Anne Marie's Cheetah

Anne Marie's Cheetah

A Story by tcd123
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A woman finds hope in the memory of a cheetah mother and her own daughter.

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A couple of summers ago, Anne Marie somehow convinced herself to enter the hot and dry world of Africa. She was fresh out of grad school and had decided that despite the extremes in weather and food choice, going with her church group was for a good cause. She looked forward to discovering the beauty of the life and culture there, and the fact that the trip included one full day dedicated to a wildlife safari made it an experience she couldn’t refuse.

Throughout her time there, she took pride in teaching little African children how to read, but in her mind the desert safari was what she was ultimately looking forward to. The smiles on the children’s faces and the rich unique culture were unlike any other, but the mysterious life outside the village boundaries captured her attention and lured her in.

Once the day came, her anxiousness and the blazing heat combined to cover her body in sweat; it was so hot that some of the group actually decided to stay behind to enjoy the few places with shade that they could find. The engine stalled at first, but once the smell of gas fumes hit her nose, she was ecstatic. Camera in hand, Anne Marie was more than ready to explore. She was disappointed when the tour guide reminded them they must stay in the vehicle at all times, but was soon relieved when she realized that this in no way prevented a very up close and personal experience with the exquisite animals of the African desert.

Her camera continuously snapped as the animals revealed themselves. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Just before her, wild elephants nudged each other and violently flapped their ears. Not too far away a pair of hyenas wrestled and growled in the dust.

On the journey back to the small village, she discovered her favorite. It was her cheetah, accompanied by three stumbling balls of matted and spotted fur. As the truck treaded by, the cheetah stopped. Her babies surrounded her and snuggled up to her sides. She looked Anne Marie dead in the eye, refusing to turn away until the vehicle was a safe enough distance from her and her cubs. She stood there " proud, strong, and peaceful. The young woman couldn’t take her eyes off of her; the cheetah mesmerized her but she couldn’t figure out why. When she fled, she ran with an incredible grace. Her strides were so swift that the thuds of her paws were never heard over the truck’s muffler. She looked so free.

Anne Marie eventually turned back around and smiled to herself as she looked down at her camera. There was something about that cheetah, something that lit a spark in her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

That moment, years ago, was the one time that she had felt true peace, and she was lucky enough to capture it. The hot African air, almost suffocating, had somehow felt fresh and new. She took a deep breath, preparing to re-enter the crowded reality of life on her own in the big city. Despite her sudden feelings of readiness, the next few years presented no similar peace. The only part of Africa that came home with her was the arid dryness of a long hard day.

            Those years have now passed, and she’s at her breaking point. Anne Marie, now a single mother of two, is barely getting by. Her six-year old girl, Clara, is almost too smart for her age, and already helps take care of her baby brother, Ben, who has just turned two.

Ever since she was a little girl herself, Anne Marie’s dream has been to be, above all else, an amazing mom. Lately, however, she has felt like a constant failure to her children. She tries to understand what she could have possibly done wrong to deserve to be so alone. She convinces herself that she’s come to terms with the fact that the love of her life and father of her children blinked and decided he didn’t love her anymore. What she can’t comprehend is how it’s possible for him to just leave her to struggle and completely abandon their children. Every day, she wakes up and tries hard to be as strong as she can, for her kids’ sake, but can’t help sobbing once they fall asleep. Every night she prays to God asking for a better day, but every tomorrow drains another ounce of her hope.

            Tonight, Anne Marie keeps herself busy in her run-down, two-bedroom apartment as she packs away the remnants from dinner; Tuesdays are always Chinese take-out nights. Ben is already tucked away, left to dream, hopefully of much better things than Anne Marie thinks she provides them. Clara, refusing to surrender to sleep until she reads at least one short story with her mom, anxiously scans the worn down bookcase. She carefully runs her fingers over each exhausted spine; her choice is almost always unpredictable.

            Anne Marie is startled when Clara calls out to her, at first mistaking her curious tone for panic. “Momma what is this? There’s no words! This one, this one! Please Momma, can we read this one?” Anne Marie picks up Clara and sets her on her lap. She immediately recognizes the fading, rust-colored cover of her photo album from Africa. She forgot it existed, and for a moment, that she had gone to Africa at all. As soon as Clara’s little hands open to the first page, the images throw Anne Marie right back on the safari.

            Clara’s chubby fingers trace the shapes of all of the different animals that her mom had gotten to see. With every touch she leaves a small fingerprint on the smooth and sticky surface of photo paper. On each new page a different magnificent animal comes to life.

            Anne Marie strokes her little girl’s hair, more focused on her daughter’s excitement than the actual pictures on each page. The last page appears, and Clara slaps the page, almost violently. Her six-year-old baby blue eyes dart to meet her mother’s, anxious for an answer, while her pudgy index finger remains glued to the cheetah’s speckled face. “Momma,” she says, “I like this one the best. Oh look! She has babies! Do you see them Momma?”

            Anne Marie’s eyes shine, and she smiles as she runs her own tough and calloused fingertips over the old photograph. “Yes, Clara, I do see. Momma was right there and took this picture. Goodness, you would’ve loved it in Africa.”

            “What was it like Momma? Can we go?!” Clara asks. “What was the momma cheetah like?” Her daughter’s last question sets Anne Marie on an unexpected rant.

“Seeing that momma cheetah was my favorite part of the whole trip,” she says. “She was beautiful. I almost missed her, and I took as many pictures as I could once I saw her. She was very calm and gentle with her furry little babies but it was obvious she was also really strong. You could tell that she was doing her job, and she wasn’t gonna move a muscle until she knew for sure that all of her babies were completely out of harm’s way. And do you want to know what the best part of it all was?”

Clara doesn’t even respond this time; she just sits there on her mom’s lap. Her eyes widen in anticipation for the answer.

“The best part,” she reveals, “was that everything she did was simply because of her maternal instincts!” Anne Marie exclaims, surprising even herself with her excessive excitement.

“What’s that mean, Momma?” Clara shyly interrupts.

Anne Marie chuckles, realizing she’s been so absorbed in the memory of her cheetah that she forgot words like “maternal” and “instinct” are slightly advanced for her little six-year-old’s vocabulary. “Sorry honey,” she says, “it means that the momma cheetah knew how to take care of her cubs because she knew that as a mommy, she must always protect and take care of her babies, never let anything happen to them, and help them grow up in the best way possible. Just by watching her, you could tell that she was a perfect mom.”

Clara, with some instincts of her own, sets her little hand on top of Anne Marie’s. She smiles, squeezing her mom’s rough knuckles, and quietly whispers, “You know, Momma, that sounds just like you.”

Anne Marie’s heart drops and she pulls Clara in close. These words, despite their simplicity, are all she has been praying to hear.

“Mom I can’t breathe!” little Clara chuckles into her mother’s chest. Anne Marie clutches her tiny hand as the blood continues to rush to her face, and she walks her daughter to bed.  She tucks her in, kisses her young forehead goodnight, and whispers a quiet “I love you.”

            After a proud last glance at her children, Anne Marie turns off the light and gently closes their bedroom door. Her chest bursts and the tears pay their nightly visit, but with different reason. She gazes out the grimy hallway window, beyond the tireless city haze, and sees her cheetah running through the blazing African desert. She looks up to the sky and thanks God for her tears, her tears of hope, and for blessing her with two beautiful babies, whom she will continue to love, protect, and make proud.


© 2013 tcd123



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Added on May 2, 2013
Last Updated on May 2, 2013
Tags: animals, maternal, mother, children, hope, learning experience, epiphany, comfort, love, faith