by Kendra L
Part 1 - In the beginning
Part 2 - Monkey settles in
Part 3 - Monkey gets a name
Part 4 - Mischief by any other name
Part 5 - Dining with Ms. Manners
Part 6 - Driving Ms. Mischief
Part 7 - The season is now
Part 8 - Uncle IRA
Part 9 - The prince of peace
Climbing out of my cast iron bed, sticky and hot shouldn't have been the greatest way to greet the morning. But this was the time in my life when I was too young to understand the inevitability of my future and too intoxicated with the world around me to care. I threw on my denim shorts and ran a brush haphazardly through my auburn, waist-length hair and dashed out the door, snatching at my van keys as I flew through the door. That Alabama sun was already scorching the grass under my feet. And for once I was glad I had slipped into shoes instead of running out the door barefoot.
It was Saturday; freedom, fresh air and playtime. My morning wouldn't consist of anything more taxing than picking thorough trinkets and baubles at the Lacon Flea Market. I did my usual lazy stroll through the aisles, looking at nothing particular and yet taking in every glorious thing. The closer I got to the back aisles, the faster I usually went, nothing holding my attention for long. Pacing myself, trying hard to hold back as long as I could, for the whole backside of the market was nothing but animals. Sad eyed mules, bony backed horses, fat bellied puppies and a hundred squawking chickens. You name it and someone had it for sale. This part of the flea market was my heaven on earth, my Garden of Eden, including the snake. My hands patted, rubbed, groomed and preened every wiggly, whining, meowing, crowing critter in its path. And my heart went out to each and every set of sad eyes I encountered.
Then I saw it, in a rickety old chicken wire cage, tied to the top of a rusted, dilapidated station wagon, the most pitiful excuse for a monkey I had ever seen. I tried to reign in my excitement for surely this exotic beast, even as pitiful as it looked was way out of my means. I approached the vehicle slowly, my eyes locked on the frighten brown ones peering from between the rusty, jagged wire. When I found my voice, the only words I could croak out, was "how much?" When my astonished ears heard that the price named was within my means, (if I cleaned out my entire checking account), I knew this rag-tag, mangy-hair, potbelly beast would be mine. I hurriedly ask if they could hold on long enough for me to get to the front and have the owners cash my check. Thank God, my uncle was the owner and would do this huge favor. I had to seal the deal before anyone else saw this beauty. Yes, you heard it right, this little girl, as I soon discovered it was a she, was a beauty, because she was soon to be mine.
I returned with the money held tightly in trembling hands and giddily gave it all to them. Through the whole transaction never once did it occur to me, how little I knew about raising a monkey. I mean I had raised all of my younger brothers after my mother left, so how much harder could this be? Now that the money had changed hands and my rightful ownership established, I began to ask questions. I discovered she was a spider monkey and possibly 4 or 5 years old. She didn't have a name except Monkey. Feeling kind of charitable now, they did volunteer that she did bite sometimes. And from the scarred look of a couple of their arms, I would say more than a few times.
In their Hillbilly, nasal voices, they laughingly told me about the time cousin Joe shot at her with his gun. They belly laughed as they told me how drunk she got on beer. Like knowledgeable keepers they boastfully explained how she didn't cost all that much too feed cause all she ate was peanuts.
The adult and child in me battling it out, as I fought the urge to slap their stupid faces. The adult winning, when I realized I still needed their help in unloading her from the wagon and loading the cage into my van.
The ride home became extremely unnerving as her shrill screams echoed around the van. For Monkey had started screaming and running side to side, as soon as they started unloading her and had continued on after they loaded her into my van. In desperation, I pulled off on the nearest dirt road. Crouching eye-level on the floor, I started talking to her in that soft, crooning voice we use to comfort scared puppies and crying babies. Not forcing her space or trying to touch her, but using that universal, mama-talk that all babies, large or small recognize. Her scream became ragged, sobby noises. My heart constricting as I wondered what her life had been like before? I looked closer into her limpid, amber eyes, I knew I didn't need to know. I just knew that no matter whatever horrors came before, would never come again. She was home, both physically and in my heart. Someday, somehow I would find a way to replace that frightened look etched deep in her little face. Those worried brows would loose their stiff lines and learn how to raise themselves in delight and joyful laughter, if I had anything at all to say about it.
That drive seemed like the longest of my young life. Twenty-five miles over twisting, serpentine, dirt roads with a frightened, wailing monkey voicing her dismay at every turn. It wasn't long before a rather pungent odor assaulted my nostrils and sent them quivering in defense. But even this unpleasant aroma couldn't dampen my enthusiasm for the fragile, little monkey gal in the back of my van. I just held my breath and drove between breaths. Alternating between gasping for breath and a huge smile plastered on my face probably made me look like some kind of serial killer to the motorists I met, but in my delirium I was oblivious to it all.
Driving home with Monkey, was the cumulation of all my dreams. I fell in love with my first monkey when I was a gawky nine years old. One had just been delivered to our local neighborhood pet store. Thirty-five years later, I can not remember what kind it was. But I do remember my heart lurched as I leaned over that crate and peered into the cutest little baby face in the world. I stood stone still, in shocked surprise when the owner told me that real people could actually buy one. I remember talking all kinds of silly, babbling baby talk to it, watching it's little face and just about dying when it reached it's tiny little arms out to me. I was hooked right then and there. I turned to my poor daddy and started begging and pleading to let me have it. I wanted it more than anything I could ever remember wanting. But the reality of living in a dirt-poor family with seven kids, is the reality that such expensive and unnecessary things are always beyond your reach. But it didn't stop my yearning or my dreaming.
Driving home that day with Monkey in my van, I could have died and I would not have cared, for I had reached an euphoric high that can only come from ones' wishes being granted when least expected or almost forgotten. With the help of my curious and willing neighbors, the unloading and settling in of her cage went fairly smooth. But, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that that ratty, dilapidated cage had to go. I called my cabinetmaker neighbor to come see my new baby. And while he was there I started wheeling and dealing on the price for a new cage. He started taking measurements and we discovered if I moved everything out of my 14 x 14 dining room, I could fit a perfect cage in there. After a little more discussion he told me he would also build me an outdoor cage for her to use on pretty days. After settling the caging question, I was ready to move on to other problems. How to set about finding out what she liked and didn't like? Food? That was the next area to tackle. Her coat (what there was of it) was dull, and her belly bulged (and it didn't seem to be from good food either). As I pondered what I had and what she might like, I decided on some apples, leftover meatloaf and some juicy white grapes. I sliced the apples into pieces small enough to fit through the chicken wire.
If I had any real guts I guess I would have opened the door and placed the food in her cage like a civilized person. But honestly, I was too afraid of what she might do if I tried opening the door. Would she bite me, dash out the door and run away, would she tear the door from my hands and refuse to go back in the cage? I had no idea what she might do and no experience in reading monkey faces. My dream was for her to come running to me, jump into my arms, her arms around my neck, like one of those mushy, romantic commercials. But the distrust I saw in her intelligent, amber eyes spoke volumes. The watchfulness in her eyes, the ramrod stiff way she held her body was a clear message in any language, she would not be jumping into my arms anytime soon. Common sense won out over fantasy and I dropped the food through the wire and backed away. She wouldn't meet my eyes head on, but I could see her watching everything I did, from out of the corner of her sad ones. When I backed away from the door, pretending to be busy with other things, she came forward. Gently lifting each and every thing to her nose to test it's smell I suppose. The quizzical looks she gave the meatloaf was comical, it was clear she had never seen nor smelt a food such as this before. I watched with silent wonder at the diversified expressions playing across that monkey face, as she sampled each item. I watched almost appalled as she gather it all up into her arms, dashing to the corner with it, as though some demon would soon be back to take it all away. She was almost choking as she stuffed food in her mouth as fast as she could. She was so terrified that she was quivering as she crammed her face full. My own fear almost overpowering me, as I stood there afraid that she would choke herself to death and helpless to stop her feeding frenzy. Well one thing was clear, I would need to introduce everything to her a little slower and in smaller amounts next time.
When she first started eating her food, I was more intent on if she was going to try the food and what I might need to do if she hurt herself or refused to eat. I was so intent on this facet of her care that I had not begin to notice anything about her physical being, like how she carried her self or how erect she held her body. Without noticing these things, I still sensed something was a little out of kilter, something I couldn't quite pinpoint. But when she moved back across the cage, gathering all the lose pieces that she had dropped in her mad dash, I began to realized what was wrong. She did not walk upright but half scooted herself along the bottom of the wire cage. Now I wasn't an experienced monkey keeper by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could not remember seeing monkeys at the zoo or on TV moving in this way. In fact, it seemed that the ones that were not swinging themselves through the trees, were if not walking upright or least walking semi-upright on their knuckles. I nudged the drawers in my mind and could not ever recall seeing a single monkey scooting around, even the babies seemed to have at the least crawled.
