Growing up was a most fascinating experience for me. I cannot recall a time in which I learned so much with what little I had. I remember wanting to feel hot sand on my fins and wishing on stars that I could tangle myself up in a tropical coral reef. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I was in captivity during my childhood but I wasn’t a soaring Pteri either. In fact, I’m a Maraquan Elephante. There’s a difference.
Well, I was cooped up in a swimming pool to put it in simplest terms. It was a large pool, but it was most likely smaller than the ocean. I knew every inch of that pool and some might say that I swam in it with virtuosity. All I really did was jump through a hoop here and there and do a few underwater stunts. Some might say I put on a great show, though. It’s not like I would know; I can’t exactly watch myself perform or anything.
My caretaker was an ostentatious green Krawk by the name of Donald. I would wake up every morning when I felt the first ray of sunlight on my trunk, and Donald would blow a whistle. I would swim a few laps of the pool and absorb the morning sun to keep my energy up. There were a few props placed around the pool that would help me perform my tricks: some hoops that I would leap through, plastic poles that I would balance on the tip of my trunk and even frisbees that I would catch in mid air. Donald and I put on our show up to four nights a week. Some might say that Donald did the talking and that I did all of the hard work. I’m not saying that’s how I feel. But some might say that.
My story begins on a night that started out just like any other night for me. Donald was inspecting the pool and the bleachers that surrounded it, making sure that he would receive no complaints during that night’s show. I was swimming nervously in circles around one of the hoops. No matter how much I performed, I would always be a little anxious before each show.
“Don’t worry, buddy,” Donald called to me from the bleachers, noticing my nervousness. “You ace this thing every night. You’ll do fine, Laurence.”
“Thanks,” I said, not quite listening. Sometimes I got so tied up with performances that I would forget my own name. It’s Laurence, by the way.
Later on, the stands filled up and I hid behind a pillar that supported one of the hoops. Donald stepped out onto a platform at the bottom of the bleachers and introduced himself to the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to be witnesses to the most awesome and impressive water maneuvers that Neopia Central has ever seen!” Some might say that Donald was a real crowd pleaser, because for some reason, this statement caused all of the pets in the bleachers to go completely bonkers with cheering and such.
I made my appearance by shooting out from behind the pillar and high up out of the water. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to muster enough momentum, but I went ahead and did a back flip while I was still in the air. It felt so liberating to be suspended in the air during that instant. I quickly fell back into the water with what some might call elegance and precision. I really can’t tell you whether I was very elegant or precise when I reentered the water, so maybe you should ask someone else. I continued to glide through the water and with each new trick, my audience cheered louder. I went through almost all of the routines in my repertoire and I suppose that the audience was pleased with the show thus far. It really boosted my confidence and that’s not always something too easy to do. I felt free and powerful, so I turned the corner of the pool, and attempted one of the hardest water stunts that I’ve ever learned. The situation got slightly out of hand from there.
I could see the astonished look on Donald’s face as I soared out of the water and through two hoops in a row. The crowd’s cheering was almost ear-splitting.
“I’m going to make so much money off of this!” Donald said excitedly to himself. As I came crashing down back into the pool it dawned on me that he had accidentally said this into his microphone. Some might say that Donald disconcerted the crowd a little bit after saying that because their cheers turned into murmurs of disapproval and huffy whispers.
“I mean, uh, because Laurence is great, right?” Donald tried to recant and cover up what he had said. The audience didn’t exactly buy it.
At that point I was submerged about five feet deep into the pool. I was still swimming very quickly due to the momentum of the jump. I most definitely know how to slow myself down in a pool, but the unpleasant comments coming from the crowd distracted me from swimming. Before I could come to a halt, I crashed into the wall of the pool. It felt like Kreludor had been dropped on my head. Some might say that I’m exaggerating, but I’m the only one who actually felt it, so I assure you I’m not. In fact, I slammed into that wall with such velocity that it knocked me out in ten seconds flat. What happened after that is slightly blurry, considering I wasn’t conscious or anything.
I woke up a day or so later in what felt like a hospital bed, but it was really a hospital cot. There’s a difference. Hospital beds are much more comfortable. Standing next to my cot was a yellow Chia wearing a long, white jacket. The name tag pinned onto his coat read “Dr. Allen.”
“He’ll be fine. He simply has to avoid any further involvement with these rigorous performances you have him doing,” the Chia said.
