I hope you like animals because there are like a million here, my friend Emily texted me.
It was mid September, and we were headed from the east coast towards Michigan where Em’s friend was getting married. Along the way, we were stopping in to see my friend Emily and her girlfriend.
“What animals do they have?” Em asked.
“I don’t know, like two cats and a dog?”
“Yay, I love animals.”
“I know you do.”
In all honesty, I found it hard to care about animals. In my experience, they didn’t have great insight into current political affairs, literature, or even pop culture, and I found it hard to relate to their lifestyle. I usually pretend to be interested, though, just so that my friends and family didn’t realize I was a sociopath, but Em knew the truth.
We got to my friend Emily’s house a few minutes later, and her and her girlfriend greeted us at the door. We talked outside for a bit, enjoying one of the last warm days of the year, and before we were invited inside, Emily’s girlfriend asked if either of us had colds or were sick.
“Great,” Emily’s girlfriend said when we shook our heads. “Marmosets can get human sicknesses, so we’re trying to be careful.”
“What the heck is a marmoset?” I asked.
“Oh, you’ll see.”
We were led inside, and I immediately learned that a marmoset is a very tiny monkey that looks like a very evil old man.
“Oh my god,” I said.
“Oh my god,” Em said.
And Emily and her girlfriend nodded.
“Did you want to feed it Cheerios?” Emily’s girlfriend asked.
“Absolutely,” I said.
Five minutes before, I was planning on having a relaxed afternoon, catching up with my friend from university. Now, I was feeding Cheerios to a monkey. Sure, I didn’t love animals, but even I could enjoy this.
“I’m a little human, I’m a little human,” I chanted while the monkey ate Cheerios from my hand one by one.
“What’s its name?” Em asked, but Emily and her girlfriend didn’t know.
“How do you have a monkey in your house, and you don’t know its name?”
“Our friend’s house burnt down this week,” Emily explained. “She owns a petting zoo, and we’re taking care of some of her animals until they find temporary homes.”
Emily gestured behind me at animal cages lining the floor. I’d walked right past them on my beeline for the monkey, and I’d somehow missed the four sugar gliders, six hedgehogs, and eight guinea pigs.
“Upstairs, we’ve got eight degus, one hamster, a beta fish and a cat, as well as the three other cats, the dog, and the seven rats that we own,” Emily’s girlfriend added.
“Well, this is the best thing ever,” I said, and then I backtracked. “Actually not, because your friend’s house burnt down and that’s terrible, but this is…” I put my hands up because I didn’t know what to say.
“I thought you didn’t like animals,” Em said.
“Maybe not regular animals, but have you ever seen a hedgehog before? There are real-life hedgehogs over there.” And then I turned back to the monkey who scowled at me.
“He’s got a bit of a temper,” Emily’s girlfriend said. “He was born in a zoo, and his mom pulled his tail off when he was a baby. The zoo couldn’t take him anymore, so our friend stepped in.”
I held out another Cheerio. The monkey snatched it and backed away.
“I know I was going to take you on a tour of the town and then on a hike,” Emily said, “But they need a lot of help at the zoo, and we were hoping you’d come lend a hand.”
“Yes,” I said. “One-hundred-percent yes.”
Two hours later, I was mixing huge vats of animal feed and sprinkling it on the ground for a couple of pigs to rut up, and it was boarder-line magical.
I kept asking Em if this was real, and she said she didn’t know either.
“We were going to go on a hike,” I said. “We were going to drink beer and have a barbeque, and now I’m throwing tiny food pellets at some pigs.”
“Still hate animals?” Em asked, but I didn’t know anymore. The world suddenly seemed so much fuller than liking something or not liking something, and it was all so much stranger and better than I ever could have imagined.
That night, we had a barbeque like we’d planned, and we had to make sure we cooked enough for the marmoset to have dinner, too. It was the marmoset’s tiny hands grabbing at a hamburger bun and the grilled zucchini we’d made, and then we bathed the hedgehogs and gave the sugar gilders plates of fruit and honey.
“Don’t mind me, I’m just bathing a hedgehog,” I said to Em.
As we drove away the next day, both of us felt like we were surfacing from a dream someone else was having.
“Did that just happen?” I asked, but Em wasn’t sure either.
We pulled onto the highway with the leaves already changing for fall and this golden light making everything look precious and alive. We passed lakes and farmer’s fields and rolling hills, and we were more sure than ever that the world was full of enormous and magical things.
Sometimes there would be hikes and sometimes there would be tours of small towns we’d never been to before, and other times there would be monkeys and throwing food pellets to pigs. Whatever we expected, we knew then that there would be more of it. Life could be better than we ever could imagine, and sometimes all there was to do was say yes and hold on tight.