After mulling it over in my mind, I decided to call my vet and ask his opinion. After his laughter abated, he said this one had to be the craziest pet I had sprung on him yet. This country vet never had a dull moment with my crew as his patients. He had over the years treated my skunks, snakes, turtles, parrots, caiman and opossums. And though he fancied himself a jack of all animals, he said this one might be a little out of his league. But he knew I would not rest or let him have any peace until he found me someone, so he volunteered to call around and see if he could find someone to see her. Even with my limited information and his limited primate knowledge he knew that we needed to be doing something to improve her lot. So he suggested I give her some of my dog vitamins, you know the ones that looked more like horse pills than anything else.
In the mean time, I loaded my weary self up and headed for the library and our local pet store. Neither which had anything worth while on monkeys as pets. But the library did at least have some basic books on monkeys, so I checked out an armload and headed home for some serious studying.
When I got home the first thing I offered her was one of these wonderful doggy vitamins, you know the kind all the doggies love, or so my vet says. She smelled it, turned it around and around, took one bite and spit it on the floor. So the next order of business was some good old kid's vitamins that smelled good and tasted even better, not that I would know. Anyway those she ate two of. I figured as poor of condition as she was in, two would heal her faster.
I started looking around her cage and noticed she did not have a blanket and she seemed to be shivering. So I rounded up some of Kenneth's old baby blankets and stuffed a couple through her wire. She totally ignored them, but latter when I came back through the room, she was sitting on one and the other was draped over her thin shoulders. Yet even with two blankets, she was still shivering, her skinny form just trembling. I felt a lump the size of a tennis ball in my throat, I wanted so hard to take her out and hold her, until she felt warm and loved. But years of animal rescue had taught me to respect their space. So back to the animal closet I went, I pulling out a reflector lamp. This I set up on one end of the cage so she could decide how warm she wanted to be. On my next trip through the room, both she and her blankets were under it. Mission accomplished, she was fed, warm and not screaming. I guess that was as good as I could hope for on the first day in her new home.
With the night settling rapidly upon the house, and the other creatures living there starting their nighttime bedding sounds, I decided to take one last look at her before retiring myself. She seemed settled and as content as she could be under the circumstances. So I reached up and turned off the room lights, standing in the doorway for quite a while, just watching her sleepy eyes drooping and listening to her soft little ooh noises. The lamp gave off a cozy glow in the darkness and cast tiny shadows on the sharp planes of her face. Both sleep and shadows softening the harden lines on her face, until she looked like a hundred other babies, safe in bosom of their families, the world over. Time, was going to be the one thing we both needed and the hardest to live with. After all the years of waiting, the child in me wanted to play with my new playmate. The mother in me just wanted to mother her and make all the bad memories go away. But the realist in me knew that it wouldn't be that easy or that quick and if I moved too fast I could destroy the trust we both so badly needed. I knew with time you could move mountains, build bridges and mend one poor little monkey's body and soul. The realist won, time it would be!!!!!
My vet though diligently searching, still had not located a knowledgeable primate vet in our one-horse town or anyplace close by. So after much backward and forward discussion, we decided the best course of action would be to improve her diet and see what happened from there. I added citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, pastas, melons, and chicken, in fact I tried to give her a diet as close to our's as possible. I figured that a primate was about as close to human as you could get, so common sense ruled here. Each time I fed I tried extending the food from my hand to her's. On the days she wouldn't take my offerings, I just pulled the old wooden rocker close to her cage and waited while she ate. Sometimes I talked love-talk to her, sometimes I just shared the silence. But, day by day, week by week Monkey started coming closer and closer to me. Not always scooting away when I tried touching her. Sometimes looking me in the face, with the most questioning look, as if to ask "who are you, will you hurt me too?" Then the red-letter day came; I was reaching for her as she was reaching out to touch me. Her hands were gentle and questing, more like she was trying to find out who I was by touch. I sat as still as possible, though my heart was racing a hundred miles an hour, as she moved her hands over my hands, arms and then onto my face. The sounds she made were gentle ooohhs and she pursed her lips as she studied me. We had finally crossed that first bridge of trust. She wanted to be closer to me and I knew I was aching to be closer to her. So I threw common sense and caution to the wind, closed all the doors, removed the lock and chain, and left her cage door partly ajar. Cautious, amber eyes watching my every movement. Her door now standing ajar, she approached with a slow, unanxious movement, very nonchalantly. Eyeing the door like it might bite her and then extending first one arm, then her foot, out the door she came. There was no running or jumping, or screaming just a slow, timid, scooting approach. The weeks of better food and vitamins had clearly improved her coat, and she had fleshed out some. But her muscles were weak and almost useless from lack of use. The fact that she used them to scoot and move around somewhat told me they were still functional, if I could get her to exercise them. I waited for her to approach and when she did she placed her hand in mine, I about died. I sat there and made my poor-baby sounds and then I took her hand and helped her up into my lap. Not once did she act like she shouldn't be there and when she settled in, we sat with my arms wrapped around her and hers holding on to me and we just rocked. I rocked, talked and cried, tears streaming down my face. Every once in a while she would look up at me, this glimmer of a love light there and I would just about burst. We spent our evening just rocking and cuddling until her eyes got droopy, then without a sound she climbed down, scooted to her cage, got her blanket and laid down to sleep.
Day by day we worked on her strength. I dusted off the old baby pull toys, the noisy bubble walker and the clanking big wheel. Each one selected in the hopes that it might make her curious enough to try standing or pulling herself up. Each new toy shared with her in hopes that it would light those sparkling, amber eyes up. I was entranced by her excitement and her ability to find enjoyment in the most mundane things. Since she was a monkey I thought a plush, brown, stuffed monkey would be a toy to die for. So in my naiveté, I presented it to her, a treasure laid before a queen. And just like royalty she chunked into a corner, given me clearly disdainful looks. My lowly self clearly got the message and the next offering was a darling baby doll, all dressed in pink ruffles, long blond ringlets and soft pink lips. She gave me a look that clearly asked "what was I thinking offering a stuffed monkey to this little lady?" This doll was held clutched to her chest as she chirped her happy sounds.
In time, she started to crawl better, using her legs a little more. But still I wanted more out of life for her. On this particular sunny day, I had stopped at a roadside flea market and found a little girl's kitchen set; pink sink, stove and refrigerator, complete with dishes. Just the thing all modern monkey girls needed. I set it up in her play area and in what seemed like mere moments, she was banging the metal dishes around, putting shiny, silver pots on her head and just being silly. The mischief dancing from her large, chestnut eyes and then it hit me like a bolt of lightening, her name shouldn't be "Monkey", that was too boring and obvious. As she played with total abandon, now the true monkey girl was shinning through. Her absolute delight in her playthings and life itself, her sprite-like facial expressions and happy chatterings demanded a different name, her name would be "Mischief". I called it softly and then a little more firmly and she lifted up her head and just grinned at me. Yeap, I think she liked it too.
But this was to be another milestone, another red-letter day in our lives. While I was saying Mischief this and Mischief that, she was pulling herself up to reach all the neat knobs on the sink and stove. Granted her legs were shaky and not very strong, and she sat back down quicker than she got up. The length of the stand didn't matter at all, what mattered was she had wanted something bad enough to stand and reach for it. I knew that was only the beginning of things to come for she and I!!!! It was like that song "the future was so bright, we would need sunglasses."
I know many people object to monkeys being treated like human babies. Trussed into baby diapers and cute, starched, frilly clothes; paraded around like elaborate circus freaks on public display. But twenty years ago there was no firm rule book for raising children, much less one for raising a monkey in the home. In fact, when you watch the way they react to things like a loving hug with a hug in return, with anger when denied something, with jealous when having to share, it hard to not label them with human emotions and human wants and needs. When she sat and gazed at me with love and adoration in her eyes, when she threw those long spider arms around me, I felt many of the same emotions I had felt with my own young son, bonding my heart to hers in much the same way. Mother nature gave us the ability to love unequivocally. That blessed ability to love is why so many people can foster or adopt children of a race not their own, or handicapped children. To be able to take in and love the wounded souls in our society. Mother nature in her gracious bestowing of loving hearts, did not tell us to go forth and love only our own kind. And like many before me and many after me, I fell helplessly in love with this non-human child. This free loving jungle monkey-child, gave as much love in return as she received.
