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Dancing with my ElephantJust over thirteen years ago an elephant arrived at our home. There was something very familiar about him, perhaps it was his gait or was it the occasional twinkle in his eyes that we recognized? Whatever it was that made the elephant so appealing, the mother wanted to keep him. (Also there was no other place for him to go at that time.) A special zoo in a city nearby that trained unusual pets had no space available and it seemed cruel to just leave him in a small shelter that could barely provide custodial care. Although our home is very bright and spacious, the elephant was surely cramping our style because no matter where each of us went, his presence was always there. The poor creature didn’t mean any harm but plates and glasses, furniture and ornaments were broken. There would be messes all over the place and so to avoid further distress, newspapers were put on the floor at meal times and any unnecessary household clutter or objects of affection were put away.

Of course we know that elephants eat an enormous amount of food but not until you live with one do you realize just how much they eat! Our elephant loved every type of food and was most calm and content at eating times. But sometimes to our horror he would even try to ingest non food items like little toys, dish clothes and actually any thing that would fit into his mouth. The elephant would always have to be supervised lest any harm come to him. We were, up until now, quite accustomed to the smaller variety of household pets that could be kept in a cage even though our bunnies behaved themselves properly to enjoy the run of the house. No cage big enough would fit into our house to keep the elephant safe and out of trouble. You probably realize that elephants are known for their good memory. This vital ability was seriously lacking in our elephant and was made most apparent when trying to house break the creature.

The mother of the family was compelled to hire a special caretaker to help supervise and accommodate living arrangements for the elephant so that he could live happily and the two teenaged sons could carry on with their studies and part time jobs. In a way, having an elephant in the home was exciting because no one else we knew had one. Friends and extended family of course wanted to come and visit our new family member. Some laughed or cried. Others pointed and stared. The mother heard some whispering about what a crazy idea it was to take on such a project. Those were the ones who didn’t see the twinkle that glimmered in the elephant’s eyes. It was awkward to have so many people coming and going. Most of them visited once having had their curiosity satisfied. Some liked to pop by as if they were visiting a zoo to point or stare and feed the elephant. Because they didn’t live with him and understand the need for a special diet, they thought they were being kind by giving him so many sweet treats. They had heard he was happiest when eating and enjoyed watching what had become a spectacle similar to a circus act.

Of course most people were used to elephants in a zoo or circus. An elephant in a home was indeed strange and also scary enough that some friends and extended family never came to our house again. Presently, the father of the family had been away and the elephant gave the mother a project to occupy her in his absence. The teenaged sons had their own lives to lead and never would the mother impose more responsibility upon them. But they were usually willing to help around the house and keep the pet elephant occupied or out of trouble when the mother was busy. As the years passed by, the sons grew up and moved away. The elephant became the sole responsibility of the mother and some days it was lonely and frightening. At least she could have a normal conversation with the sons but you really can’t expect an elephant to carry on a normal conversation. Of course there was a method of communication in place for the elephant to get his wants and needs across to humans. That was fine for the elephant but the mother was quite frustrated because her wants and needs just did not matter to the elephant.

The mother felt like she was beginning to disappear with the elephant into a world where only they existed. In this fantasy existence, she treated the elephant as if he were human. In fact, because her husband never returned home the elephant became her spouse in her mind. She felt safe with him because he was big and strong and she did not feel alone any longer. One veterinarian suggested that the mother was developing a false sense of security. When she took the elephant out into the real world she often forgot that the elephant was just an animal. If he behaved badly, the mother would either get scared or very agitated. She spent so much time in her fantasy world that when around normal people sometimes she assumed the elephant would behave like a real husband. It was that twinkle that glimmered in his eyes that kept on fooling her.

You probably know lonely people who treat their pets as if they are human and come to depend on the creatures for love and attention. That is exactly what has become of the mother for about five years now. When she is at home with her pet, there is a relative peace and sense of stability. When visitors come by, some ignore the elephant completely and wonder why the mother seems so sad. Others seem to expect the mother to do tricks with the elephant just like in a circus! To comply she started to dance with him in a constant frenzy when humans are around. This way she does not appear sad because one cannot dance when depressed. Also those who choose to ignore the elephant seem to enjoy the dancing lady doing fancy dance steps as fast as she can. Some like to bring peanuts to the elephant and laugh when the dancing lady slips on the shells or falls on the floor. But lately, as she is getting older, the mother is getting too tired to dance all the time and has permanent damage to her left hip and lower back. The mother realizes that her fantasy world in which the elephant is her husband is her haven but a distorted haven. She must remember not to take the unfortunate creature into her real world. If she can keep her fantasy and real world separate they will both be safe. The elephant is most content at home with the mother. She is safe in her own mind and in her own house. She is most content with her few loved ones who know how hard she dances and will continue to dance, just not as fast and only for herself.

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