The Hippo Story

Michaya Marsh

© Copyright 2021 by Michaya Marsh

Photo of a hippo in a glass pool.

My 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.

The 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."

Though I experience more intense connections, I refuse to believe I have special connections. 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 vividly.

We 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.

Outside, 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.

Many 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.

The 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.

Like 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.
Genny's 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.

I 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.

Eventually, 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.

My 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.
The 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.

I had felt a special connection with 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 me.

I 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 and conservation.

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