Donald spit out his water onto the floor in disbelief. “No, no. The shows are Laurence’s life. His existence would be pointless without the shows. He doesn’t know anything else! He’s never even seen the ocean, for crying out loud!”
“Excuse me?” I said softly, mustering up the energy to speak. I could hardly think straight after hearing the pet I had spent my entire childhood with utter such horrible words about me.
Dr. Allen, noticing that I was awake, came next to my bed and started unwrapping a bandage on one of my fins. He smirked at Donald and seemed to anticipate his retort with interest.
“Laurence... you’re up! Thank goodness,” Donald said to me with a completely spurious grin on his face. “I was so worried about you, buddy. Let’s get back to the pool soon; I don’t want this to come in the way of our performances. Buddy!”
Around that time I began noticing some odd traits in Donald that I had previously overlooked. In my world, there are two kinds of pets: earnest, decent ones that make mistakes and fully admit to them, and ones that are always trying to cover up their wrongdoings with some sort of loving and pleasant facade. I thought about how in the previous day, Donald had muttered to himself something about making money off of me, and now he was talking to some doctor about how my sole purpose in life was to perform a few tricks in a swimming pool. Was that the life I wanted? All of these thoughts that had never crossed my mind suddenly came to me very quickly!
I sighed. You would think I would have a lot to say to Donald after spending my entire childhood putting on shows with him, but I could not think of a single word that described exactly how I felt. “I think you should leave,” I said finally. A smile tugged at Dr. Allen’s lips.
“Laurence, buddy, what are you talking about?” Donald asked, somewhat frantically. His green scales were almost standing on end. “You and I do everything together. We’re a team!”
“We’re a team? Using me to fill up your bank account is teamwork? No, I don’t think we’ve ever been a team. And I think I just realized something. You’re nothing without me. I’m the one working day and night, performing your silly tricks and bringing the audience to come see our show,” I said with newfound confidence. I would have never even imagined a week earlier that all of my thoughts would come pouring out of me the way they did. “And then you take all of the money and all of the credit for everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve. How am I repaid?” I asked indignantly.
“With my friendship,” Donald replied weakly.
“I wish I could believe that,” I said.
Dr. Allen, who had been reticent throughout my little dispute, finally spoke up. “It is the patient’s wish that you leave now, Donald.”
I will never forget that final glance he threw at me before walking out the door. It was as if he was cognizant that I would someday grow up and leave him all along. He looked defeated and angry with me, but looking back on it, he was losing the only friend he had.
Donald slammed the door shut as he left and that was the last I ever saw of him. It slowly occurred to me that I was no longer required to perform four nights a week or learn new routines. I couldn’t return to the pool, obviously. Some might say that those late years of childhood are full of uncertainties and that eventually we all need to leave our homes. I’m not saying that everyone has to undergo new experiences upon growing up, but most of us do, don’t we?
“Come on,” Dr. Allen said to me, “I think there’s something you need to see. You deserve it.”
I looked at him, slightly confused. Nevertheless, I hobbled off of the cot and through the tortuous hallways of the hospital with the Chia. We came to two double doors with bright sunlight shining through the crack in between them. Dr. Allen stepped forward and propped the doors open, and I was nearly blinded. I squinted and adjusted my eyes, and when I could finally see clearly, I nearly fainted.
The hospital was located right next to a beach! The vast ocean stretched on forever and the sand felt exotic and warm on my fins. A light, salty breeze welcomed me into this new place, beckoning me forward to plunge into the unfamiliar ocean.
“It’s amazing, right?” Dr. Allen said to me with a grin.
“Can I–” I began to ask to him. I opened my eyes wide with amazement.
I wasted no time in getting myself to the edge of the water. I was ready. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was ready for, but I knew that I was. Some might say that Donald actually helped shape me into what I’ve become today. I suppose that he helped me learn to appreciate certain things that are easily overlooked.
The water was bitterly cold and I may have swallowed more salt than any pet can handle. But I didn’t care; at least I was in my own swimming pool without walls to confine me or anyone to tell me what I can and cannot do. I zipped back and forth through the waves, splashing playfully and basking in the sunlight, which suddenly felt so much warmer than it ever had before. I waved goodbye to Dr. Allen, who beamed back at me and closed the doors of the hospital. He must have been the other kind of pet that I mentioned earlier, you know, the one that’s all earnest and decent. I smiled to myself, thinking about where to go next. I had left my home forever, but it wasn’t a sad feeling. I swam a bit further out to sea, and let the waves carry me to my future.