Thursday, January 29, 2009


“Thank goodness for the good souls that make life better.
...if it wasn’t for the good souls life would not matter.”

There are many days when I wish I could be a child again. This usually happens when I’m overwhelmed by daily life or just simply depressed. When you’re a child your biggest worry should be if you want Rice Krispes or Cheerios for breakfast. When I’m having one of these days the next best thing to being a child is hanging out with one.

My parents are divorced - whose aren’t these days? But, fortunately they’ve both found other tolerable partners and my father has even had children with his. He managed to live out every man’s dream and found a younger woman. Carla - his wife, my step-mother - is 15 years younger than my dad and this is her first marriage. Carla is a smart woman, she found a man who’s already had another woman work out all the kinks so now he’s actually quasi-normal, and a much better husband than he was to my mom.

My father and Carla have two daughters: Lisa and Ashley. They are absolutely wonderful kids, then again my dad’s had my older sister, Erica, and I to practice on. Lisa’s hitting her pre-teen years and I’m just not cool enough to hang out with. But Ashley’s seven and just loves me! She is the sweetest thing on earth and let’s me spoil her rotten. When I’m depressed by adult matters the best cure is Ashley. She should be bottled up and made available in prescription form. The label would read: take 3 hours of Ashley when feeling depressed or anxious.

For about a week after my overnight in Alex’s bed I’m riding a high. Life is good. Then I don’t hear from him for a week and my endorphin level starts to drop. Feeling this low getting worse as the weekend approaches I beg my father to let me have Ashley on Sunday. He agrees as long as I have her safely home by eight. Last time I kept her out until ten and she was cranky the whole next day and my father’s never forgiven me. Sometimes I forget she’s only seven.

The next day I pick her up at eleven and ask where she wants to go.

“The zoo! The zoo!”

“Really? How about the Aquarium?” A pout. “Science Museum?” A bigger pout. I’m not prepared for the zoo, I don’t think I’m ready. I pull out the big guns, “Chuckie Cheese’s?” She makes her absolute best pout, the same one that worked for me my entire childhood. Being the younger daughter, it usually got me what ever I wanted. There is no arguing with that face. It appears I have to face my demons, at least I have Ashley with me to hold my hand.

“All right! The zoo it is!” She joyfully bounces her way down the driveway to my car and buckles herself in. The 45-minute car ride into Boston flies by with Ashley chatting about school, her best friend’s new puppy and the birthday party she went to the day before. I can feel the anxiety draining from my veins.

Ashley knows I have a favorite spot at the zoo: the leopard exhibit. I’ve never told her why, she’s too young, but she somehow knows is has a special place in my heart. It’s always the last place we visit. I usually buy her an ice cream if it’s summer, or a hot chocolate if it’s winter, and we sit on the lion bench and watch the leopards. It’s become a ritual and a treat and her favorite spot as well. This Sunday I avoid the place.

We visit the Bird House, the giraffes, the guerrillas and kangaroos and still I avoid the leopards. When we’ve seen everything else I buy her a hot chocolate and walk us towards the exit.

“Julia, aren’t we going to see the leopards?”

“No hon, I think that exhibit’s closed”.

And she says, God love her, “The leopards are my favorite exhibit too. Just because you aren’t with Chris anymore doesn’t mean we can’t see them does it?” How does she know?

“Ashley, honey, what are you talking about?”

“Erica brought me here last summer and I showed her how you always take me to the leopards and how you sit there and get really quiet. And she giggled and told me that’s where you and Chris used to hang out. Boys are stupid, who needs them anyways?” You’ve gotta love seven-year-old logic.

“Some day Ashley you’ll realize that boys are O.K. and you want one too, but not for a while. You can still think they’re stupid if you want.”

She screws up her little face and says, “I’ll never like boys, they pull my hair and call me Freckles.” Just like when I was seven, little boys never change.

“Boys do that when they like you, silly. I know it seems stupid, but you think they’re stupid anyways.” I see that one makes her think.

“Do you want another boy yet? Hey! You can go out with Mr. MacKenna!”

I’m afraid to ask yet I dare, “and who is Mr. MacKenna?”

“The art teacher at my school. He’s old like you but real nice and cool.” Great, now I’m old. Unfortunately she’s obviously proud of this idea and I don’t want to disappoint her.

“Next time I pick you up from school I’ll meet your Mr. MacKenna and we’ll see, deal?

“Only if we can see the leopards.” I throw her an unyielding look. “Pleeeaaaseee?” Who can deny that face? I give in again, better now than never. And, I can always date Mr. MacKenna even though an image of someone similar to my elementary school art teacher comes to mind: a disheveled, smoking, sixty-year-old man with outrageous Andy Warhol hair.


We pass the wildebeest and zebras and the closer we get the faster my heart beats. Ashley reaches up and takes my hand, and in her quiet, little, seven-year-old voice she says, “It’s O.K. Julia, Chris isn’t going to be over there.” She’s right, why am I so tense?

We round the corner and everything looks the same as that day so long ago and every time since that I stood on that spot. There are the two leopards, lounging near the back. And there’s the wooden lion still sleeping eight years later, a little more weathered but still the king of beasts. We sit on him and Ashley snuggles up to me to keep warm. “Are you sad?” She asks.

“No, I’m O.K., this place reminds me more of you than it does of him.” In saying that I realize that it did. I was only there with Chris that one time. He soon after lost his desire to be a biologist and switched to computer science. I spent more memorable moments on the lion bench with Ashley than I did with him. I’ve faced one demon, the zoo is now demon-free. Then in the most angelic way she throws herself around me and kisses me on the cheek and says, “From now on this is our place and you aren’t allowed to be sad.” If it were only that easy Ashley, if it were only that easy. Someday she’ll get hurt real bad too and there’s nothing that I can do to protect her from it.

copyright Catherine Hone 2009

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