One stop at a time.

So, here I am, back in Denver, one of the last places I thought I’d end up. But I honestly didn’t know where else to go.

It’s not a bad place to be, Denver. I just never felt like it fit me. But nowhere seems to fit. Paris maybe, but that’s not really an option right now.

A dear friend offered me a room in a condo she rents out until I get my feet under me. It’s cozy and I have a warm bed to sleep in, so it’s a start.

It’s a bit further removed than I’d anticipated, which wouldn’t be an issue if I had a car. Let’s just say, Denver isn’t famous for its public transportation. I actually don’t know anyone who has taken the bus by choice…and now I know why.

I avoided it as long as I could, but my neighborhood has little to offer – one coffee shop a mile away in one direction and a handful of bars and stores a mile in the opposite direction. I don’t mind the walk so much, but the destinations don’t feel worth the schlep, especially when it’s freezing outside.

The bus I have to take is ‘the 0’. Fitting, since that’s pretty much where I’m starting from. I’ve tried to put a more positive spin on it, but all I came up with is it will be a hard one, meaning zero, to forget.

My first experience was…interesting. A trip that used to take me 15 minutes to drive took over an hour. But it wasn’t terrible.

The way back, however, was a bit of an adventure.

‘The 0’ was delayed by half an hour, so I hopped on the first bus headed south. This seemed like a logical choice until I realized the route ended way before my stop, which meant a transfer at “the station.”

bus

We pulled off the main road to what was basically a huge, empty lot. It was darker than it should have been, which made it feel like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The bus drove off, leaving me with three other men, each sitting on a separate bench.

I’m not the paranoid type, probably to a fault. And yes, I have put myself in some questionable situations. But I’m not reckless, and I know when I need to stay vigilant. I didn’t feel like this was one of those situations. However, my phone had conveniently stopped working, and I had no idea when the next bus was coming. So, not ideal.

I paced back and forth, trying to stay warm and caught the three men looking my way a few times. But they seemed harmless. And I’m sure they were curious why I was there. I don’t think I qualified as a typical passenger on this particular route.

The youngest of the three finally approached me. He wasn’t threatening at all,  more concerned. He asked if I knew which bus to catch. I assured him I did.

I had no idea.

After what felt like hours, a bus finally pulled up. I didn’t care which direction it was going, as long as it was going.

My next trip after hours proved to be…I guess “animated” would be the best word to describe it.

It wasn’t that late, but the bus was almost empty. Two younger girls sat huddled in the seats lining the wall, facing toward the aisle. A very talkative, somewhat obnoxious man sat across from them. He was trying to interact with them, but they kept their heads down, doing their best to ignore him. I couldn’t help but feel protective, so I casually moved over to the seat closest to them.

We came to a stop. The driver got up to lower the ramp for a man in a wheelchair. The obnoxious man hopped up and lifted the bench to make room for him, which made me feel bad for thinking he was obnoxious. We started to pull away, then jerked to a halt when a woman began slamming her fists on the door.

The driver knew her and they began chatting as the woman made her way down the aisle. She sat in the seat directly behind me and continued to yell up to the driver. “So, did you hear that so-and-so from the center just got thrown in jail for murdering his wife?”

This abruptly transitioned into her announcing to anyone who would listen, “You know what happened to me last night? Four policemen jumped me and tried to take me to jail.” She rolled up her sleeves and came over to show me her hands. “See the marks from the handcuffs?”

The man in the wheelchair and the ‘not as obnoxious’ guy teamed up and began laughing at her, saying she was crazy.

She jumped to her feet and screamed at them, “I am not crazy! They ran all their god damned tests on me that proved it. I am not fucking crazy!”

I pulled the chord, exhaling when I heard the words, “stop requested.” Cold and dark for a couple of miles seemed preferable to murder and abuse.

I decided to sync up my bus outings with the light of day for a spell…and to never leave home without my headphones.

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The next morning’s ride was a short one, no more than 15 minutes. Odds were good I could make it to my destination without incident.

