While she was going to school, my daughter worked for many summers and countless winter week-ends at our local aquarium. It is rather small – with a healthy focus on conservation and public education – and as a result, her tasks were varied. She was the cleaning staff; she was crowd control; she was the animator for the various outdoor exhibits. One memorable summer, she was the mascot; sweating copiously in 35-degree (95 Fahrenheit) heat; getting kicked in the knees by small children and being heartily slapped on the back by men who assumed that the person inside the costume was a dude.
One summer, on her day off, she offered to take me there to give me a private tour. I was thrilled – mostly because it meant quality time with her, but also because I knew it would offer me a much better idea of what she actually did there. We wandered about for hours and I was happy to hear tidbits of information that the public usually does not get to know. All in all, it was a lovely day.
At some point, she left me on my own for a short while and I found myself standing in front of an aquarium that was quite large, with rather muted lighting. The glass was extremely thick and the creature within completely foreign to me. I had to focus for several seconds before understanding that I was looking at an extremely large, incredibly ugly octopus. It was not spread out like you usually see in diagrams. Instead, it was curled into one corner of the aquarium and – I could have sworn it – was looking directly at me.
I was horrified and disgusted: the thing looked absolutely monstrous to me. And it was unnerving to have the sense that it was examining me as intently as I was inspecting it. I quickly moved away to find my daughter. When I did, I made some comment – shuddering as I said it – about how revolting ‘that octopus thing’ was.
“Who, Calico?” she answered, with an affectionate look on her face, “Naw, she’s a real sweetie pie. Octopuses are really smart, you know.” And then she proceeded to tell me of how she had played with this particular octopus ‘when she was little’. She informed me that an octopus needs constant intellectual stimulation; that this octopus loved to figure out mazes; that she enjoyed playing a game with her handlers of placing her tentacle on the correct target, that she loved her Mr. Potato Head toy. And then my daughter laughingly told me of the night – when Calico was still little – when someone did not lock her little aquarium properly. She managed to get out of – and back into – an entire row of aquariums; eating the contents as she went. When all food sources had been depleted, she obviously crept back – again, from one aquarium to the other – until she was once more ensconced in her own. When the staff found her the next morning, looking innocent of any crime, she was the only one left alive.
I had grown very quiet by this time. We continued on with our tour, but at one point, I excused myself and went back to see the octopus. I watched her for several long moments. I spotted a rubber ball at the bottom of her enclosure that I had not noticed earlier. This time, when I felt her looking at me, I tried – with my own eyes – to communicate my sorrow that such an intelligent creature should ever have to endure the disinterested or revolted looks of people like me. I gently put my hand to the glass and hoped she understood that I was apologising for my appalling manners.
I have wondered, many times since, how many beautiful things I have missed because I couldn’t see past an ugly exterior…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com