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A Personal Tidbit About Me for You to Chew On

Journaling a panic attack

By Erin LeonardPublished 2 years ago 12 min read
A Personal Tidbit About Me for You to Chew On
Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

Journal Entry: April 25, 1997

So, here’s about something about me dreaming something about you and something about the world that I was thinking about right before one of my panic attacks, all written down and kept track of—like you told me to do—in a journal. And maybe this makes your job harder, me mixing up dreams with someone else’s reality, but I think your archetype, Carl Jung would approve.

In last Thursday night’s dream, you came to me meowing non-stop as a tri-colored calico instead of a tabby boy with orange stripes. But I knew who you were. And I’m not the psychotherapist here, but it did cross my mind that your meowing was a protest over the erroneous cat color patterns declaring your gender.

To console you, I reached down to give you a pat on the head.

I said, “Now, now, there, being a girl ain’t all that bad.”

The volume of your meowing only got louder, and you started doing cat crazy-eights at my feet, rubbing your three colors, not stripes, against my Armani black pants.

I said, “No no Little Missy, get along now,” and with the tip of my pointed-toe shoe tried to push you away.

But you persevered, meowing, and rubbing, until you had me backed up to the pantry where the small cans of lamb and rice cat food—Naturally Made—is kept.

I said, “Oh, I gottcha now, my King-of-the-Jungle man.”

So, I’m inching down Highway 30 in this morning’s commute, thinking about two zoos. One’s ours, with a new African exhibit— “Gorillas in Our Mist”—an entire three acres of synthesized rainforest that’s advertised on a billboard up above the Chevron oil storage tanks just ahead on this highway, and the other is a zoo in Zaire that I read about in this morning’s paper while munching down bran flakes.

To the latter, allow me to paraphrase:

Daily Tours of the Kisangani Zoo—Zaire

Alfonse used to be a chimpanzee, known to draw crowds because of his monkey abilities to smoke actual cigarettes and chug beer imported from a neighboring African republic. Alfonse’s remains—or most his bones anyway—are kept in his cage, piled perfectly in the center with his skull resting on top.

All the zoo animals are dead. Most by starvation, but sometime back, the practice of sacrificing the docile to the more aggressive started when food became scarce.

It was and is a Darwinian thing.

The keepers still give tours of the zoo and tell those who wander into the quiet grounds of all the funny antics that Alfonse used to do to entertain families and visiting dignitaries in better beer drinking days before the economy collapsed.

“The zoo isn’t closed,” said one keeper, “the zoo is open. There just aren’t any animals.”

The zookeepers swear they never ate any of the animals.

Soldiers ate the elephant.

Nearby townspeople stand accused of stealing the last two monkeys they say were too skinny to eat.

It is unclear what happened to the lions, the camels, the jaguars, and antelope—well maybe not the antelope, considering the food chain thing—but the zookeeper’s stories are questionable since the zookeepers haven’t been paid their salaries in over eight months. Which, in Zaire these days, makes it common for the employed but not compensated to be creative with all assets, doing anything for themselves and their families, they can.

Such as, what happened to Romeo?

Though not the showboat that Alfonse was, Romeo was still a beloved chimpanzee whose disappearance has multiple who-done-it possibilities. Some Keepers swear Romeo escaped from his cage and was instantly shot by a lone gunman, who without explanation ran quickly away. One keeper said, of course they buried Romeo because Romeo was a friend and like family—nobody would ever consider eating him. Other keepers said Romeo tasted good.

All keepers agree on what happened to the crocodile, the last living zoo resident that died yesterday after four months since eating his last meal of two fish. In the long days of his dying, much of the croc’s flesh rotted away. The still edible portions were given to those outside the zoo walls who dined on the carcass that very same day.

Now with the crocodile dead, the twenty-two zookeepers are worried about losing their jobs. Each day the keepers sweep the sidewalks and patios and view areas before the cages without eyes looking out.