I was just a few blocks away from the coffee shop when the man next to me requested a stop. He started making his way to the door but stumbled backward when the driver hit the brakes.

Something fell out of his bag. I instinctively reached down to pick it up and did my best not to react as I handed him back his knife.

It wasn’t a menacing knife, necessarily, but it wasn’t a pocket knife either. I don’t believe this man had even the slightest intention of using it on anyone. And given the direction he was coming from, I get why he had it…just in case.

To be clear, I’ve never felt like my life was in danger. Everyone, for the most part, is harmless. But I have realized I don’t exactly blend in, as I seem to be the one “the man who had a few too many” gravitates toward.

And I see the curious side glances when I sit down or the blatant scans from head to toe. Maybe I’m just paranoid, not because I think their looks are threats or advances. They feel more like judgments, as if to say, “who the hell are you?”

I usually ignore it, but sometimes I just want to look them in the eye and assure them…

I have no fucking idea. I lost her a quite a ways back, and I can’t seem to find her.

That’s what I want to say. I want them to know that I don’t think for a second I am better than anyone else who takes a seat on Bus 0. We are all doing our best to navigate our circumstances.

But no, I don’t want to be here. I actually couldn’t be further away from where I want to be.

Yesterday, I missed my stop. But instead of getting off and working my way back, I just sat there, staring out the window. We headed downtown, making our way closer to where I used to live. We passed the place I used to take Biscuit to get his bath, then the place ‘E’ and I went the year I decided to like football, then the gym I used to drag him to, the place I took dance lessons, the coffee shop where I used to study during grad school…

This was my world where I no longer belong. What used to be home, now feels like a warped cassette tape. The same song is playing, but it doesn’t make sense anymore-the words are garbled, the melody distorted. And there was no way to fix it.

I feel like I’ve been exiled, still able to roam freely, but imprisoned by boundaries I can no longer cross and memories that have been hallowed out by regret.

The bus stopped and everyone got off. It was the end of the line.

I was mad at myself for wasting the morning searching for a place I wasn’t going to find and ending up nowhere close to where I needed to be.

I finally found the bus I needed to get back and waited impatiently as everyone boarded. The driver closed the doors and headed out, then stopped abruptly to let someone else on.

I was annoyed, tired of waiting and feeling lost in a place I used to call home.

I knew I was spiraling, so I forced myself to revisit my ‘gratitude list’.

I’m grateful for my friends, for my warm bed…that I have all of my limbs. 

But it wasn’t working. I wasn’t grateful. I was angry.

The woman slowly made her way up the stairs and stopped to greet the driver, who seemed genuinely happy to see her.

He smiled, “How was your day?”

Without hesitating, she responded, “Well, no one I love died today, so I’d say, all and all, it was a good day.”

That sounded much better than “I have all my limbs”, so I added it to my list.

I’m grateful that no one I love died today.

The woman sat in the seat across from me. Her face was hard and soft at the same time, her demeanor firm but gentle. She seemed familiar. Did I know her?

She caught me staring at her and I tried to smile. She nodded her head slightly and made her way to the exit, disappearing into the crowd of people waiting to get on.

She had only said a few words, but her voice lingered, filling in the words that were taking shape in my head.

Hold on, love. You’ll get where you want to go. But it’s not back there. You’ll have to take a different route. You’re headed in the right direction, though. Just keep going forward …one stop at a time.

 

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Maybe if I’d just…you’d still be alive.

WARNING: Some of the content below is graphic…and very sad. 

I thought it would be a memory by now, a horrific, tragic memory that happened two years ago…two years ago tonight at exactly 7:33 pm.

The accident, when my car collided into theirs…and they all died.

Most days it is a memory. Until I hear a loud crash and my body convulses, or an ambulance goes by and I can’t catch my breath, or at night, when I can’t sleep- trying to piece together how the hell I let everything get this bad- I see their contorted bodies, I see the blood…all of it, every detail.

Those days, it isn’t just a memory. It is what gutted me to the core. It’s what I fear made something snap, something I cannot fix.