So with electrifying anticipation we dove head-first into each new adventure with Mischief. The world became such a breathtaking smorgasbord of experiences. Seeing the wonder in her sparkling chestnut eyes made me want to give her it all on a huge, silver platter. I tried to pace our adventures, l tried to take things slower, but if a new experience caused her to offer no objection it became an open-door invitation to try something else.
Having no other ruler to measure by, I pulled out that old mommy ruler again and decided if some human children love to be dressed up and strut their stuff in front of company, would a monkey kid love showing off? So next experiment, clothes, will she or won't she? I tried gently handling her arms and legs, massaging them with my finger tips to see how she responded. When she offered no resistance, I progressed to trying on her my son's old cloth diapers. She didn't seem to care and when they got messy she would tug and pull on them, so diaper training was a breeze. Next step was trying on my four-year-old son's outgrown clothes. Yes, you heard me right, I broke one of the cardinal rules of monkdom, I brought a grown female monkey into my home, with a young child. I would not have attempted to do that, if I had known what I know now. I can not make excuses for myself, except to say I sincerely didn't know any better. I took her in and loved her with honest, heart-felt emotions and good intentions. But I feel now, that mixing very young children with adult monkeys is not the wisest thing I could have done. I feel I took unnecessary risks with my son's life and took the further risk of my monkey being put down if she had bitten him. But I had no idea what a monkey attack could be like, no idea the damage those teeth could do in mere moments in anger or sometimes just pure jealousy. I was a firm believer in the old saying that love could mend broken heart and I lived by this belief. Thank God common sense still prevailed over youthful, fantasy, happy-ever-afters, for I never once left them alone, and the door to Mischief's room had a padlock on it. Common sense played an even further role in my mixing of the two, in that the darling Ms. Mischief was never allowed out without a leash and my undivided supervision.
But I digress, we ventured into real clothing next and not once did she udder a protest. Maybe someone had dressed her in her earlier life, because she was an absolute sweetie about it. Having a boy child and never dreaming we would progress this far, I was unprepared to dress a little girl monkey and so used the clothing at hand. Dressing Mischief in a pair of corduroy pants (rolled up of course) and a hooded sweatshirt. She set there looking like a corduroy angel, the picture of childlike innocence. The only visible objections I got from her highness, was 1) that my son was not allowed to play with whatever she had at the time or claimed as belonging to her, 2) nor could he sit on the same side of me as she was sitting. She would react with a bouncing, screaming fit. These objections fits came in the form of loud, ear-splitting screams backed by impressively vivid facial expressions. In fact vivid enough that my young son, got the message and made the adjustments himself. Even more impressive was the fact he never once protested Mischief having the older bully, sister position in the house. In the early years with these few minor adjustments, we lived semi peacefully. Child, mother and monkey.
Day by day brought about the continued sharing of our wondrous human world and Mischief's continued lessons on monkey rules and monkey intelligence. In fact I had no idea the extent of a monkeys intelligence until one day I found that I had misplaced the padlock key to her cage, so I sat there frustrated, picking the lock with a bobbie pin. A neat little trick my military father taught me years ago. I knew she had her nosey, little eyes right down lock level, watching my every move, but after opening it, I never gave the deed another thought. Then came the day I arrived home from work and saw the curtains moving in my bay window. A face appearing, then disappearing, the curtains fluttering gently, as though touched my dainty, fairy hands. Wondering momentarily whose elfin face I had glimpsed at that window? Then I shook my head, sure that the vision I had witnessed only briefly was just that, a vision created by a tired mind. Upon entering my home, that vision sprang to life in the form of one Ms. Mischief. Nonsensical, monkey chatter, greeted me at the door, dressed as a workday princess in one of my suit jackets, sleeves dragging the ground. Her smug, little, ebony face wearing a kaleidoscope of makeup. Some kind of horror-show harlot, made up with crooked lips and vivid colors. I was almost beside myself holding my sides as I belly laughed at her charades. She danced around the room, one proud, joyful monkey. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should have be so flattered, for she was me. Though I was less than impressed when I got a good look at my bathroom and found she had made lip prints all over the mirror. And found that demons from hell had finger painted their graffiti all over my porcelain sink and ivory, flocked walls. But she was just so proud of herself I could not stay angry with the little imp, monkey laughing at me in the hall.. But I will admit I was puzzled at how she had gotten out, as I always double checked the cage door, before I left. As I walked back down the hall, monkey maiden holding my hand tightly in her's. I thought back to the night before and remembered her laying on her sleep pillow, her tiny hand tucked under it. Since that was her hiding place for treasures, I had not thought too much about it, just thinking she had stolen another toy or some other little trinket and hidden it there. But when I discovered a bobbie pin stuck in the lock and the lock picked, I also figured out the identify of her unknown treasure. I stood there amazed, thinking someone tell me, she had not taken, hidden and then plotted this escape? Please, tell me Ms. Houdini was not capable of planing a full out escapade such as this? I was so immensely impressed that I could not even begin to punish her for her daring little escape, after all in the monkey world, she had to be a near genius. Mischief the wonder monk!!!!! What had I gotten myself into and what was I raising here? Now I had two geniuses to worry about, for my son had tested with a 140 IQ at 3 and now my monkey girl seemed to be a budding prodigy herself. Bring out those sunglasses, the future was even brighter, but this time make them rhinestone. After all class begets class, and we couldn't be seen as just ordinary folks with these two, could we?
For the most part Mischief and her winning ways were easily woven into the fabric of our lives. She became as important to us as we were to her. Everyday brought new horizons and new experiences, each milestone a stepping stone for the next experience. Even during her worst fits, fears and fights, I tried to understand what made her react and then learn to work around either her reaction to an event or thing, or to limit her exposure to said event or thing.
I know she never truly got over her fear of being without food for she still hoarded whenever possible. When I brought groceries home she would race to the table, little monkey hands into everything. Trying to touch, taste and swipe everything all at once. If she got her hands on it, she had to take a bite of it. In fact once it included her taking a bite out of every potato in the sack. Each potato sporting fresh little monkey bites in each one, bitten then tossed away. I was not too impressed by her grocery help and made a note that in the future she did not need to be in the kitchen when I put away groceries.
One day I had some friends from work over. They already thought my animal rescuing was an insane thing to be involved in. And they made it clear that they could not for the life of them figure out why I would want to have a "filthy" monkey living in my home. Keeping this in mind, I though introducing them to Mischief in her home, while she was being a semi good girl, would if not entice them into wanting one of their own, might at least let them understand how loving and endearing they can be.
I dressed Mischief in her Sunday best, a crinoline, lacey dress with matching panties covering her diapered bottom. I scrubbed her adorable little face and made sure she smelled Johnson baby fresh. While she hated baths and would fight like a demon to avoid one. She never once protested a wash cloth being used on her body, and even allowed warm soapy water used on her. I added a spritz of roses cologne and laughed as she pat it into her coat and then sat there preening and primping.
I spent the rest of the day, cooking homemade lasagna, using four kinds of cheeses and simmering the sauce all day. I had even gone so far as to hand make the pasta hoping to impress them with my Betty Crocker feats. When the lasagna was finished, I placed it the refrigerator to cool. Ms. Mischief was played with her doll and eyed me every once in a while, but made no move to get into anything, being an absolute angel. When I turned from the table to the sink, to clean up the cooking mess, she promptly went to the refrigerator, opened the door and ran her greedy little hands down into the lasagna. She chirped as she pulled out a big, stringy, glob of gooey cheese and dripped an enormous splattery mess on the floor. Now, no matter how clean your kitchen is, no matter how neat you keep your monkey; no one wants to share his or her food with one. The astonished gasps I heard from the front room told me we had not impressed our company with our Ms. Manners act. In fact I was pretty sure if I had fed them lasagna for dinner, even if I had removed the parts she had handled, they would have gagged, their stomachs in revolting protest. So my fancy dinner entrée ended up being replaced by takeout pizza. I will confess to being a spiteful monkey mother as I served her highness lasagna for next three or four meals. In fact the last time I tried she just smelled it, turned her back and ignored me. Feeling just a tad guilty I relinquished and got her something else to eat. Well you win some and lose some.
