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My Trip to the Zoo Taught Me Nothing About Animal Habitation

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My getting lost was not my fault; I was one of the few seven-year-olds who knew her right from her left, and when Mrs. Delaney said to go left, I went left. She, however, ignored her own command and went the opposite way, leading my classmates in the “right” direction. As I turned to confirm that everyone else was behind me, I felt my heart skip a beat when I couldn’t find a single familiar face in the mass of fellow zoo-goers. A cold sweat began to slowly creep over my skin, and I realized that, for the first time in my young life, I was lost.

The first graders of [my] Elementary [school] used to take a field trip to the [local] Zoo every year in late May or early June. I can remember how excited I was to visit the zoo for the first time, but the excitement was marred by the fact that my mother was unable to go along; someone had to stay home and take care of my two younger sisters. Other mothers had volunteered to chaperone, and I was assured that I would have fun regardless. I was forced aboard a stuffy bus with no air conditioning and endured the hour-long bus ride to the zoo.

I don’t remember a lot about the actual day, but I will never forget how unseasonably hot the day was even though it only about ten-oh-clock in the morning. I stepped off the bus into the thick, humid air and immediately caught the scent of animals and waste mingled with the equally revolting smell of stale popcorn and day-old corn dogs. The students marched forward, two-by-two (hurrah, hurrah…) through the zoo gates and onto that absolutely terrifying escalator – the one that, no matter how far forward I leaned, I felt like I was going to tumble backwards at any second. My knuckles were still white for a good ten minutes afterward. Much like the sheep we were about to see, my classmates and I were herded from one place to another to ogle at different animals or listen to a boring lecture about some boring animal. The sidewalk was sticky from spilled Sprites and Pepsis, and I distinctly remember thinking that I would have to throw my shoes out when I got home. I hated walking on them and was glad when we were indoors, even if the lecture halls were stuffy and hotter than the sweltering sun outside. But other than being allowed to play on the playground at lunch (another cesspool for germs, I would later learn), the day was relatively uneventful.

We had been split into different groups – five or six students to a chaperone – and we were allowed to walk around in our little units from time-to-time. I don’t remember what animal we were “observing” when Mrs. Delaney told us we had to leave, but I do remember exactly what happened as we left to find the bus. Other schools were field tripping that day as well, and we kept getting separated from Mrs. Delaney. I kept finding myself ahead of our little group and had to fight my way back through the wall of people at least five times in the ten minutes it took to get to the exit. As we were leaving, she told us all that we should go left at the bottom of the stairs ahead, and when I got to the stairs I did exactly that.

I could no longer hear the incessant babble of the surrounding crowd, and my breath began to puff unevenly from my chest in short, sporadic bursts. My palms were covered in cold, slick sweat, and I found that I had trouble finding my voice to ask the adults around me for help. The solid mass of buses before me suddenly seemed to multiply by a thousand, and I could no longer remember which bus I was supposed to board, much less where it was located in the gigantic parking lot. I turned around completely and went back to the stairway, hoping to see at least one familiar face in the surrounding crowd. The bitter, metallic taste of dread filled my mouth as I scanned the people exiting the zoo; finally, I saw our bus driver standing just a few feet to the right. I approached in tears and asked if she was still driving Mrs. Steider’s class back to [my elementary school].

She was not. She wasn’t even going back to [the same district].

By this point, I was bawling and had no idea what to do. I was nauseous from worry, and I knew that disgusting corn dog I had for lunch wouldn’t be living at Digestive Track Drive for much longer. The bus driver said that I could wait with her until I recognized someone, and she would radio around if no one showed up in the next few minutes. I sat with her on a little wall across from the bus and waited for what felt like hours, knowing that someone was bound to notice my absence and come looking for me. I was watching the zoo exit for anyone, even another teacher from [my school], when Mrs. Steider herself suddenly ran past with her group of “troublesome” boys. Relief flooded through me like sunshine on a foggy morning, and I quickly sprinted to catch them.

My friend Jimmy was a part of the group, and I remember asking why they were running. Apparently, they were late in leaving the zoo, and Mrs. Steider hadn’t even been aware that I was missing. Our bus was not a part of the main herd, and we were running for four or five minutes before we finally reached it. When I boarded the bus, Mrs. Delaney just glanced at me and said, “Oh, there you are,” in a weird, uncaring voice; I don’t think that she counted her kids before she got on the bus, and she didn’t know that I was not with the rest of her group.

The rest of the day is a complete blur, but my mom claims that I came home and said, “Mom, you have to go with me on all of our field trips from now on,” but wouldn’t give her any explanation as to why I wanted her to come. She didn’t find out that I had gotten lost until the following August, when Mrs. Delaney mentioned it in passing while they were at some school function. I learned nothing about animal habitation while at the Pittsburgh Zoo, but I did develop a diversion to leading groups of people from one place to another. Even today I refuse to lead my sisters around when we go somewhere; when I’m the only one who knows where to go I just poke them in the back and give directions. Getting lost at the zoo was one of the worst experiences in my life, but next time I know not to trust a snobby, stay-at-home-[soccer-mom] when she gives directions.





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