I know I should be grateful. I lived. And I am. Of course, I am.

But then this day approaches, and I can’t help going back there, sitting on my knees,

…watching, pulling cold, wet blades of grass out of the ground. I watched the policeman approach the car to access the damage. I watched the fire department arrive and begin to cut them out of the car. I watched them put the boys on the stretchers and push them into the ambulance. I watched the ambulance drive away.

And there I am, here I am, trying to imagine what I could have done to prevent it. And I go there, the place I know I shouldn’t go.

Maybe if I’d just…

Run a little slower, showered a little longer, left the coffee shop a little earlier…faced going home to my empty apartment.

Maybe if I’d never moved to that wretched city, to be with him, someone I loved who did everything he could to destroy me.

Or maybe if I would have had enough strength to leave him the first time he left me, or the second or third…

Maybe if I’d stayed married to my sweet husband in our beautiful house with our precious puppy.

Or I’d stayed in Paris, never gotten married, never hurt my sweet husband or moved to that wretched city…

Where I ran too fast, showered too quickly, left later than I should have…to go back to an empty apartment where I knew he wouldn’t be, the one who almost destroyed me. 

Maybe if I’d just…

You would all still be alive.

I know this does no good. I know it wasn’t my fault. They were reckless. They put so many lives at risk. And I know if it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else who might not have walked away. And I know this night won’t always haunt me, just like he can no longer hurt me.

And I know that, maybe, next year will be different, happier, and I’ll have finally put this all behind me.

 

 

 

 

A Call to Disarm

Untethering

I resisted posting this one, but it wouldn’t relent. So here goes…vulnerability in all its glory. A writer’s cross to bear, I suppose.

This is my surrender- an offering up of the thoughts that have been lodged in my chest, swirling around in my head and robbing me of sleep.

It’s time to let them go, to let him go.

In essence, this is the final spark, the one you see when the wick of a candle reaches its end, just before the flame is extinguished.

I’ll warn you in advance, there’s nothing revolutionary here. Just a girl, laying down her arms…with the hope of finding peace.

 War & Peace

      boy.girl.heart

I woke up thinking about you.
Brushed my teeth,
Thought of you.
The cream settles in my coffee…
It never seems to stop,
This thinking of you.

I wait.
For the light to filter through the blinds.
I wait, for you.
To open your eyes and whisper, boo.

You gravitate toward her, dimmed, craving light
Exposed, you retreat.
Love, truth…she is no place to hide.

That moment she realized,
she felt closer to him when he was 10,000 miles away.

r.dautremer.swings

You’re too colorful for those who live in black and white.

She loves more than she’ll ever get back.
…and still, she loves.

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I woke up thinking about you.
Brushed my teeth,
Thought of you.
The cream settles in my coffee…
I wonder when this will stop,
This thinking of you.

You wanted a distraction, wild, beautiful,
But not to be kept.
You lost a treasure, rare, extraordinary,
Impossible to forget.

Untethering
/ənˈteT͟Hərˈing/

When he doesn’t ask you to stay,
…and you love yourself enough to walk away.

untethering

* all illustrations by Rebecca Dautremer

Falling, Down Under, Getting Back Up, (a bit further North) & Dodging Teeth.

So I’m presently in Victoria, which, oddly enough, is where I was a month ago. Except that Victoria was in Australia. This one is a bit further North.
So, here I am, my second country in 2 months, and it’s Halloween, which used to be one of my favorites. I even threw a Halloween party for ‘E’ and I’s engagement once upon a time…but that was another life.
Anyway, it made me think about what I was doing last year at this time.
I was in Hawaii. That actually made me laugh out loud.
Yesterday, this very nice man started chatting me up at the coffee shop (Very friendly, these Canadians, which can prove challenging for an introvert).
He was very inquisitive, and I had nowhere to escape, so I obliged and answered his questions. The first? He wanted to know if I was from South Africa- the second time I’ve been asked this in the past two months, the first being in Australia.
I simply don’t get the South Africa one, but interestingly enough, when I’m in the U.S., people ask if I’m from Canada. (I say ‘abowt’ instead of ‘about’ for whatever reason).
This seems to be a theme. When I’m speaking Spanish in Latin America, they ask if I’m from Spain. When I’m in Spain, they ask if I’m from Latin America. When I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they asked if I learned French in France. And when I’m in France…I think they just try to understand me. (I haven’t quite conquered that language yet).
Anyway, this very nice man continued. He wanted to know where was I living (I avoided that one), where had I traveled, what line of work I was in, what work was I doing in Paris, and what in god’s name was I doing in the Congo.
He was fascinated, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was misleading him. That life is just so far removed from where I am now.

