The Hippo Story
Copyright 2021 by Michaya Marsh
whole life, I have felt intense connections with animals of all
types. For hours I would perch on the windowsill to watch and
identify the gold finches and black-capped chickadees. If my parents
ever lost me, they knew to look outside and find me following a snake
or holding a newt. I would wander with the wild hares in Western
Washington forests and wade in the icy Pacific ocean to catch a
glimpse of the sharks in the waves. My mother quickly called me back
out, much to my chagrin. An unquenchable curiosity for all forms of
life has filled my whole being for as long as I can remember.
love I feel for animals is likely from these early formed
connections. I was always the kid bringing home whatever creature I
saw on the side of the road excitedly asking, "Can I keep it?"
My poor parents, people with an average love for animals, would have
to turn me down despite my tears. A simple glimpse of a cat in the
road, a dog in the shelter, even a snake in the grass would make me
yearn to give them a home. They were never able to truly understand
my heartbreak from their firm "Nos."
I experience more intense connections, I refuse to believe I have
It makes me feel pretentious. Unfortunately, all my friends and
family enjoy telling me I do. I try to deny it, but all evidence
points to it being true. Animals follow me. Birds have flaunted their
feathers at me more times than I can count. I have even had sea lions
splash water at me, which sounds fun but loses some enjoyment in
rainy winter weather in Washington state. There is one story, in
particular, they (and I) love to tell. I have limited memories of the
event due to my young age at the time, but I remember the best parts
had taken a trip to Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, with my
grandparents. I was a tiny toddler, age three, who stood at barely
two feet tall. It was a sunny day in late spring, and the animals
were extra active due to the warm weather.
decks overlooked different tanks with varying sea creatures. I
longingly stared at the otters and sea lions, desperately wanting to
play with them. I remember one of the decks overlooking the seals was
nearly up against the water. A seal swam over and started popping in
and out of the water, which I mimicked behind the fence.
of these tanks had had viewing points within buildings to get another
angle of the animals. The buildings held tanks with a rainbow of fish
in every shape and size. There was a shark tunnel that led to a
forty-foot window to view the sharks on a grander scale. "I
wanna swim!" I kept exclaiming at every tank while my parents
laughed it off each time. My favorite room was the Nile Hippopotamus
room had been newly renovated, which made it quite the popular spot.
It held a five-year-old hippopotamus named Genny. She was nearly
full-grown but still not fully matured (to be blunt: she was an
angsty teenager). I thought she was beautiful.
any other five-year-old, she threw a temper tantrum by rocking back
and forth to create waves bigger than me. I, a frequent temper
tantrum thrower, was drawn to the chaos while others backed away. My
tiny size and the lessening crowd allowed me to press up against the
window. Water sloshed up the sides of the tank, drenching the people
outside on the decks. I looked up against the glass and saw her up at
the surface, wildly kicking around. She was upset about something,
but I didn't know what. All I wanted to do was help. Then, I placed
my pudgy little hands against the glass, and her rocking stopped.
nostrils flared as her lungs filled with air before she dove back
underwater as gracefully as a baby hippo could. Her face became
clearer the closer she swam towards me and eventually stopped
opposite of me. I remember a hush fell over the room and heard some
giggles and whispers behind me. I didn't care.
mushed my face against the glass, and Genny mimicked me. Her eyes
swirled with emotions and thoughts I could almost feel, though I
could not put a name to them. She had the sweetest face and
deceivingly small body. We were so close I could have counted her
whiskers. We were in our own little world.
my parents called me and said it was time to move to the next room. I
was quite reluctant and slowly walked alongside the tank in protest.
She walked underwater alongside me the entire time. We exchanged last
looks before she swam back up and I exited the room.
parents purchased a tiny toy Genny as we left which sits on my
bookshelf to this very day. The hippopotamus was my favorite animal
for the next five years.
story may be told by my family as a goofy tale of little me, but
nothing can capture the feeling of connecting with an animal that
could swallow me whole. Staring into her eyes and walking side by
side. It was that day, at the very young age of three, that I had
realized how much I loved animals. My mom jokes Genny wanted to eat
me, but I like to think she felt what I had felt.
had felt a special
her, the type I try to deny the existence of. It took me a long time
to realize these situations were not a normal occurrence with others.
Other people arenít followed relentlessly and stared at as if
there was something on their face. They canít coax a wild cat
out of hiding or exhaust a supposedly inexhaustible dog. Perhaps
these bonds I make are unique, but the connections I make with
animals (including Genny) are of unity and not superiority. I donít
believe I have a special ability with animals, but I do know that
they play an important role in my life, and that is good enough for
grew up a military kid, so I have lived in many places, so we moved around a lot.
My family and I lived in New Jersey for about three years when I was
three and younger, so my memories are very spotty. However, the ones
I do remember are often the ones my family still tells. I currently
live in Oregon and Iím dual-enrolled in an online charter high
school and community college. Currently, I am working on my
associateís of arts oregon transfer degree and plan on
transferring to a four-year university to major in wildlife ecology
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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