Intersections – Living in the zoo
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
If you tell me a child was hurt, I will ask if she’s okay. If you tell me that an animal was killed, I will tell you that I am sad. If you ask me if I like the zoo, I will ponder your question for a long time.
I love the book “Goodnight, Gorilla.” It is storytelling at its finest, a story with few words. I have mixed feelings about the zoo, but no strong opinion. I like animals, but I don’t like the circus or freak shows. Menageries are unsettling, but I understand the desire to look.
As a child I was excited the first time I went to the Atlanta Zoo, but it was not a good zoo when I was growing up. Elephants stood on a concrete slab. Giraffes paced on patches of red clay. Then there was Willie B. alone in his cement prison. His wildness tamed. His stare contained an ocean of words. I wanted to understand what he was trying to say.
When I was 10, I hated the zoo.
In college, I learned more. A hundred years ago, I could have been the animal in the zoo. A woman with dark skin and curly hair kept naked in a cage. There was a woman kept on display in France. They called her Hottentot Venus. There was a man kept in the Bronx Zoo. He ended his own life. I thought back on my first gorilla and wondered what Willie B. knew.
Don’t hate the cages. Don’t pity the animals. Maybe you should ask, “Who are the real animals? Who are the keepers of this zoo?”
I don’t hate the zoo now. Zoo Atlanta is much improved. Still I wonder. Who is the predator? Who is the prey? If you tell me that a child is hurt, I will ask if she’s OK.
I won’t ask about the mother. I won’t extoll the requirements or the latitude of parenthood. Children are also like animals. We forget this. I sit down and children appear out of nowhere. They are drawn to my heat and indifference. They fall into and over my lap like wolf cubs. I will never know if I’m a good mother. Does being a good mother mean keeping them safe and alive? Does being a good father mean teaching them not to hurt other people?
Will you blame me if my child gets hurt? Will you blame me if my child gets hurt when she is a grown woman? How long will I be at fault? What happens if they find my child, a woman, behind a dumpster being hurt by another kind of animal?
It seems inconceivable that we keep some people in cages, while others go free. What is a life worth? What is the value of woman? Who are the zookeepers that decide? Who are the judges?
I don’t blame the child or the mother or the gorillas in the zoo. I don’t have an opinion on that. There are other dangers that worry my mind. I have stepped out of one zoo and into another.
I am tired of hearing the same story over and over again about a rapist who is treated with leniency. How many times will I become angry and then numb? How many times will I look into my children’s eyes and try to see the future of my daughters and my son.
Rape is a wound that never heals.
Imagine a man who steals a car and uses this defense, “The car wanted me to take it.” Would you believe him? We cannot be coy with our sons. We will have to be direct.
Do not run next to the swimming pool. Do not play in open fields during lightning storms. Do not rape.
We will have to say these words.
Do not make excuses. I love you, but your actions have meaning. You have a worth that cannot be measured, but your actions have consequences.
I will have to say this to my son.
Do not rape. Do not take. Do not lie. This is why we are all dying inside.
And I will have to say this to my daughter.
You aren’t an animal. Don’t be numb. I love you. You have a worth that cannot be measured. The cage is unlocked. It only feels like we are living in a zoo.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.