I know, “I won’t be here forever”, “I am more than my circumstances”, “the further you fall, the higher you rise”…I know.

Just somewhat comical. I go so fluidly between being flown across the world on seemingly exotic adventures…to sleeping on friends’ couches.

 

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My current sofa du’ jour, however, is quite comfortable…and I am in Canada with a very dear, very patient friend, so there’s that.
My dreams have been quite interesting here. Have you ever dreamed that you lost your teeth? This time it was my two front teeth. Which makes sense, because I did actually lose my two front teeth when I was little.
I already had a lisp so you can imagine. I couldn’t say my ‘r’s’ either. I basically sounded like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Sylvester the Cat. Cute when you are little. But I’m here to tell you, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ was quite the feat.
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One down…

There are various interpretations of what ‘losing teeth’ means in a dream:
1st scenario: It usually means some important relationship will be lost.
2nd scenario: You will take more responsibility and become more stable and mature.
3rd scenario: Tooth loss is likely to show that a difficult situation will soon be over.
4th scenario: There is really something wrong with your teeth.
Okay, well, the first one certainly applies.
The second, not so much. I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum, but I’ll certainly take it.
The third scenario: Um, yes, please. I will gladly hand over a tooth or two if that one can play out.
And the last one, I’m not 100% sure, but they all seem to be intact.
So I’m going to go with the third scenario. Although I’d rather keep the teeth I offered up so as not to revisit the previously-mentioned ‘lisp era’…not so cute when you are trying to pull off scenario 2…or rebound from scenario 1.
But in keeping with the subject at hand- ‘teeth’ seems to be a theme here in Canada.
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About three days after I got here, I went to the gym to try to work off some angst from scenario 1 and the whole ‘sleeping on friends couches’ thing.
I was making solid progress sweating it out when I saw something flying toward me out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t even have time to flinch before I saw a set of teeth lying on the floor in front of me.
I’m not talking about the ‘these are a part of my Halloween costume’ teeth.

It was a full set of teeth.

I somehow refrained from reacting and promptly looked down, pretending to be studying my distance/speed stats intensely. I definitely never saw a heavy-set man walk directly in front of me, bend down, and pick up his teeth.

The poor guy must have been mortified. It did make me think, though, “well shit, things aren’t that bad. I mean, yes, my heart’s a little bruised, my circumstances aren’t exactly ideal, but at least I don’t have to worry about my teeth falling out. I get to wake up from my bad dream, shake it off, and then head to the bathroom and brush my teeth…versus, you know, having to fish them out of a glass or whatever you do when you have to put your teeth in.
So, that’s all I got. I’m still in Canada, still living out of my suitcase, still making people guess where I’m from, and still trying to figure out where I’m going.
The good news, however, is (according to the experts) “My difficult situation will soon be over.”

That’s something I can sink my teeth into…

 

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I have a request…

It’s regarding the subject I keep coming back to.

Magic.

Not the “make shit disappear” kind, the other kind. Although that kind is a bit more difficult to define.

Here is Merriam-Webster’s attempt:

“An extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source. Something that seems to cast a spell.”

