May 7, 2011

Two Years Ago

Two years ago I made out with a giraffe. Kind of.

Two years ago yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. On May 6, 2009 I signed employment papers to be a photo caravan driver at the Wild Animal Park. I met people who changed my outlook on life so much that I'll never be happy if I'm not doing something I'm passionate about.

Two years ago I had been unemployed for 3 months after being laid off from my writing job. I wasn't happy there and had been looking for a new job, but never would have looked at the zoo job board had I not gotten laid off. And because I was desperate for a job I knew I'd take anything. Luckily, being a photo caravan driver was the best thing to happen and I rocked my interview, getting the job the next day. I went into the interview thinking it was for the Journey Into Africa tram and was beyond excited to hear otherwise. I spent the next 4 months getting up close and personal with dozens of wild animals, listening to my coworkers talk about their behaviors and how they've adapted to their environments, and watching species I don't know if I'll ever see in the wild act completely natural. It was a dream come true for me, a dream I never really knew I had.

Two years ago I didn't know this animal existed.

Two years ago I was in love with someone I knew wasn't right for me, but too afraid to let go. I had been going back and forth between wanting to break up and wanting to stay for almost 5 months. I didn't have the courage to leave a 5+ year relationship and I knew it. Meeting the photo caravan people, seeing their immense passion for these animals, getting glimpses of their lives and the animals in them, made me realize how unhappy I would be if I didn't leave my relationship. I always knew I wanted horses, a cow, dogs, cats, rats, whatever came my way, but the person I was with not only didn't share that dream, he was allergic to animal hair. The only reason we lasted as long as we did was because he put up with it to be with me, and he adored my cat, but it was always a sore issue. I knew being with him would eventually mean giving up many of the animals I wanted in my life. It took me two more months to fully realize this, to fully realize how badly I would hurt in the future if I had to give up (or be restricted in) having animals in my life, but I finally did and I left. In the two years since it's been absolutely crucial to be with someone who loves animals. I may not have found the perfect man yet, but knowing that this is something I can't compromise on really narrows it down.

Two years ago I learned this face will likely determine who I love.

Two years ago I was lazy, tired and bored (and boring). Working in an office all day, staring at a computer screen, sitting on my ass drained all of my energy. I would go home, put on my pajamas and watch TV until I fell asleep. I didn't go out and do things at night and barely did anything on the weekends. I hated who I was. Working in the intense heat of the San Pasqual Valley, moving around and lifting buckets of water when I wasn't driving, and being mentally stimulated while I was driving gave me ten times the energy I had from my previous job. I left work sweaty and gross but rejuvenated, went home to shower and went out with friends and coworkers. I had energy to sit up late with my neighbors drinking wine and talking in the courtyard, energy to go to Taco Tuesday pretty much every week, energy for Stone movie nights, energy for bar hopping on nights off and running on mornings off. I loved who I was that summer. When the summer, and my job, ended I knew I would have to find a new job I could be passionate about, that I wouldn't be happy ever again doing something I didn't care for.

Two years ago I never imagined this photo would exist.

Two years ago I had no direction in my life. I gave up on being a journalist and had no where else to turn. If I wasn't going to continue making writing my career, what was left for me? Biology would be too impractical because of the debt I would have and because I still didn't know what I wanted to do. Writing didn't make sense if I wasn't going to be a teacher or a journalist, and nothing else interested me. Despite knowing I definitely wanted to continue with higher education I couldn't just do something for the sake of getting a master's. I needed to love it, needed to want it, needed to imagine myself in a specific position afterwards. And I'm excited to admit now, finally, I know what I want, know what I want to be, and know how I want to help change the world.

Two years ago I had an idea but I was on the verge of giving it up. Two years ago I found out I don't have to hide my passion and excitement for animals and conservation. Two years ago I learned what it meant to be a Cape buffalo. Two years ago I knew it couldn't be any other way.

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