Aardvark Ocelot Pangolin

When I was 9 and 10, my best friend was named Miriam. She looked like a very pretty brown mouse. She had tiny, deft hands, and a soft voice with a French accent, and she moved with very precise movements. I was tall and gawky with thick glasses and lank hair of an indeterminate shade of mud. We were mad about animals and we cared not at all for other people. In my memory of that time, I cannot recall speaking to anyone but her. It was as if we lived in a bubble. We were deeply and completely content in one another’s company. Perhaps it’s something that happens more often when we are young. My six-year old son has a special friend and it’s not that he doesn’t play with other boys, it’s just that this one friend is a soul-mate. I like it that he’s so staunch and loyal and unwavering, and that he can proclaim that he loves his friend, and I know it probably won’t last forever, the world being as it is.
My friend and I had a made-up language based on animal names. That is, the proper english species names for the animals of the world- lemur and kinkajou and wombat- not the latin genus. It was all very involved and we had notebooks and notebooks filled with the words and their meanings. I have no idea how we actually constructed sentences since it was pretty much noun-dominated but we committed most of it to memory and we were able to communicate very well with each other. It must have been extremely exclusionary but at the time, that didn’t concern me or Miriam in the slightest.
Our dream was to move to an island- tropical, I believe, and live there and study animals in their natural habitats, and write lengthy books on various species. I thought we’d live on breadfruit and custard apples and all the exotic fruits and vegetables I had read about in Swiss Family Robinson and Pippi Longstocking, and probably Enid Blyton’s adventure stories. I was almost a vegetarian by that time. We’d have had pets- bush babies with their great, limpid eyes and emerald green boas and sulfur-crested cockatoos, tigers, wolves and tiny screech owls. Oh, and a baby elephant. I’m not precisely sure where the island was to be located but it contained a mixture of animals from both hemispheres and they all seemed to live in harmony with each other, and it was free of the presence of any other humans and impenetrable and secret.
When I was almost 12 we moved to England for a year. I don’t remember any tearful farewell. I probably, in the innocence of youth, just expected that when I came back Miriam and I would resume our friendship and nothing would have changed, and I don’t think I did change because although I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager, I remember I had decided to dig my heels in and remain Jo- still gawky and often mistaken for a boy with my short hair and quietness. And Miriam who was already pretty might have matured faster than me, and we wouldn’t have been friends anymore since girls who take the girly route don’t really understand girls who are trying to remain tomboys for as long as they possibly can and don’t want to give up climbing trees and bird-watching and catching snakes. But I never knew because by the time we had moved back home, she had changed schools and I never saw her again.
She did come and hear my mother lecture in Western Canada once. I was at university and deep in the thralls of punk rock-dom- once again in an exclusionary world- and I never contacted her. I think she was studying something to do with my mother’s field- ancient history.
Odd that neither of us ended up in zoology.

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