I don’t think that does it justice, though…

I think it is impossible to define magic, just as it is to define love or evil or god. But this is what makes us human, I suppose. Our inherent need to define everything around us- to place all things firmly and tangibly into reality- I believe is one our greatest tragedies…magic’s nemesis.Most things clearly defined leave little room for the extraordinary.
– b. breazeale

For me, it’s a feeling or experience…or how an experience makes you feel. It’s electric, exhilarating- the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Or it’s soft, tranquil- a hummingbird in flight.

It disregards time, is indifferent to circumstance, and deems logic absurd. It’s elusive, fickle, fleeting- sometimes bold, sometimes mysterious- but always undeniable. It can be terrifying, detonating the safe place we created that lulled us into complacency.

But what is it, exactly?

My experience of it is the warm glow of a harvest moon, a flower drenched in sunlight, and a sky full of stars. It’s the call of a kookaburra, the wind dancing on the ocean, and the smell of morning in spring. It’s a rustle in the trees when there is no breeze or a whisper that brushes your cheek when there is no one to speak.

It’s love, feeling it, unabashedly, and seeing it reflected back in the eyes of the person you want to spend the rest of your days with.

None of these experiences are lost on me. I see magic all around me, constantly. Except for the last one. That one I can’t seem to find.

I’ve had glimpses of it. But it’s proven to be more of a disappearing act…not the kind of magic I had in mind. Now, I’m finding myself looking around for the little man behind the curtain. Except there are no ruby slippers or home to go back to.

Courage, though, that I have…and a brain. But a new heart, that one I’ll take. I think mine has permanently lost its shape- too many cracks, too many pieces left behind for those who didn’t know what they’d found.

Of all things intangible, magic might be the most elusive. It is a very real force that influences almost every moment of our childhood, allowing us to navigate our world curious, uninhibited, full of wonder, and open to every possibility. But this elusive force will inevitably succumb to its nemesis: reality. We all have to grow up, right? We all must face reality.
So, like most people, magic eluded me for decades, until reality had sucked all the life out of me, and I realized that the only one who could save me had gone missing.
– b. breazeale

Love and magic, the elusive duo I have risked so much for, lost so much for…and hope is quickly following suit.

But it does exist, right? I mean, you’ve heard about it, haven’t you? The sweet, elderly couple who still dance in the kitchen, the guy who flies across the globe to win her back, the seemingly impossible love that persevered against all odds…the chance meeting that turns into that epic love story.

I understand it’s rare. It means risk, vulnerability, potential rejection, and unbearable pain. It’s terrifying, really. We now know the stakes, and they are high. We have tasted heartbreak, and it is brutal.

But we can make a choice. To take the risk, to heal and grow, love better, feel more. Or, we can retreat, build up our walls and remain in the realm of comfortable, safe…ordinary.

I know you skeptics and non-believers out there are shaking your heads. This isn’t a fairytale. No one is going to climb up my balcony and whisk me off to happily-ever-after. This is reality.

I’ve heard you, I’ve actually dated you. You have adequately presented your case- a convincing one to be sure- and your actions have been deafening. Your work is done here. So as you were.

But for you believers, can you help a romantic out here? Because she is, in fact, starting to feel hopeless.

Show me it exists. Tell me your stories, or stories of someone you know, or ones you’ve heard- whether they be epic or seemingly small, day-to-day things you do to sustain it.

Please, for all of us who refuse to settle, help us believe…magic is real and love can be extraordinary.

Because honestly, why waste our time on anything less?

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Falling Up from Down Under & Steering Clear of Rabbits

“Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! But I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is…Please, Ma’am, is this New Zealand? Or Australia?

– Alice in Wonderland

So I went under…because everything kind of blew up. What I mean is, I went Down Under, to Australia.

Why Australia? To visit a friend. Because he wasn’t just a friend. But now he is…or perhaps he will be someday.

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“The little girl just could not sleep because her thoughts were way too deep, her mind had gone out for a stroll and fallen down the rabbit hole.” ~ Lewis Caroll

So things didn’t quite go the direction I’d hoped. But onward and upward, right? Although I’m not quite sure which way that is at this point.

It seems that I haven’t gotten the whole ‘things are looking up‘ thing down.