The next time Ms Mischief was introduced to someone, it was under less than ideal circumstances. My living room had a step up alcove with beveled, French windows and frilly, lace curtains; sitting in front of it was my love seat. Mischief had the dreadful habit of playing hide and seek when strangers came over and one of her favorite places was under the curtains, behind the love seat. So when company came in, she usually scooted there until she deemed it safe to come out. Behind the love seat sat a fifty-gallon aquarium on a custom oak stand, housing two enormous Mexican iguanas, Pandora and Octavius Agustus. On the left wall stood a massive wall to ceiling bookcase looking piece of furniture, that was in actuality, a custom built snake box, housing boas and pythons; Charmaine, Gabrielle, Mahayia and Bartholomew. These boxes were padlocked, enclosed with Plexiglas fronts, and kept covered whenever Mischief was out and about. The area separating the kitchen from the living room had another fifty-gallon aquarium that housed a rebellious three-ft. caiman, named Cuddles. So to anyone even the least squeamish about reptiles this was crawling nightmare come to life.
Anyway this evening a girl friend of mine dropped by to visit and her new boyfriend was with her. She had for some reason forgotten to tell him about the mélange of animals I lived with. This young man came in and as she introduced us, began to look around with huge eyes. Though he couldn't see the snakes in detail, their backlit bodies were outlined behind the sheets as they slithered purposely round their cages. The caiman thrashing and splashing in his watery domain, looking more like a menace than a pet. Then to top it all off as he took his seat in the love seat, he spotted the iguanas lashing their tails around, hissing with dewlaps flared. They were hissing at Mischief who loved to torment them, but he had no earthly idea of this. So he sat on the edge of his seat, hands trembling and his voice quaking as he tried to make small talk to what was obviously a crazy person.
The mother to the dragons of hell and Medusa's crew. Then Mischief decided it was time to introduce herself and the way she loved best to do this, was to snake a hand out from behind the love seat and feel your face. Well I am not sure if he thought one of the snakes had gotten out and was coiling around him, or that he feared an even more menacing demon lived behind the couch, like a distant relative of Nessie or Bigfoot. But when that ebony hand closed over his face, he jumped straight up, screaming and running for the door. His date left forgotten, still sitting on the couch. The last we saw of him was his taillights as he squalled out of my driveway, rounding the corner, nearly on two wheels. Both of us sat looking at each other in stunned silence and then laughter over took us, as tears streamed down our face, it was one of those Candid Camera moments and no one had a camera. I do know that he never called her again and to this day I have no idea what he thought had him. I sure hope the tales he tells are not of evil things that live behind my sofa. I am sure at least that he didn't report me for having aliens in my house, as no FBI agents ever came knocking.
The day finally came when I was brave enough to try a car trip with Mischief. I had to wrestle her into her play clothes (corduroys and hooded sweatshirt), she was so antsy. I was sure she felt my excitement and was just reacting to it. So I tried deep breathing, slowing my actions down and lower my voice an octave or so. I pulled her up into my lap and gently put her leather, monkey muzzle on, something we had been practicing at home for awhile. She was eyeing me cautiously, as I took her leash down from the wall hook. When I hooked it to her collar she took hold of her collar with one hand, the other hand tightly clenching my other hand, with her strong, limber tail wrapped tightly around my arm for extra safety. She walked tentatively out the door with me, her enormous, amber eyes darting everywhere at once. Upon reaching the car, I stretched around her and opened the door . She nearly broke my hand bounded into the car, dragging me behind her. We could not shut that door quick enough. Once I got her situated in the baby seat in the front seat and helped my son into the back seat we were ready to ride. I will say she was a trooper for she took it all in stride.
Our first stop was the drive through at the bank. At first I thought nothing of the funny looks the bank tellers were giving me, until one kind of leaned over and gave me a decidedly dirty look. As I started to drive off I started wondering what that dirty look had been about. But with a youngster and monkey in the car, I didn't have time to worry myself too hard about it. I counted my change and found she had given me two suckers, so I gave Mischief a cherry one (first of course, monkey-rules) and a grape one to my blonde hair, blue eyed son. As they sat happily slurping on their suckers, I began to mull over the attitude problem the teller seemed to have. I know she had leaned over to look at Mischief, but neither teller had made a sound, not even the "oh how cute" one. As I drove, I looked over at Mischief to see if she appeared to be doing anything disgusting or vile, but she looked innocence enough, sucking on her sucker; her tiny, black, baby, face peering out from her hood; and then it hit me, black, baby face!!! Half hidden from view by my lily-white body, shadows further distorting what they thought they saw in their tinted glass enclosure. Now remember this was Birmingham Alabama, in the early1970's, the heart of prejudice and bigotry, and here I was proudly sporting around town, what appeared to be a black baby boy. I didn't know whether to drive back and laugh in their faces or to curse them out. Upon further reflection I decided it just wasn't worth it, what did it matter what they thought anyway. After all they didn't know me anyway, I would just make future deposits further down the road from now on.
Our next trip out in the car was on a dazzling summer day. The birds chirping, the bees buzzing and the yards we drove past ablaze with brilliant colors. A sun-kissed day God made just for playtime. I had chosen the middle of the day as our time out. A time I felt prime for playing with Mischief without a number of question asking spectators making her nervous. When we climbed out of the car I could smell the pine trees and honeysuckle, their scents tantalizing in the warm, summer breeze. The trees alive with bustling squirrels and birds fluttering to and fro. I kicked off my shoes so I could feel the prickly grass tickle my feet. Hand in hand we three sauntered across the park. Mischief was almost skipping in her excitement, little black feet dancing on the lush grass.
I spotted my favorite, the merry-go-round and lead them there first. I seated my son and then climbed aboard with Mischief. I sat there, hanging my feet off, as I used them to push us slowly around. Mischief had by then climbed into my lap and was hugged me, her mouth open as she made soft little wooh wooh sounds. Both of them big eyed, with huge smiles plastered on their faces. My son started begging to go to the slide, so off we hopped. But when I tried climbing up with her, she climbed straight into my arms and began chattering up a storm. Clearly she did not want to play on the slide, so I eased us back down. When our feet were firmly on the ground, we watched brother dear come whooshing down. Sucking air and laughing in ecstasy. Then I spied the jungle gym and thought what more appropriate place to play with her than on the monkey bars. This particular set was in the shape of a Viking ship, complete with some kind of grimacing gargoyle face on it. We began our climb and Mischief though somewhat timid, followed close enough behind me that if I had stopped suddenly, she would have been kissing my hinny. Until we got about five feet off the ground and then she started screaming, thrashing and refusing to go any higher. I could not believe it, I had a monkey afraid of heights. So like a dummy I trying coaxing her into going higher and she just became more frantic. Resigned I followed her back down, almost losing my footing as she scampered down, dragging me behind. As we passed the front of the ship, she let out one great ear-splitting scream and leaped into my arms, arms clenching at me frantically and her head buried into my neck. What in the heck was that all about? Then I saw what had frightened her, what had caused all the commotion, that dang, ugly, grinning, gargoyle face. No wonder she had freaked, it looked like some madman's fantasy, not a plaything for children.
After those first excursions I felt pretty safe in taking her out on short trips. We began to broaden our experiences, sometimes just riding around and looking at sights. I even took them to see the Christmas lights. The city a sea of twinkling lights, both sat entranced and mesmerized by the wonder of it all. Mischief pursing her little lips and smacking her kissy faces at me, seeming to thoroughly enjoy herself.
Then one day while out doing our Sunday driving, the interstate unusually full for a Sunday, Mischief took it into her head that she should be allowed to drive. She climbed over her seat, into my lap, putting both wiry little hands and both dexterous feet on my wheel, wrapping her limber tail around my gearshift and proceeded to help!! Her help had us swerving all over the highway, as I fought for control. Until this time, I had no idea how strong one little monkey could be, or how stubborn. We fought for what seemed like hours but was probably not more than a few minutes, as my son screamed from the back seat. I saw the wild-eyed looks the other drivers gave me, as a struggling woman and a screaming monkey wrestling and swerved all over the crowed highway. I finally had no choice but to steer to the side of the interstate and cut the engine. Exhausted and more than a little frightened. Reality hitting me when I realized that in the compact's tight quarters, I had been unable to remove her Herculean self from the wheel. This was a horrible reality check, that both amazed and frightened me. After raised voices, threats and a couple well-aimed swats to her behind, I got her situated back in her seat. Though she sat there clearly sulking, at least it seemed she was going to sit there and behave. Hands shaking I entered the traffic again and started toward home, as I glanced every once in a while over at her crossed arms and sulky face. As I drove I guess her anger grew, for in a mere minute, she moved her muzzle to one side, crossed her seat and bit me hard on the arm. She then placed her muzzle back in place and returned to her seat. I sat stunned, blood running down my arm, as she looked at the window, now clearly ignoring me. She had know all along how to remove that dang monkey muzzle and had been smart enough to never let me know it.
