It’s hard to explain the different between exhilaration and fear. For me, ever since I was young, I lived for adrenaline. For the exhilaration that filled me. Some might call it a love of fear. Some might call it insanity. But I was never afraid. There was only the overwhelming sense of excitement and the adrenaline that would flood my veins. It was what I had built my life around. Big cats. Wolves. Sharks even. The animal world was my playground and I was the one first in line to try everything. However, it wasn’t my passion. I fooled most into thinking I was happy with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I did. I loved animals and being close to them was a high like no other and something that I would never regret. But there was something inside of me telling me that it was all just a filler for my life. I was meant for something else. Hell, my real passion was written right into my DNA. There was no running from it and there was no way getting around it or pushing it down. It was who I was. Even my mother told me so.
“I think you should listen to your mom.” Sarah told me as we sat atop her jeep, watching the pride of lions in the distance.
“Don’t start with me.” I told her coldly. “She left it up to me and I’m not ready to make myself known to him yet.”
“You know she was just trying to protect you. He never wanted kids.” She replied.
“Yes, Sarah, I am aware of that.” I grinned at her but my tone was harsh.
“I’m just saying that it might be nice to get to know your father.” She said with a shrug.
“Nope.” I stated and lifted my binoculars to my eyes.
“Why did you bother coming here?” She asked.
“I’m on break. And there is no one else I’d like to spend it with.” I told her with a smile.
Despite my tone and the fact that I was avoiding my mother, it was true. Sarah had become the best friend I’d ever had. We started school out together. Biology and geology. When I moved on to my MS and PhD in paleontology sciences, she moved on to her extensive studies in animal behavior and then behavioral paleontology. Through it all we always remained close. Talking on the phone on a nearly daily basis, to study or just bullshit about anything and everything in our lives. It was nice to have someone who shared my passion. Someone who I could count on for anything. It would’ve been nice to share it with my father. But I wasn’t ready for that. It was my decision to make. Whether he was aware of my existence or not, I wasn’t ready for a father figure. I’d done perfectly fine without one so far.
“They’re getting ready.” Sarah stated as the lionesses started to move away from the pride, two remaining to watch over the young.
Slipping from the jeep, I shouldered my pack, my camera hanging from my neck, following Sarah as we moved to follow the lions. There were few things in life that really made me tingle with pure love and joy. But as we watched, the lionesses tracked down a heard of zebra, fanning out and hiding themselves as they picked which to take down. Immediately we noticed an old mare at the rear of the herd. She was slightly emaciated, her coat dull, shedding more than the others. The lionesses saw the same thing we did and they slowly moved into position, their bodies crouched low in the tall grass. Raising my camera, I took several shots. Through the lens I watched their shoulders shift back and forth as they prepared themselves for the attack. Smiling, I clicked faster as they sprinted toward their prey. From three sides they darted toward the zebra. With precision they chased it toward the forth lioness that lay in waiting, ready to spring forward. It was the perfect chase. The zebra ran straight into the path of the forth lion and she quickly leapt, gripping the zebra’s neck as they both flipped and landed on the ground. The other three were there within seconds and the zebra was quickly finished and the four of them started to devour their kill.
“That was awesome.” I smiled at her. “The most perfect kill I’ve witnessed yet.”
“I hope you got some good shots.” Sarah smiled at me.
“Oh, I did.” I grinned.
We talked and laughed all the way back to the jeep. Checking my cell, I noticed the dozen missed calls, and several voicemails. Frowning, I started to listen to them. The first was from my mother. Now smiling, I shook my head as I listened to her tell me about some show she watched on animal planet about swimming with Orca’s and she decided that that’s what I should do next. She ended the message as she always does, with a nice long ‘I love you’ and goodbye. Deciding to call her when we got back to camp, I started to listen to the others. They were all from my aunts and grandma. All of them sounded upset, moving to the edge of urgent, by the time I was through listening to them. None of them told me what was wrong but all of them told me to call them as soon as I got the message.
“What is it?” Sarah asked, seeing the look on my face.
“I’m not sure.” I frowned and quickly dialed my mom’s sister, Lydia. “Aunt Lydi?” I asked.
My good mood quickly turned to utter despair as I listened to my aunts crying as she told me that my mother had just been killed in a car accident. Sinking to the ground, tears streaming, I listened as she set the picture in my mind of what happened and explained what I needed to do, telling me that I needed to get back as soon as I could. She kept asking if I was listening and if I understood what she was saying to me. I kept saying ‘yes’ not knowing what else to say. There were no words for the feeling that was moving through me. No words to describe the sadness that was quickly taking me over. When I finally hung up the phone, Sarah was kneeling in front of me.
“Linzie?” She asked gently. “Linz?”
I finally looked at her, telling her in a calm voice, “My mother’s dead.”
Sarah put her hand over her mouth before she embraced me. She held me for several minutes while I sat there, unresponsive to her sympathy. I didn’t know how to react to this. This was never supposed to happen. It wasn’t right. It just wasn’t right.
ONE WEEK LATER
Standing in the middle of a line of people, I put on a fake smile and said ‘thank you’ so many times they didn’t sound like words anymore. They were all so sorry for my loss. I was grateful to the amount of people who showed up for my mother’s funeral. At the same time I was only partially there. I was going through the motions that I knew I had to but I wasn’t there. Not really. I was off in the corner of my mind where my mother was still alive, having one of our long talks over a bottle of wine, telling her of my latest adventure or about school. A place where I had been just a few weeks ago. Needing to get away, I slipped outside, wrapping my arms around me as the cold winter air hit me. Elk River, Minnesota was beautiful in the winter. It was far enough from the big cities to allow a sense of quiet, and big enough so no one who lived here could claim boredom. Shutting my eyes, my tears started to freeze before they even had a chance to fall. I was perfectly content being alone when I heard the door open and soon Sarah sat next to me.
“Your great aunt Betty smells funny and keeps trying to show me pictures of her cats.” Sarah told me, breaking the silence.
I smiled before I burst with laughter. I didn’t know what exactly was so funny, but that was my aunt Betty. The crazy cat lady in our family. She had a prize Persian she used to show. It was now so old that it was only a fragment of its former self. She still enjoyed showing pictures of her though, her little pink tongue sticking out the side of her mouth from her lack of teeth.
“Did she show you Jewel?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. Several.” She nodded. “Did you know she has one of her pooping in her fancy dancy little box?”
“What?” I exclaimed looking at her.
“Yup.” Sarah nodded. “It shows how good her balance and flexibility still is.”
“Oh my God. She’s really lost her mind.” I said and laughed.
“Yay,” Sarah said putting her arm through mine as she rested her head on my shoulder, “I made you laugh.”
“Thanks for that.” I smiled, resting my head against her.
It was a nice moment, but then the door opened again. “Linzie?” I looked up at Aunt Lydia. “There’s someone here to see you.”
Her tone told me that it was someone unexpected. My stomach dropped at the thought of who it might be. Only one person came to mind. Standing up, wiping the white snow from my black dress, I followed her back inside. She led me to the family room off of the main gathering space. I walked in and she shut the door behind me. Turning, I looked at the closed door, wondering why I had to be alone. Then I heard a man clear his throat and I turned and came face to face with my father. Standing before me was none other than Alan Grant.