The photograph accompanying the story is a shot of two of the keepers. One keeper has his back to the camera, with his arms crossed at the small of his back and in his hands, he holds what looks like a child’s skull, perfectly clean of flesh and stark white. The other keeper faces the camera with hands on his hips and is talking to someone out of the wide-angle view. On this keeper is a t-shirt with a drawing that you can’t make out, but with my map magnifying glass, I try, and it looks an outline of some sort of country or continent floating free inside a circle with sunrays shooting out. The caption underneath is in English—or I see it in English and the words I see are: “THE ANSWER IS UNCLEAR.”

Traffic is stopped—some accident must be ahead—and I’m calm in my Audi listening to my Bose 200/watt sound system play Patti Smith singing…I was dreaming in my dreaming, God know a purer view. As I surrender to my sleeping, I commit my dream to you. The people have the power. The people have the power--and I’m looking at the billboard and thinking—so what was the question?

On the billboard, some jungle-type-stuff like bamboo outlines a background of an unbelievable shade of green and imposed on that unbelievable shade of green is a photograph of big Silverback posed on all fours with some female gorillas sitting back on their haunches some distance behind him. The Silverback is shot in that magic sort of way that whenever you look at the Silverback it seems like the Silverback is looking right back at you in commute.

I say, “Hey there. You must be Coco Puff.”

That’s because the large caption, the first thing you see after the Silverback says: An Evening with Coco Puff. Underneath, in smaller font is a promise of an unforgettable Congo Zoo evening for seventy bucks IF you’re a zoo member—seventy-five if you’re not. An Evening with Coco Puff starts out with a wine and cheese reception in the Congo Learning center where somebody from The Wildlife Conservation Society will lecture about the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force—a coalition watch-dog group who tracks the massacre of elephants and gorillas for ivory and meat in Zaire.

Could be, the word massacre may be abused here, as the killing has been done by a local population desperate for food, which usually when faced with starvation is referred to as hunting. But word choice to describe what is happening in this region by the outside world looking in, has been a sensitive issue for centuries since the first Europeans step foot on the banks of what was then called the Nzere river, but heard it pronounced as Zaire. On this riverbank would begin “the revolution of the institution of slavery” that would prove to be a lucrative world market for the next five centuries.

Massacre is the correct word because the local population is desperate for food, as 1.2 million Rwandan refugees flooded into country three years ago because they feared “an eye for an eye” price for the genocide conducted by clubs, machetes, small arms, and cans of gasoline of 800,000 of their own people—give or take a 100,000.

Then, everyone who was on the outside looking in, was warned of the slaughter months in advance, everyone being the UN and First World nations with the moral obligation to intervene should the “G” word come up but decided instead to describe the event in process as “An exceptional situation happening.”

The outside looking in calls Zaire, “the richest patch of earth on the planet,” because of the billions of dollars already made on extraction of diamonds, cobalt, copper, uranium, and coltan.

Diamonds may say, “I love you,” but a global coltran shortage can cause a manufacturial panic toward the production of the Sony Playstation and ruin Christmas. Congolese uranium was used to build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Congo holds within itself more than 60% of the world’s cobalt, 80% of coltran, and “the world’s largest supply of high-grade copper.”

The despot president of Zaire is Mobutu Seese Seko. In his 30 years in power, he lined his own pockets with billions of dollars from mining of natural resources and milking his good friend, the United States.

The days of splitting time between eleven palaces and a yacht to watch videotapes of old French cartoons are ending for the president. The rebel army is close to overthrowing the government, thanks to the big time help from their Tutsi Rwanda and Ugandan friends.

NASA satellite studies have determined with infrared maps that Zaire’s mineral ores alone are worth $157 billion dollars. The IMF and World Bank are pretty happy how well Rwanda and Uganda’s mineral exports have increased dramatically, even though they don’t have reserves to speak of within their own borders. Rwanda’s coltran production more than doubled, bringing in $20 million dollars of revenue a month. Diamonds jumped 184-fold.

In the next five years another four million people will disappear. Some by combat, many by torture, but most by starvation. Most of these, children.

