As a StoryTerrace writer, Amy interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below
My first serious relationship ended a week before I started my summer job at the zoo. Every morning as I drove my parents’ Toyota to work, I’d put on a Dar Williams CD and cry. I felt as tragic as it was possible to feel while wearing an oversize blue T-shirt with gorillas printed on the front.
As an educator at the zoo’s day camp for precocious animal-lovers age 6 to 12, I spent most of my time mediating disputes over popular crayon colors, assuring anxious parents about peanut allergies, and asking my campers, “Is it an emergency?” in a voice that carried the proper ring of adult authority.
The job also brought me – a bookish, city kid – closer than ever before to nature. Much of nature, I learned, was disgusting. I had to learn to do demonstrations with pythons, a tarantula and a Madagascan hissing cockroach the size of my palm. As I held each alien-textured animal in my bare hands, proffering it for the children to touch (“Gently, please, gently!”), I masked my unease. All creatures, adorable or nasty, deserved our interest, did they not? Couldn’t they all inspire wonder?
Our classroom bordered the Silverback gorilla exhibit, separated only by a glass partition. When the children arrived the first day, a heavy curtain obscured it. During lunch, one of us counselors would slowly draw the curtain back and watch as the expansive-looking gorilla “habitat” revealed itself.
Once the children noticed what was happening, they would rush to the window and press their hands and faces against the glass. Sometimes the gorillas went indifferently about their business. Other times they hammed it up, doing tricks or putting their palms against the children’s, prison-visit style.
There was a new baby gorilla that summer, and once I saw the father lie on his back and airplane the baby above him, balancing its stomach on his wide flat feet. My heart caught, watching them. In a way I couldn’t explain, observing this recognizable human gesture made me feel a little less alone.
Soon I lost my fear of the snake and cockroach. I even began to feel a kind of kinship with them. There was something hard and private about them that appealed to me, something I could relate to – in the cockroach’s brittle exterior, the python’s restless wiggle, the spider’s defensive crouch. The snake, like me, had to shed things to stay alive. My breakup might have taught me a new variety of loneliness, but here was a new kind of connection – silent and perhaps entirely imagined, but connection nonetheless.