We drove on in silence, totally thunderstruck. Both of us just a little bit wiser about our rightful places in this family. My mother/master's position not as clearly defined as before. Myself humbled in the knowledge that I had done the ultimate wrong thing with a primate, I had let her witness my fear. In fact the fear had been so strong in that car, as we played the death-race ballet, that I am sure she didn't have to see it, she had only to smell it. When we arrived home, the first thing I did was confine her to her cage, both of us physically and emotionally exhausted by today's ordeal. Later that evening I sat alone in my rocking chair, knees drawn up under my chin, tears sliding down my cheeks, as I contemplated what had happened. The bite she had given me was deep and hurt like hell, about one and one half inches across and a good one half inch deep. An ugly, jagged, gash that explained in no uncertain terms what those canines were for. If I couldn't decide anything else right now, I did know one thing for sure, I would not have both her and my son in the car at the same time, until I knew I could trust her.
The next couple of years blend in my memories as a kaleidoscopic collage of living. A collage of love, laughter and learning. The now of our existence seemed like it could go on forever, but as we all know, bliss is but a fleeting phase in both childhood and monkeyhood. Rampageous hormones will bring on personality changes in the monkey world, that can only be described as the after phase of a bomb explosion. Once you steel yourself for that reality, your little time bomb, will defuse itself into the proud proprietress of the most adorable little angel face ever know to man. But thankfully these changes are gradual and allow you some adjustment time for the roller coaster ride of being a monkey parent. I see now in retrospect, if I had some knowledgeable friends or more experience myself, I could have recognized the mounting problems sooner and maybe saved myself a few of the headaches.
Mischief had started pushing me ever so slightly, but it was never enough to make a huge issue over. She would try and pull the legs off the hermit crabs, grunting and tugging and just being a horrible pest to the scurrying little fellows. Or she would push her bony little fingers through the cage bars and tug hardly on the multicolored feathers of the squawking parakeets and cockatiels. Even though she knew doing these things would bring an immediate scolding, she seemed intent on doing them anyway. When I scolded, her response was to cut her eyes sideways at me and to continue what she was doing. The only way I could tell she had heard me, was by the frantic pace at which she started doing the forbidden deed. Her activity would take on whirlwind mode until she saw me starting toward her, then she would jump up and run around the room, playing catch me if you can. My noes were met with frenzied head shakes and unmistakable refusals.
At first I thought these more games than willfulness, but her games continued to get more physical. Her face a study in absolute concentration, as she scrunched it up, tongue hanging from the side and quick as a flash pinching the Chihuahua until she responded in a pitiful sounding yelp. She began to swagger boldly, in that bowlegged gunfighter walk that spiders have perfected, down the hall. Like a drunken ex-husband she would slam her bony fists soundly against my son's door, a wooden kettle drum, echoing it’s distress to the world at large. Zestfully barging into his bedroom (a place she had never been allowed before). Chanting her nonsensical simian chatter, shrieking her indignant protests, until she made him cower in fear. From there we progressed to gentle little hair pulling and playful pinching now and then. Then the hair pulling was not so gentle or playful, she started pulling away with long red strains clenched tightly in her furry little hands. The pinches started leaving big blue patches, that swiftly changed to shades of black, purple and yellow, giving me the look of some kind of crazy, 60's, patchwork quilt.
Then she started standing her ground when I corrected her, the stalwart little soldier with watchful eyes that challenged my every request. Little by little she was making her move up the ranks in the household. The littlest general, fighting the war for world domination, and I was the only thing standing between her and the alpha position her heart so desired. But I stood my ground, correcting her immediately when she misbehaved and putting her in the cage for timeout, when she clearly wouldn't mind.
Mischief remained an intricate part of our little world. With a great deal of shifting and changing on our part, we continued to accommodate her ever-changing personality. One of our accommodations consisted of never going away for the weekend. Much to my dismay I discovered not one monkey sitter listed in the phonebook. The nearest I came to any vacation during those years, was one of the "Calgon take me away" dreams I had in the tub. It was a wonderful, relaxing and refreshing vision of gurgling waterfall, singing birds and tropical sunshine that lasted for a whopping four or five minutes that my child and monkey allowed it to linger on, before they started screaming and demanding my attention. The next accommodation consisted of inviting few visitors to our home. This was easier to do, since most of my "normal" friends could not for the life of them understand our living with a monkey anyway. Others she decided for whatever reason a monkey does, that she didn't like them and thus would not tolerate them in our home. She was very adamant about this; her hair curling screams, menacing facial expressions and rampageous tantrums clearly stating her point of view.
Then I met my future husband, a commercial pilot, rich kid who had never had to think of anything or anyone else in his entire life, but himself. A spoilt, arrogant man accustomed to fine china, velvet soft surroundings and the finer things in life. His world was not one of handprints, pawprints, claw marks and stains. Chaos and noise as alien to him, as finger pained walls and fast food. This prima donna man was soon to share his life with the wants, needs and expectations of a child, a monkey and the ever-varying rescue collection.
Mischief while not excited about this new addition tolerated him. Her toleration running more to the ignore him or the don't touch my mommy too much, kind of toleration, but toleration non-the-less. Her pouting and clinging, possessiveness let me know she was not very happy with this new person getting any of her attention. I tried showering her with extra attention, and tried not being too affectionate physically with him, in front of her. In an attempt at safety and peace for all that lived within zoomania, serious infractions on her part brought about quick discipline. She could not be allowed to think herself alpha to anyone living within, or that person's life would have become a living, breathing monkey version of hell. My diligent awareness of pending trouble and the fact that he was a very tall, foreboding man allowed her to grudgingly show some respect in regards to his position in the household. So while she cut her eyes sideways at him and spitefully pinched when she got a chance, for the most part she totally ignored him. Ignoring in that turn your back and make no eye contact way, that monkeys have perfected. Monkey snobbery at it's best, if she didn't look at it, it did not exist, period, end-of- story.
Thus the year continued on; first a riot of spring flowers peeking their diminutive, lacy heads over swaying grass blades. Then the beaming smile of summer sunshine came with beckoning warmth, inviting all the world to bask and siesta under it's watchful eye. Followed by prismatic fall leaves swirled around our feet, as windy voices tickled our ears. Chilly days chased by winter, as she screamed into sight, her icy fingers crawling up and down our spine. And through it all, Ms. Mischief continued to change and grow, her only consistency, was her ability to ignore our newest member with gleeful vim and vigor.
Then one blustery, frigid day she casually draped her long spidery arms over my husband neck and batted her sooty lashes at him. He jerked away and demanded to know what she was up to? I just stuttered, completely unable to tell him anything. I truthfully had no idea myself of what the little scamp was up to. In my innocence, I sincerely thought she was finally warming up to him. Over the next couple of days, she got friendlier and cozier; more dauntless in her pursuit of him, while totally ignoring me. I was puzzled by her hussy behavior, but secretly glad she was trying so hard to be friendly with her former enemy. Until she brazeningly pushed her bottom in his face and then it dawned on me why she was acting so weird. My naïve husband still had no idea what her game plan was. He continued to push her away and protested vigorously, that all her hugging and constant attention was getting on his nerves. He said it grossed him out to have her kissing his face and pawing on him.
As I observed her wanton behavior, first in shock and then in relief at the now solved mystery, I started laughing, progressing into full fledged belly-laughing, tears streaming down my cheeks, and then the hiccuping started. My shocked husband wanted to know what I thought was so blasted funny? Struggling to regain my composure, all the while racking my mind for a delicate way to word the whole comedic situation, just made me laugh that much harder. In desperation I gave up and just blurted it out, "Mischief is horny and you’re her new beau." The appalled look on his face was priceless, a true candid camera moment. He went from being aghast, to being disgusted, to pure anger, in a flash. I had no idea he would freak and become so utterly disgusted by her amorous attention. In fact, I thought he would be flattered by the idea of Mischief thinking he was the consummate mate. But he was so disgusted, he was almost strangling on his words as he spit out, "why", and then "how much does she understand of what goes on between us?" Without restraint or conscious thought, I blurted out that she most likely understood the intimate basics at least. And with that bold statement his face paled noticeably under his pretty-boy tan.
