I was seven years old. My family was in Milwaukee visiting an uncle, cousin, friend of the family, somebody. We went to the zoo. I was a little thing and it was my first time out of my little town. And it was my first zoo.
I followed big people around. I don’t know who they were. They were adults and their words sounded much like the adults in a Charles Schulz Peanuts cartoon. At one point I was given an invisible dog as a gift. I was urged to pose with it and walk around with it the entire day, making sure that I imagined a real dog on the end of that stiff lease. I’ve seen the pictures.
I remember thinking it was foolish. There was no dog there. The plastic rope covering the metal rod was rough and cut my hands. It wasn’t light either. I remember my wrist becoming sore as I adjusted the height of the harness while I imagined different breeds and sizes of dogs.
All day I carried that thing, pictures snapped, until I came to the black panther. It was in a huge glass cage. I remember the inside looking beautiful with rocks, trees, and a waterfall that fed a wading pool. The creature was sleek and enormous. Piles of kids lined up at the fence to get a closer look. Muscles pumped in ripped shoulders as it paced back and forth in front of our leering eyes. It opened its mouth and snarled at us, glaring deep into our souls with those hypnotic and intelligent eyes. It jumped up to the top of the waterfall. It paced for a moment like it wasn’t quite sure what to do.
It was pure majesty as it flew through the air and bounded off the glass. My breathe disappeared. My heart stopped. The world kept turning. Some of the other kids started crying. The panther growled again, turned its back, and started defecating right in front of me.
An arm pulled me away. Grabbed my invisible dog. More Peanuts voices saying something but I couldn’t take my eyes off that powerful creature. The spirit! The power! What a rebel!
These are my reflected thoughts. My thoughts as a seven year old consisted only of fear.
The invisible dog was handed back. I was instructed to pose with it in front of the monkeys. I did as they said.