I have experienced about 52 major life events in the past month that I want to tell you guys about, and I will, but right now the thought of tackling those topics is so daunting that I can’t even begin. Right now, what I’m feeling in my heart is that I just want to write about my childhood experience with a tapir. So I’m gonna.
For about one week when I was nine, a tapir lived in my neighborhood. It was albino.
“Mom! Dad!” I shouted the first time I saw it peak its little tapir head out from behind a tree in our backyard. “There’s a tapir outside!”
If you were to ask my parents about this, they would say it was not a tapir. They would tell you it was a possum and that I only even knew the word “tapir” because of a recent school unit on South American wildlife.
I may have been nine, but I was not a fool. I knew what a possum looked like. A possum looked like this.
The albino tapir living in my neighborhood looked like this.
I saw the tapir many times that week when I was outside playing. It liked to walk around my yard in broad daylight (very un-possum-like), seemingly not at all bothered by the fact that it had ended up on the wrong continent thousands of miles away from its nearest tapir kin.
I enjoyed his presence and felt that we were friends in some distant sense. My feelings for him were similar to my feelings toward the Santa Clause look-alike homeless man in Iowa City who I see wherever I go; his mere existence was a comfort to me, and if I ever didn’t see him I’d get worried and sad.
And then, on the sixth day, something very bad happened. I saw the tragedy coming from a mile away but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I watched, stunned, as a speeding car ran right over my tapir.
I will never forget the sound of tire rubber hitting tapir. There was a piercingly loud CRUNCH.
I was devastated. I walked over and peered at my poor, flattened tapir. I don’t know how to draw a flattened tapir, but this guy was as flat as a popsicle stick. As flat as my pre-pubescent chest. As flat as a pressed clover.
And now this is where the story starts to get weird.
What happened next can only be explained as a miracle—perhaps the only one I will get to witness on this side of heaven.
The tapir got back up.
He just fucking pulled his shit together and got back up. Just like that, he wasn’t flat anymore. Or injured. He wasn’t even concerned. He was one badass albino tapir if I ever saw one. He just continued crossing the street as he’d intended to before the incident and wandered off into my neighbor’s yard. I never saw him again.
I still have a lot of questions about my tapir friend. Was I the only one who could see him because I was the only one who believed? Did he ever find his way back to South America? Were his bones made of elastic?
I’ll never get to know.
All I’m left with is his memory, which comes rushing back to me every time I hear the loud CRUNCH of chewed cereal, balled up tin foil, or crisp leaves beneath my shoes on a chilly autumn morning.