I’ve gotten close. Painfully close. My sister was optimistic, my friends let out a sigh of relief, cheering me on to what we thought was the other side. And we did get really close.

But here we are. Except, that’s kind of the issue…

I can’t exactly say where I am? Teetering on the edge of oblivion sounds about right- still walking on the wrong side of the street, sleeping on yet another friend’s couch (who is literally why I’m at least still teetering), and my current physical address is a P.O. Box.

What I do know is my mind is reeling, my heart hurts, and my soul is most definitely bruised.

There is a place, like no place on earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” – Alice in Wonderland

But this is my Oprah moment, right? That moment when it all seems so bad that you just have to laugh at how ridiculous it is or you will go mad. To keep your wits about you, you imagine yourself recounting that moment when you hit rock bottom and the play-by-play of your subsequent ascent.

This is mine, right?

Except I already have a solid collection of ‘rock bottoms’. I’m all set for the whole “redemption- see the gift in it all- inspire millions with my strength and resilience” part.

But apparently, we’re not quite there yet.

Not to worry, I shall forge on…or up or whichever direction is required to resist gravity and steer clear of rabbits.

In the meantime, I get to be in a beautiful place with a dear friend, do my best to walk on the ‘right’ side of the street, and switch from enjoying Springtime Down Under to Fall on the up side.

And really, doesn’t falling up sound much better than being down?

“You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants some magical solution to their problem and everyone refuses to believe in magic.” – Alice in Wonderland

Peanuts, Figs & Mayhem- Saying Goodbye to my Furry Friends in the Congo

We’ve arrived- the end of one crazy adventure and on to the next.

I had intended to write more about my experience living in the Congo, but the whole process became next to impossible. On the rare occasion that we had internet, it was usually only for a few hours, and it was excruciatingly slow.

Even if I wrote ahead of time and waited for the internet, I was constantly in a mild state of panic, knowing the electricity would shut off any second. Outlets were also in short supply. It was truly an adrenaline rush when the electricity came back on- all of us scrambling to find at least one outlet to recharge our only means of connecting to rest of the world.

All to say, writing and posting a blog was sometimes a weeks-long endeavor.

When I finally got back to the states, I had no desire to revisit the Congo. Yes, the experience as a whole was life-changing, but so many aspects of my day-to-day were beyond challenging…emotionally more than anything.

But those chimps- those crazy, extraordinary, and sometimes terrifying chimps- forever touched my soul. I fell in love with all 54 of them, each with his or her distinct, funny personality and sometimes annoying quirks.

Goma, for example, an ornery, cantankerous guy who loved to mess with anyone who dared enter the sanctuary. No matter how deep into the forest he was, the minute you walked through the gate, he would suddenly be sitting in the same spot, perfectly positioned to dowse you with spit.

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Goma and his cheeky smirk

It didn’t matter if I sprinted by him, he would always hit his target, meeting my gaze with a look of triumph, then disappearing back into the trees.

But even Goma nestled his way into my heart, gripping it tightly with those long, dexterous fingers and filling it up with awe and reverence.

They were ornery, intelligent, loving beings who taught me the extent to which animals feel emotions, both good and bad…exactly like we do. I saw this firsthand with our newest addition, Manoya, who was rescued the day before I got there.

She arrived emaciated, dehydrated and completely traumatized, then immediately had to be quarantined for 30 days. This meant she had to spend 24 hours a day with a caretaker in a large enclosure that was isolated from all the other animals.

The only details we know about her rescue is that the authorities found her going through customs, stuffed in a tiny crate. She was then handed over to the military who brought her to us by helicopter.

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Namoya right after she arrived

Every time I would check on her from a distance, the look on her face was beyond traumatized…it was sheer heartbreak.

Each of our chimps had a similar story (see Casualties of the Trade), all tortured in some way or another, stuffed in some inhumane contraption, most likely after seeing their entire families murdered.

But despite all of this, or probably because of it, they welcome each new orphan into their chaotic, not-so-functional family…just as they had me. Although be clear, this integration process isn’t without its challenges: clashing personalities, jealousy, power struggles…like any family, I suppose.

