I'm taking a creative nonfiction course. I love it. The feedback I got on this essay was exceptionally positive, so I am sharing it with all. It is currently untitled, but I hope that I figure out a better name soon:
The penguin has an organ under its eye that converts salt water into fresh water. That’s how these animals can live so much like fish instead of birds. It is strange to me that a penguin has many features of a fish. They are even hunted by the same predators. Seals love fish and penguins.
I started collecting penguins when I was in middle school. Plush animals, mostly, but I have a few figurines, stickers, pictures, and one lunchbox. I don’t remember why I started to collect penguins. I think it’s because my mother used to buy me plush toys all the time, and two or three times in a row I ended up with a penguin. She knew they were my favorite animal. They still are. Eventually there were about five plush penguins in my possession and I realized that I collected them.
Perched on my bed in my college apartment is a penguin I named Phat. There is very little sentimental value associated with Phat, but somehow he has become my favorite. I think it’s because his texture reminds me of a pillow. Sometimes, when I feel especially lonely, I’ll take Phat and snuggle up with him. However, I do not close my eyes and pretend that he is someone else. I am thankful that he has a pillow-like structure and that he will stay with me at night.
Some biological traits set the penguin apart from fish. Actually, most biological traits define the penguin as a bird. What impresses me is how they mate and raise their young. All breeds of penguins are a little bit different, but the emperor penguin mates for life. Penguins value loyalty. What’s more intriguing is that even gay penguins mate for life. Some people are shocked to find out that there is such a thing as gay penguins, but I find it less than surprising. Most animals engage in homosexual behavior. It is only humans that think there is something wrong with this.
My favorite penguin used to be one I named Hip-Hop. I got him right before Phat. There’s wire in his wings that puts them in a default position that reminds me of most rappers. Once I was in a store and I saw a jacket for babies that said “hip-hop” on the back. I used to regret not buying it, but Hip-Hop was a gift from an abusive boyfriend, and when that relationship ended I put Hip-Hop in a box and I never looked at him again. I’m glad I didn’t waste my money on that jacket.
At one point I stopped receiving penguins as gifts. Occasionally my mom will see a photo of a penguin in her travel magazines. She clips them out and sends them to me. These are not gifts; they are reminders. I often think my mother does it for herself. We connect on so little, and I feel that if she can find one thing to please me, even as something as small as a magazine clipping of a penguin, she can remind me that she is my mother and that she understands me even though she does not.
I once read an article about two male penguins that wanted a chick so badly that they took a pebble and pretended it was an egg. They took turns sitting on the pebble, keeping it warm, preparing it to hatch. The zoo thought it was adorable. I thought it was sad. I wondered what happened when spring came around, and all the other penguins saw their eggs hatch. This penguin couple would see all the chicks born, and try as they might to raise their pebble with love and care, theirs would never hatch. I imagined one of the penguins waiting for a sign of life; for the shell to crack or the egg to stir or even the smallest bit of warmth to come from that pebble. But there was nothing. The penguins never had a baby and they interpreted their endeavor as a miscarriage. It happens all the time in the animal kingdom, so even if the penguins were capable of feeling depressed, they would have shrugged it off and quacked “c’est la vie.”
I am now the one responsible for keeping my penguin collection alive. On the day after Christmas I wandered into a toy store. I was feeling very out of it, having had a bad allergy attack and accidentally taking a Benadryl in the morning. I was so drowsy. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to drive to the mall, but my mother hadn’t noticed the medicine take effect. I wandered the toy store for what must have been an hour. There was a display of animals, all with “Try Me!” buttons and little switches on their bottoms so that they could squawk and roar and stomp around. I picked up one that was a penguin, and I thought how fun it would be to have that penguin walk around my room, wings flapping. I took it home with me and in a medicinal haze I ripped it from its box and set it in front of me. However, batteries were not included. I flipped the “on” switch and the penguin sat in front of me, beak half open, wings outstretched, stiff and lifeless. Its legs were designed poorly and could not support the weight of the machine, and after a few seconds the penguin tipped over and lay dully in front of me. I need a small screwdriver to open the battery compartment, but I do not own one. Now the mechanical penguin sits on my shelf with a hand-blown penguin and a penguin ruler and a small plush penguin keychain. They collect dust and watch over me and wait for another companion.