He was extremely quiet for the remainder of the evening. Any questions answered with short, sharply curt replies. His eyes obvious in their avoidance of contact with either Ms. Mischief or myself. In fact, when I purposely tried to engage his eyes, they quickly darted away from my face. His discomfort so apparent it was almost a palpable thing. Recognizing the need for a more delicate handling of the situation, I made no more mention of Ms. Mischief's harlot behavior.
Then with darkness creeping around our door stoop, we heeded the last curtain call of an eventful day. MS. Mischief headed to her sleep cage, climbing limberly onto her sleep shelf, laying her head blissfully upon her thin arms, two ebony eyes watching us soulfully, he freaked out again. He heatedly demanded that she not be allowed to sleep in "our" bedroom, since she thought 'those kinds of thoughts!" I should of stood my ground, but in reality I thought it would all blow over in a day or two, so in the interest of peace, I carried her to her living room cage. Placed her inside, handing in her little satin baby pillow and her fuzzy blankie. Ms. Mischief upon recognizing I meant to leave her here for the night, started shrieking, her voice an exercise in both loudness and anger. She threw herself into a complete raging tantrum, tearing about her cage like a Tasmanian Devil on speed. This fit continued on much longer than I care to remember and that awful night, no one got much sleep.
A day or two later as I let Mischief out of her cage I noticed she was acting more hyper and restless than usual, but I chalked it up to her new sleeping arrangements. She took my hand, grasping it tightly with hers, as we walked over to the couch. Minutes later our whole world exploded. One minute we were sitting snuggled on the couch, the ultimate couch potatoes, watching TV, spidery monkey arms draped over my shoulders. The next minute she threw her arms straight up into the air, left out a blood-curdling scream and leaped on me with astonishing speed and agility. Her arms, legs and tail were everywhere and she fought me like ten screaming, ripping banshees. She would no sooner land one terrifying ripping bite, and then she would reposition herself and rip her canines into another spot. Ruby red blood was flowing freely from the numerous cuts adorning my hands, arms and legs. My blue jeans and blouse ragged victims of razor sharp teeth, torn half off my aching body.
It doesn't take much of this kind of pain and fear to kick in that old self-preservation instinct, and to start the adrenaline flowing. When that happened I no longer saw my precious baby when I looked at her, but the screaming, biting angry animal that she had become. With this point of view I was finally able to turn the attack the other direction. I began by rolling her over and straddling her body, my knees locked on her frantically struggling shoulders and my hands pinning her arms down. She struggled, snapped and twisted like a sack full of eels. Each time I gave into her pleading eyes and loosened my grip, she spun her head around and tried to bury her needle sharp teeth into me again. This struggle raged on for an eternity, but in reality probably encompassed no more than mere minutes. When her struggles started to cease and her body no longer felt like a coiled spring about to snap, I started easing the pressure. All the while our eyes remained locked, my emerald eyes, challenging her ebony eyes and then she lowered her head and looked pitifully away. Clearly I was the victor in this go round, but at what price? Would this battle destroy all of my hard-earned trust? Could I trust her after this? So many questions, so few answers? I crawled to my feet and carried a weary Mischief to her cage.
When the adrenaline started to leave, I felt nauseated, frightened and exhausted. I knew I needed to see a doctor and have my wounds cleaned and sown up. But no way could I go to the hospital and try explaining the mess by body was now in. The jagged, bloody wounds were clearly the work of an animal and from the looks of them, not a very tame one either! I took my courage in hand and I called my family doctor/long time friend and explained the situation to him. Bless his heart he just sighed and told me to met him at his office in 15 minutes. He cleansed and stitched my wounds, all the while shaking his head in wonder at my defense of Mischief. He wrote me a prescription for pain medicine and sent me home with a lecture about my critters. Those stitches would be a constant reminded that for all my love and care, Mischief was still and would be forever, a wild animal and as such capable of inflicting great harm if she so chose.
My arrival home found me unhappily surveying all of the wreckage our struggle had created. I remember a few heavy sighs before beginning the cleaning process. I tried to hurry my aching body along, because even though she had hurt me physically, I could not stand the thought of my hubby seeing the damage, and demanding I get rid of her. In all honesty, I mulled it over in my mind as to how I could explain away the stitches and the bruises that were starting to darken my fair skin. I guess it's funny how our love for these alien creatures cause us to go to great lengths to hide anything that might show them in a less than perfect light to the outside (nonmonkey loving) world. Even with extensive thought, I never could come up with even a halfway believable excuse for the battlefield my body represented. So in the end I told him the truth. He ranted and raved for hours on end. His voice a shrieking, nagging reminder of the male ego at work. Demanding, threatening and swearing his rightful views. But it was my aching body and my misbehaving monkey, and I defended her with total, absolute conviction. I stood fast to my belief that it was not her that attacked me that day, but her raging, screaming hormones acting out!
But my love for her could not deny the damage she had inflicted with those canines, nor could I risk the damage those canines could do my precious child. In my heart of hearts, I knew that something would have to be done about that factor. I called our vet and explained to him what I thought I needed to do. He concurred and set up an appointment for Friday to have her canines removed. I can not remember the exact details of what he used to medicate her. But I can tell you she tried to attack him when he started near her with the needle. So in that sterile, little room, I gently held my errant monkey child and I carefully administered the shot to take her under. I held her hand tightly as her groggy eyes peered plaintively up at me.
I can tell you the guilt never completely goes away whenever you allow pain to be inflicted on someone you love. Later whenever she looked at me with her melancholy eyes, or when she winced as she bit on something hard, my stomach rolled over in protest. I rocked her for hours in the rocking chair, cuddling and cooing to her as I cried. But thank goodness time heals all things and as she started eating the same old things she did before without so much as a whimper, I began the healing process inside, myself.
Did I do the right thing? Who's to say? I will not make excuses nor debate the right or wrong of my decision. I will say I did what I thought best for our family. I had to protect my child and myself, and I wanted to protect Mischief from the possibility of another bad home, or even worse her life in a cage with no interaction from her family. This solution while morally questionable, was the only one at hand that would allow her to continue her life in what she thought off as her family. Loved, cared for and cherished… Did this rationalization lessen my mother's heart, the guilt I felt over hurting her, no. Did it allow us to spend more years together, yes? Did the end justify the means, who knows?
The attack became a distant memory as time paraded herself across the horizons of my life. The fading scars the only true reminders of what had happened that eventful day. As the days gave way to weeks, Mischief was again her sweet, lovable self. My much wiser-self learned to recognize the signals her body gave out. To recognize the conspicuous signs she had been sending my thickheaded way. And by allowing her the privacy she needed during these times, we managed to make it through "those days" with no more traumatic incidents. My lessons, truths based on knowing that a monkey is not a dog or a cat, and we can not treat them as such. We do not change them, but instead learn to adapt. Learning to understand and respect what their posture, facial expressions and vocals mean. We learn to listen not just with our mother's hearts, but with our heads. Using knowledge borne of experiences, both good and bad.
The years with her leant themselves to even newer revelations. As both of us learned to look beyond the obvious, to search for meaning in things unsaid. I began to recognize the dept of intelligence in her amber eyes. To know she was not a "pet", but a member of the family and as such I begin to feel a great shame in allowing her to sit in a cage all day while I was gone to work. A dog might be content to watch the window for his owner's return, living only to adore him. But with her I came to the realization that even with the TV on and toys galore she had to be bored out of her mind. I began to question my right to have her at all, for I could not afford another monkey for a playmate, even if I could find one.
Keeping this realization in mind, I tried introducing her to a friend's baboon, thinking they could be great friends. My understanding in monkey-etiquette and monkey-speak was so limited that I thought a monkey, was a monkey and they would love each other. I had no idea that different species and subspecies had different vocalizations and expressions. It was a disaster from beginning to end. As soon as Monroe walked in, Mischief began to scream at the top of her lungs. She climbed to the top of her cage and proceeded to pelt him, his owner and myself with objects she had stored up there. All the while standing up in her full spider stance, arms overhead and screaming. She bombarded us, as well as nearly splitting our eardrums, until the only thing I could do was ask them to leave. Mischief was having none of this "ugly" boy's company, after all she was a beautiful, almost refined spider and he was a squatty, oafish baboon. She made her dislike perfectly clear to one and all, including the neighbors down the street that thought we had a monkey killing in progress.