The smell of rotting corpses permeates the jungle, but most likely, considering this evening with Coco Puff is billed as an enchanted evening and you’ll be eating hors d'oeuvres the half hour lecture won’t get into the exact composition of the forest floor compost.

However, definitely you will learn that just two elephants and one hundred and thirty gorillas were last inventoried in the park, and something soon needs to be done otherwise the “E” word—extinction pops up.

Moments later, be prepared to be whisked away for your individually guided tour with your party of family and friends to the Gorilla in Our Mist exhibit—including a personal introduction to Coco Puff—all happening after regular zoo hours.

Patti Smith still singing…the people have the power. The power to dream to rule. To wrestle the world from fools. It’s decreed the people rule...”–and I’m tapping to the beat of Patti singing with my hand, with my diamond ring clinking against the steering wheel, and I’m thinking, what a bunch of horseshit…a Silverback named Coco Puff and I look back up to the Silverback, only the massive ape isn’t looking back.

The face of Diane is. Little child, baby girl with deep brown eyes looking right into you. Diane, the French name derivative of Diana whose name means “divine—that which is of God,” was born two years ago to a Rwandan mother who tried to abort her but couldn’t because the region is predominately Catholic. Abortion is illegal.

Then too, if you’re a woman, so is inheriting property, accepting a job, opening a bank account, renting, or selling real estate, unless you have your husband’s permission. A woman’s role is to cultivate and be faithful to her husband. Widows are S.O.L.

Diane’s mother did not learn of her husband’s murder or her children’s murders by the swings of a single machete until after a month of being held captive in an abandoned house. A month of being repeatedly raped by many men who kept her tied in a stall in a barn used to milk goats.

Epic poems tell stories of men who kill the enemy then rape the slain foe’s wife for the impregnation to be the ultimate insult.

“My other children were gone so I had to accept this one,” Diane’s mother says to the camera in the documentary, that for life of me I can’t remember the name of— “I have nothing but a child from the men who killed my family,” Diane’s mother said.

Diane’s mother’s people call the thousands of children born from rape, the “devil’s children”

Diane is HIV positive.

Her eyes look into me doing nothing but sitting in traffic looking at her.

Her eyes—which I know if I would just blink and get a grip are the Silverback’s eyes—are eyes like my eyes that at baptism a priest anointed in the sign of the cross so that we may be included into the Mystical body. The story includes the Son of God, at the end of his life nailed to a cross, crying out to his father. In her eyes is the same question. She does not pity herself as one individual wronged and does not ask God—she asks me, sitting in my Audi with Patti Smith singing… for all a continent—for Africa— “Why have you forsaken me?”

My mobile phone starts ringing, and my tapping of my diamond ring stops—I know it’s my husband wanting to know if I’ve made dinner reservations for four tonight at some French restaurant that will sufficiently impress one of the partners of the firm which he expects to someday be a partner of. Tonight, at dinner I’m NOT to say anything about anything because I have a habit of addressing questions that nobody’s asking--and that’s when the trembling starts, even though with both hands I’m holding tight to the steering wheel, and I look back up to the Silverback looking at me unable to take my hand away from the steering wheel to pick up the phone. Inside my chest, my heart is the size of my side-by-side Whirlpool refrigerator pounding as loud as the guy right behind me can honk his SUV horn and shout: MOVE YOUR FUCKING CAR, YOU STUPID BITCH!

The lamb of the cat food made your breath stink. But I couldn’t resist you in your three colors instead of orange and white stripes. Something soft and cute and completely devoted to me.

I said, “Oh, you’re such a mixed-up cutie-pie,” and reached down to pick you up before you were finished eating your bowl of soft food.

Claws extended; you took a swipe at my going down hand.


You crouched down with a slow growl, and then, in one coiled motion, sank your sharp teeth into the palm of my hand, ripping across the line that boasts of a long and prosperous life.

Short Story

About the Creator

Erin Leonard

As a writer, I enjoy writing short stories, screenplays, and poems.

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