and watched for a few minutes, mentally checking off in my mind who was who. I really only get Sadiki and Johari mixed up now, I think. But this time it’s possible I could tell even them apart, for a change!
Soon after I arrived, the troop all headed down to where their door is to go through to their nighttime/play area, while their Keepers spread around snacks for them to find. As they headed down to the door, though, I saw Charles the silverback round a corner, his young daughter Nneka in front of him, leading the way. As they reached the slope of the hill, Nneka decided to somersault down it instead of walk, still in front of Charles. Almost like a “Watch me roll, Daddy!” kind of moment. SO FREAKING CUTE!
She actually came up to the glass a couple of times, as did her older brother, Nassir. Even Charles came over closer than I’ve usually seen him, and checked everyone out through the window.
Once they were back in their larger daytime area, everyone scattered about to look for the treats hidden around by their Keepers. I saw Nassir and Nneka race for what looked like a piece of melon. Nneka won, but Nassir clearly let her, which was the sweetest thing ever. He’s such a good big brother. Nneka set herself to rolling around on the ground, and pulling leaves off a specific plant in their enclosure – I’m not sure why, but it had apparently captured her interest. She also came up to the glass and would drum on it with her hands, then push off backwards and hit the ground rolling, which everyone watching totally loved – except maybe her mom, Ngozi!
Just before I finally moved on, there was some kind of kerfuffle – I’m not sure what happened, exactly, but Ngozi grabbed Nneka, and someone ran off in the other direction, and even Charles got involved, so I knew it was being handled! All he had to do was sit in the middle of everyone else and they all calmed right back down. Dad’s angry – everybody STOP. It’s so cool to watch – they seem so silent most of the time. I don’t know how they communicate with one another, but from what I could tell, none of them made a sound. Everyone just understood that that was enough – as my dad would say – fiddle-assin’ around. And that was the end of it. Over as quickly as it had begun.
I made quick stops by the meerkats and lemurs, saw the (I think new) Nile Monitor for the first time, checked in on Kiko and Mstari in the Giraffe House, then headed to the loo and Zootique (I call it the Loo-tique). Naturally, when I have very little cash to spread around, I found one polar bear pendant that I’ve been keeping an eye out for, so out came the Visa, because I couldn’t leave it behind!
Then bus stop and on my way home.
Brody gave me a huge sniff-down when I got back, and then he and I went out for a walk. Being out with him is usually pretty calming for me, too, so I killed off more of the sugar high while extending my peace streak.