In my selfish human way, I needed and wanted her love and in order to justify having her I had to find a way to make life better for her, or I was no better than the Neanderthals that had kept her before. So I began to think of ways she could spend her day stimulated and alleviate some of the boredom. I began to wrack my brain for an answer.
Then one day I was talking with my retired, gentleman farmer uncle who lived just a piece down the road from me. As we chatted he began to tell me about his boyhood dream to have a monkey of his own. This little tidbit began to churn in my devious little mind. And thus stirred I began to plot, those old wheels turning furiously. I asked Uncle Ira if he would like to have a farm helper during the day? At first he acted confused, until what I was saying clicked and then excitement lit his whole face, his blue eyes just a twinkling. All he could ask was "do you mean it, she can come and visit me?" And with my grinning affirmation he let out a very ungentlemanly yahoo. And thus our adventure began.
Uncle Ira started the next day, bright and early and I do mean early (farmer's hours you know), to come to the house, taking lessons in "monkey 101". I started with the facts that although she didn't look like she could hurt a flea, Ms. Mischief was strong as most men, smarter than most of my friends and quicker than a bad thought. Her teeth as sharp as razors and her temper could rival the three furies when she was mad. She sported the ability to manipulate situations to her benefit, all the while woo wooing and acting all innocent. He sat and listened with rapt attention to all my admonishments and then he cracked a grin, "you're talking about this little gal here?" I had to admit it didn't sound like the truth when she was sitting there all innocence in her ruffles and bows, big eyes rimmed by long lashes and those adorable, little smacking faces. But my arms and legs sported the truth to her sheer ability to make known her anger and my inability to stop her when she decided a point needed to be highlighted. But my 200 lb. Uncle just chuckled at the thought of this little lady doing anything to him that he couldn't control. I guess I should have been tickled at his calm acceptance of my monkey safety talk. I mean after all he was a big man used to handling tractors, horses and huge bulls, so the fact that he was not afraid of her spider attitude should not have come as a great surprise. With him, all my lectures on what could, should, or might happen were about as useful as spitting into the wind during a tornado. I just shut my mouth about this less than pleasant facet of living with a monkey and went on to explain her diet needs and the usual monkey care routines she expected.
It took a while for she and he to began that process of knowing one another, excepting one another and finally liking each other. I knew we had made a major break though when she decided one day to go straight from her cage to him, taking his hand. Her black hand looking almost petite, nestled in his huge callused paw, Uncle Ira grinning like the Cheshire Cat. As they walked around the room, Uncle Ira seemed like a lumbering old bear, as she drug him from one thing to the next. In fact I could see the tiny wheels in her head already spinning, as she walked him to the refrigerator and acted like it was too hard for her to pull, knowing full well she wasn't allowed in it at all. She almost got away with it when Uncle Ira reached around her and went to open the door for the poor baby; you know the same one that was peering around the handle almost chuckling at her naughtiness. When I said simply "Uncle Ira she is not allowed to get into the refrigerator, as she wastes more than she eats and always chooses junk food over something healthy." Now where had I heard that before? Uncle Ira said, "well is she hungry or something?" I can remember thinking great she isn't even out of my sight and he is spoiling her, the manipulative little brat…
It wasn't long before we began to take short trips to his farm. Mischief at first clinging to me like the hounds of hell were after her. But all these new sights, sounds and smells were just too much temptation for her. So much so that she had to peer out from under my arm and check them out. The first thing we tried was sitting on the tractor, not with it running, just sitting there. Then we cranked it up while we stood on the ground, then finally we climbed on board, cranking it up, putting it in gear and away we went. Mischief firmly between my legs, her face buried into my blouse, the wind rippling gently though her coat as my auburn hair streamed out behind us. That day we rode the fields with Uncle Ira squatting beside us, talking softly to her as we rode. Telling her all about the cows chickens and crops. His contained excitement hard to resist and it wasn't long before she was trying to help me steer the thing and wooing for all she was worth as we raced over terrace rows.
Days later it seemed like we had roamed the whole farm from one end to the other. Exploring everything from the lush cow pastures, alive with black and white spotted cows; to the shady, glens deep in the cavernous woods, huge old oaks their branches alive with serenading birds, as tiny creatures under foot rustled around; to the gurgling streams shimmering as sunlight bounced off the backs of darting minnows and the music of dueling bull frogs rang harmoniously in our ears. I can remember the first frog I tried to show Mischief, her outraged, indignant screams as I tried to lift it up for her to see. Uncle Ira holding his sides as he belly laughed at the sight of this 20 lb. Monkey, her body trembling as she shook her head frantically at this tiny olive creature. Seeing the farm through her eyes, reminded both of us of how magical a place it could be.
I think maybe Ms. Mischief with the exception of frogs, was becoming quite the farm gal, now when we arrived at the farm she went straight for the tractor shed and climbed on that old FarmAll all by herself. In fact if I wasn't fast enough she would grab for the keys acting like she was starting it up. In fact I told Uncle Ira he might want to take to hiding his keys or risk losing them in that mystical place that monkeys find to hide all things you need. A place so well hidden that only they and elves know where it's located and to the dismay of many a monkey owner neither they nor the elves will talk.
Our next adventure was the chicken houses. Huge silver houses, home to thousands of biddies clucking, chirping and cheeping. The air full of dusty feathers and sawdust, the smell not completely unpleasant but very rich in a composty kind of way. The first time Uncle Ira opened those doors and we entered into the squawking world of chickens Mischief wanted right back out again. I started introducing her to this world by letting her open and shut the door as many times as she needed, thus reassuring her that she was not trapped. Then I begin to play out her leash a little and started walking away, acting for all the world like I had other things to do and expected her to follow. And follow she did, tangling her leash all around my legs as she tried climbing me like a tree. Once more we talked and walked and tried to show her by our own calmness that this was another place not to fear. It wasn't long before she was trying to push the wheelbarrow as Uncle Ira placed the dead chickens inside. Now me, I always thought this was the grosses part of the business, but she seemed to take the dead bodies in stride. She even hung on while Uncle Ira wheeled them outside to dump them into the pit; hanging on like it was kind of carnival ride. Each day her pleasure in the most mundane of activities opened the window into her mind, just a little more. But I knew the real test was going to be when I had to leave her there for the day. I looked forward to this time and dreaded it at the same time. And to tell the truth after all of our years together I was just a little bit jealous, afraid she would love this place and Uncle Ira more than she loved me.
But I knew that my off time was almost up and she had to either sink or swim. That first time leaving her was extremely hard, I waited until she was climbing on the feed bin inside the chicken house, totally engrossed with her image in the shinny metal. I slipped quietly to the door, signaling to Uncle Ira that I was leaving, turned and slipped out. I can remember one single tear sliding out before I stemmed the flow. I felt a deep gnawing in the pit of my stomach, feeling much like the first time I slipped out and left my son with his kindergarten teacher.
I was full of mixed emotions when I got to Uncle Ira's that evening and found her with a little straw hat on, riding around the farm with Uncle Ira. When she didn't jump down and run to me, but finished her ride before taking his hand to climb down, I felt that first ping of jealousy. She came to me willingly enough, but she didn't seem to have missed me much either, I guess my little girl was growing up.
The next time I picked her up, she was in the side yard, dropping chicken feed on the ground for Aunt Priss's laying hens. Mischief took to the farm like a duck to water, like a farmer borne and bred. Aunt Priss and Uncle Ira raising her like the little girl they never had. In fact she took to sporting new outfits as Aunt Priss whipped them out on her old treadle machine, Mischief modeling them like a boardwalk queen.
Uncle Ira even built her a little tree house and enclosed it in wire so she could climb around outside and be safe at the same time. I know she has more outside toys that any five kids and that didn't included Uncle Ira building her a swing set and slide. When Aunt Priss tired of making her new clothes she began to make her rag dolls and stuffed animals, in fact I think my son wanted to go and live there too. Just what I needed losing my monkey's love along with my son's. Ok, so that was a selfish thought, but on occasion I will admit to feeling a little green. But Mischief still hugged me tight and sat with me on the coach all snuggled up watching TV at night. But damn the weekends when she didn't have to go Uncle Ira's house, she could not tell days, but she sure could tell time. She was up at the crack of dawn, pulling on the cage door, ready to go and throwing an absolute fit when I said, "no, today is not a work day." She would pout for hours and sometimes she threw such a fit I had to call Uncle Ira and ask if he wanted to come and get her for a while, so I could get some peace and quiet. As soon as he came in the door, she was ready to go, tugging on him and heading straight for the pickup. Not even a backward glance for my pouting face.
