Posted by: sulya | 21 December 2009

Birthday 2009: Part II

So.  I regrouped.

I got the boy into some clothes.  I got myself into some clothes and I took us out for breakfast to a place that is one block up and one block over.

He whined the entire way there about how he didn’t want to walk, how his leg hurt how he wanted to take the car.  I’d mentioned that I wanted to go to the zoo afterwards and before we went to get cake so he whined that he didn’t want to do that either.

We got a nice booth.  I ordered some eggs benny, he got pancakes.  I developed a tolerance for caffeine by drinking lots of tea in England for three years so now I’ve moved on to coffee.  I don’t drink it every day but I can now, when someone comes over with a pot, say, “Sure, fill it up.”  There is ritual there, and a comforting if-false sense of belonging.

Anyway – we talked about The Incredibles, after he tried to kill the waitress with his molten hot rotating blade hands, because that is his new fave and I devoured my benny and hash browns and he had some pancake and milk and we played with some crayons and it was good and he’d reconciled himself – almost – to going to the zoo.  So, we walked back to the apartment and got in the car (because the zoo is too far a walk – especially in winter…) and headed out.

There was maybe one other car in the parking lot.  It was -13C that day.  Balmy in comparison to what it had been earlier in the month but still chilly.  All the way to where we show our passes to the lady he complained about how he didn’t want to walk anymore and how he didn’t want to stay long and wahn wahn wahn.

I said, “Tigers, elephant then we can go get cake okay?”

We saw the arctic wolves and the snow leopards on the way to the tiger enclosure and he was getting into the spirit of things a bit but then the tigers weren’t outside.  They were hanging inside and I was sad.  So I started to chant rather loudly (we were pretty much the only people there):

Tiger tiger burning bright
In the forests of the night
Oh what mortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry

And, no word of a lie, a tiger emerged from the tunnel to their private, indoor space. (I’m guessing they read Blake for pleasure in there). We ran to get a better look and by the time we’d gotten around to the other side she’d gone in again. So I chanted the poem again. Louder. Cuz why the hell not?

And she came out again. Climbed a big log, hung from it with her front paws dangling on either side of it, looked at us like we were lunch. Then the other one came out and they were playing with each other and then they were playing with us. And we ran along the fence and they followed and at the observation window the more friendly of the two rubbed her head right where our faces were and licked the window right where our faces were and the boy’s leg didn’t hurt anymore and we were covered in snow from running along the fence, under trees, with faces red and breath short from laughing and cold.

And the wolves started to howl so we howled with them.

I could have watched all that orange and stripy black on white snow for hours but he wanted to go to the elephant so we did. And when we went in there she was in the smallest part of her indoor enclosure with a keeper. He was lying in the sand at her feet, stroking her trunk and talking to her. He saw us come in but barely acknowledged us. I felt like we’d walked in on something intimate… A therapy session… For him, not the elephant. We watched for bit longer then the kid said he wanted to see monkeys so we went to that part of the zoo.

And that, is where things got very cool indeed.

We were watching monkeys and had moved on to seals and sea lions when a senior zoo operator came out. And began to talk to us and give us the equivalent of a one-on-one private tour of the animals. She loves her job. I mean LOVES it and in the best possible way. With heart and soul and sense. She told us stories. Stories about every animal at the zoo practically. Real stories about their lives, their health, their loves and babies and personalities.

I’m a sucker for stories. Especially well and passionately told stories. I could watch tigers all day but I also could have listened to her all day.

She took out a children’s python for us to touch. I’ve never had the courage to touch a snake despite previous opportunities. But I just did it this time. I just did it. Because I’m sick of being afraid of things, of not jumping at opportunities and because it was my birthday. And it was smooth and soft and the ones on his belly, his “scutes”, were like warm, soft glass. Amazing.

Then, when another keeper came out to do some stuff, a woman who works closely with the seals and sea lions, some discussion lead to the door being opened so the sea creatures could slip out into the hallway with us. They have a small enclosure so when there aren’t lots of visitors, they own that hallway and we got to hang back and be within a foot of two rehabilitated Harbour Seals, and one of the oldest South American Sea Lions in the world. The oldest is her mother who didn’t leave the enclosure.

Then, they let me play with the boy seal.

I played with a seal. With feathers in his whiskers. It was….. It was… the most amazing birthday gift ever. I held the feathers, the boy held my hand and we waggled it in the seal’s whiskers and he snapped and played. He smelled like brine and the whiskers were so thick and bristly and the girl seal was rolling around and sliding on the slick concrete. The Sea Lion was going for a swim and then checking to see if the open door meant there would be fish to eat and when it didn’t, she would go back in for another swim. So much beauty. So much magic.

And, I didn’t think it could get better than that but we went for cake. And I asked him if he would sing me happy birthday when our cake came. I said I would help if he didn’t want to sing to me alone. He said, “No, I know all the parts.” And our cake came. And he sang to me. It was so beautiful and the most pure definition of sweet.

When he was done, he leaned in to kiss me and gave me a hug and it was so sincere, so very much of and from HIM that I realized that it’s not about my half or his dad’s half of his DNA. It’s about the fact that it twined together to make the little boy in front of me just as he is.

And all in all, thanks to those things and some lovely gestures from friends and family that came to me by the end of the day – and despite the fact that The Iron Giant proved a little too sad and lead to a difficult, tear-filled discussion of mortality before we had to turn it off – I may have started out as a big-ass loser whose not on Santa’s Grid – but I ended a year older and a whole helluva lot of happy. **

***

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Responses

  1. A beautiful post, with William Blake to boot. Thank you.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read, SuperMel, and for the kind words.

  2. Happy Birthday, way too late. So glad the story had the ending that it did. Those tigers are magical.

  3. Sorry that the Iron Giant led to tears, but at least the boy knows he can have tears around you about the stuff that matters.

    Happy Birthday, once again, dear friend.

  4. Happy birthday beautiful.

  5. Ginny, Jameela, Kitty — Thank you muchly for the birthday wishes. HUGS to the lovely lot of you.

  6. “Tiger tiger burning bright
    In the forests of the night
    Oh what mortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry”

    I suspect the Tigers, must like myself, were driven out to confront the shady slip into semi-assonance at the end of the verse. Hopefully the tigers were not also ejected from their 12th grade English class for calling Blake a “Half rhyming gnostic loon”.

    Happy birthday, Sulya.

  7. “Half rhyming gnostic loon”

    If I had been your teacher I would have given you an ‘A’ and put you in charge when I had to go pee.

    Though, I believe, if I may speak for the tigers, that they have in fact read the whole poem and know that while the rhyme scheme feels incomplete in the first and last stanzas – those two stanzas do in fact wonderfully mirror each other and act as a parenthetical enclosure for the many well-metered rhyming couplets in between…

    But, that’s only if I were to dare speak for the tigers.

    Which I would not.

    Of course.

    And thank you, Valliant, for the birthday wishes.

  8. A very belated birthday to you. Glad to hear that it was a good day.
    Any chance that you are going to the zoo on Fri Jan 1? I’ll be there with my big guy and little guy. Hope to run into you soon.

    • So nice to have you here, Christine! I hope your holidays have been great. Give that little guy a hug from me. Sad to say I will not be able to make the zoo Jan 1 but you and I should make a zoo date some time soon. I would enjoy that.

      And thank you for the birthday wishes!


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