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Namoya’s new family

 

I had survived. Six very long months later, I was walking up to the sanctuary for the last time…to say goodbye to my furry favorite.

I’ve already shared the chimp crush I had on Kongo (here), so I tried to go see him as much as I could (when I wasn’t working or hiding out trying to avoid running into ‘C’).

Kongo and I quickly established our routine, accompanying each other around the perimeter of the forest enclosure, getting to know each others’ expressions and body language. I learned what his favorite foods were, what type of leaves he preferred and where his favorite tree was. I gradually discovered who his favorite chimp buddies were and the ones who avoided him at all costs (Goma being one of them). I got to know his different moods- when he was grumpy, playful, ornery, or bored.

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I shared my snacks with him, vented about my challenges with ‘C’ (SOS from the Jungles of Congo explains a bit), counted down the months, weeks, and days until Eric came to visit, and then the months, weeks, days until I got to go home.

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That day finally arrived, and I knew it would be the last time I’d see him.

That day was bizarre…as if Kongo knew I was leaving. Every day before, he would greet me at the gate and escort me down our usual path.  I waited a few minutes, looking for him up in the trees. I did my best version of a chimp call (which is pathetic, I might add). But nothing.

I started back toward the entrance, and there he was, peering out from behind the trees. I sat down and waited for him to come out. He just sat there, staring at me and then disappeared back into the forest.

Kongo

Now I was pissed. This was seriously how he was going to end it? I waited a few more minutes, then stormed out, slamming the gate behind me.

Realizing I had just thrown a temper tantrum because a chimp wouldn’t come ‘say goodbye’ to me, I pulled myself together and went back in.

There he was, sitting in the same spot where we always met. He didn’t even look at me before he started down the path, finally stopping to make sure I was following, but never letting me catch up.

When we turned the corner of our last stretch, he finally sat down but kept his back to me. I couldn’t help but laugh. He was clearly not going to make this easy. 

I rummaged through my bag and pulled out a handful of groundnuts, sliding them under the fence. He pretended not to see and waited until I sat back down to casually reach over and grab them. Next was sliced mango, his second favorite treat. He ate them but still acted like he wasn’t interested. I waited a few minutes before I pulled out his favorite, knowing that would do the trick.

He finally turned around to face me, looking at me intensely, then down at my bag, then turned sideways to avoid eye contact.

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I launched into my goodbye speech, lying, saying I would be back, and reminding him there would be another ‘save the world’ type who would take my place.

I slid a larger than normal portion of figs under the fence. He launched forward, grabbed as many as he could, and disappeared into the trees.

And that was it.

I made my back down the path home, stopping one last time to see if I could spot him in the trees. And there was Goma, staring down with his head cocked back, that same cheeky look on his face.

Just behind him and further up, I saw the leaves start to rustle. A flash of black plunged down, caught a limb and then soared across to catch another and then another. Within a matter of seconds, the forest turned into complete chaos- chimps flying tree to tree, leaves shaking violently as the limbs tried to rebound from the weight of one chimp after the other slamming down on them.

Goma finally plunged in, instigating more deafening screams that made even the staff members stop and look up.

I watched until the madness died down and the leaves became still. Several climbed to the top and perched on the branches, some grouped together, some alone, most of them looking down.

I’d seen these crazy displays before, but this one was sheer mayhem. I, of course, convinced myself that this one was for me…a dramatic farewell…

And I have a good idea who was behind it.

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*The number of chimps has grown from 54 to 72 since I was there in 2013.

* Between 5-10 chimpanzees are slaughtered in the process of trying to capture one baby chimp.

*Goma and I eventually made a truce, and I was allowed safe passage, if and only if he was presented with a handful of peanuts upon my entry.

 

 

 

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Below is the link to the documentary that inspired me to go to the Congo:

‘Project Nim’: A Chimp’s Very Human, Very Sad Life

Please help support the efforts of the sanctuary to protect these guys by donating here.