For a couple of years this arrangement worked out almost seamlessly, with only an occasional tug of jealously here and there. She had a second home where she was loved with two wonderful people she loved dearly. They became those wonderful, over indulgent grandparents that every two-year-old dreams of.
But nothing ever stays perfect in monkeyland, that place between childhood and wild animal reality. I am not sure when we lost control or why, but I do know that Uncle Ira learned to trust Mischief like she was one of his own and somehow in the process he forgot she was still an animal, still subject to her body's moods and her animal needs. But trying to understand it all after the fact became nothing more than an exercise in futility, Anyway one day in the middle of summer, he stepped inside the house for a drink of ice water, now normally she would come in with him or at least be taken to her outside play area. But she was being stubborn and it was only for mere minutes, so he allowed her to stay out on the porch and play. One single time, one tiny mistake and one near tragedy. In the few minutes it took him to walk into the house and run his water, the State Farm insurance woman came premium collecting. Mischief was siting on the wooden rail around the porch and either she didn't see her or she thought it was some cute decoration perched there, either way Mischief must have just started into her cycle, and was feeling very temperamental, cause she launched herself off the rail and onto her back. 20 lbs. of blind, screaming PMS clinging to her back like a cocklebur. The poor woman had no idea what had happened or what the devil was biting her back and upper arms, and in her fright added her own screams to the ruckus going on. Uncle Ira heard the ear splitting screams and ran as fast as his old body could outside. Grabbing Mischief from behind, yanking her leash at the same time, removing the little banshee from the woman's back, but not before a couple of nicely gushing bites were inflicted.
Now granted this was back in the day before everyone got monkey-phobia from all the nasty news reports, and before the world became a sue happy place, back in the day when your insurance person was your neighbor and had to face you in church on each and every Sunday. So although the bites required a trip to the hospital and later to her doctor, in house quarantine for Mischief, the payment of all medical bills, and the vet's assurance that Mischief was healthy and not harboring any life threatening diseases, nothing else was required of us. But Uncle Ira was not so lucky, his homeowner's insurance gave him the choice of losing his insurance or not allowing Ms. Mischief on his property anymore. Now a farmer can not exist without insurance and not many companies back then insured chicken farmers against Mother Nature and her pending disasters. So in reality, there were no real choices offered. The plain truth was she could not stay there, anymore, period, end of story. So with a ton of tears we all agreed that to keep her and him out of any more hot water she would not return to Uncle Ira's. For a time he and Aunt Priss still came to see her, but she whimpered and cried so pitifully to go with him, that those visits became too painful for all of us and had to be discontinued.
Uncle Ira did send her, the little straw hat, her overalls, the dresses made by Aunt Priss, the dolls, stuffies, and all of her outside toys and just for good measure he bought her one of those green John Deer pedal tractors, just her size. She loved her toys and I loved him for trying to make it better for her. But over the next few months, Mischief seemed to slow down, dragging around listlessly. She became more withdrawn and extremely depressed. Every day she would go to the window and woowoo at the outside clearly wanting to go visit them. I tried to take her driving but even those trips became nothing more than power struggles, if we turned the wrong direction, she threw a fit and if to please her I turned the right direction, but drove on by their house, she threw one anyway. It was distressing having her little face pressed against the windrow, all mashed up and looking for all the world, like the last little puppy in the pet store as people walked by him. Her face a study in pain as we continued on down the road, and when she realized we were not stopping she began to scream in rage and bite me and her herself in frustration. The pain both of us encountered was so intense that even the rides had to stop.
Without their visits and without the rides by their house, Mischief soon settled down and seemed to forget Uncle Ira for the most part. But every time she heard a car door slam outside she raced to the window, tugging the curtains aside and with total concentration looking their faces over, as soon as she decided it wasn't him she turned away, back ridged as she ignored whomever came in.
Nothing seemed to hold her attention for long and she would sit for hours in my lap, her arms around me and face buried on my chest. A lost little girl abandoned once more by someone she loved. It seemed that even when I tried to do something good for her I ended up just making her more miserable. I had only wanted her to have company and something interesting to do during the day, but once again I did not take into account the very nature of a monkey. The territorial attitude they have or the nature of procreation.
My son grew taller and became an active teen with a life outside of Mischief and I. He loved us, but no longer needed to find a way to fit into our lives, as he began to learn what he wanted from his own life. My marriage had become an emotional and physically abusive mess and like all bad things that do not kill you, it died instead. That tiny seedling of love finally smothered by the tons of manure heaped upon it, soon went the way of summer leaves, dried up and blown away. That left just Mischief and I to hang around the old homestead. With the newly vacant spot on my bed, I took to letting her sleep with me at night. Both of us deeply in need of an extra level of comfort. Though the spoilt little princess had to share the bed with the cat and my 15-year-old Chihuahua. But with some pushing and shoving all four of us found a place to snuggle and snooze. Mischief laying her face next to mine, one hairy arm thrown over my side, my dog snuggled to my back and the cat at my feet; nightly we slid off into peaceful slumber. I'm not too sure what the rest of the world would have thought of my bedmates, but I found their unconditional love emotionally warming.
Then one night ten years into our relationship Ms. Mischief did not jump up when I climbed out of bed, she just lay there and looked at me, her eyes soft pools of wisdom and pain. She seemed to sense she would soon slip away, before I could even recognize what was happening. She looked at me with such heartfelt love and the kind of wisdom burning in her eyes, that seemed older than time immortal. She slowly reached her hand up one last time and touched my face softly, so soft it felt more like butterfly feet brushing my cheek. I caught her hand and held it close to me kissing her soft palms. Then I bent my neck to kiss her head and for the first time realized how gray her fur was, how deep the wrinkles were etched in her pixy face. I gently, eased her body into my arms, nestled her head in the crock of my arm, raining kisses upon her face and then upon her eyelids as she sighed one last sigh, then closed her eyes. I felt her body tremble for just a second and then her breathing fell silent. My precious angel had left this world, the one that had never really understood her spirit for the great gift it was. My faithful companion would never again woowoo at me in glee, or drape her arms around me, she would never hide my treasures or pinch the dog. I would never know the joy of living with the teasing sprite that God had wrapped in fur, for the prince of peace had taken her to his throne above. Taken my angel so that she might play her mischievous games at his feet, so that she could make the little children laugh with delight. So that others could see the beauty of God's own jester prancing on padded feet. I pulled her tight, in fact probably too tight, but she would never again protest at being held too tight. And I held her close as I trembled in anguish, my salty tears streamed down my own aging face, falling like silver ice upon her coat. I sat that way in a darkened room, for hours that night, crying inconsolably, rocking her dead body; knowing the truth but emotionally unable to except that my oldest and dearest friend was really gone.
Later as my vet tried to console me, I cried again, wondering if I could have saved her, done something more? He tried to make me listen to what he had to say, to understand that it was not my fault, that her heart finally just gave out. He patiently explained that her horrible neglect in earlier years had left her heart damaged beyond repair. But my mind still played on and on, was there anything she needed that I neglected to give her? Did she ever wish for something more than her life with me? Did she dream of gliding through the trees? Spending idle days, being chased by a big, muscled monkey man, her babies clinging to her back? Did I steal away her life by having her spend it with me? The more these questions bounced around my head, the more my heart broke. Finally he sat me down and told me that I did not take her from the jungle, but from the back lot of a flea market. That I did not decide the life she had before that robbed her of her native home. My only crime had been in loving her and that in any language was not a mortal crime. He told me to get off my tail and get on with life, for she would have wanted it that way. He reminded me I had given her ten wonderful, loving years and that in itself was a blessing considering where she came from.
I left his office that day with some of what he said still ringing in my ears. But nothing seemed to appease that agonizing, gnawing, empty feeling I felt deep inside. That inferno type burning that just won't go away. I wish I could say time healed it all, but in honesty I never really got completely over Mischief's death.. But I did learn to live without her spider face peering back at me. And though I never thought I would ever get over the broken heart she left me with that dreadful night, I did learn to go on. God in his wisdom continued to put other animals in need directly in my path. Knowing full well that while none could ever replaced her, they would at least give me a reason to continue getting up and struggling on. Even today I can think of her and see her beautiful little spider face scrunched up at me, eyes twinkling just like it was yesterday. An when I look heavenward I know she is up there somewhere peeping through silvery clouds, back at me, all monkeyshines and spidertude.