A Monkey On My Back

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When I was eight years old I lived for a time in a most interesting neighborhood, at least the people who lived around us were unique for the times. One woman was a lawyer who worked outside of her home each day, a rare concept in the mid nineteen fifties. She often invited me to join her for tea and cookies in her beautifully appointed home. It was a special treat reserved for me because she thought that I was well behaved enough to appreciate such a thing. Another neighbor had children that almost exactly matched me and my brothers in both sex and age. While my mother kept a tidy home hers was a study in chaos and fun beyond imagination. Then there was the family across the street that kept a monkey in their backyard. 

I was fascinated by the very idea that an exotic creature lived nearby my home. I learned that the little guy was kept in place by a long tether that allowed him to climb high into the branches of the trees and run around the yard without escaping. As a child it never occurred to me that such a situation may have been a bit cruel and maybe even illegal. All I knew was that a cute little animal unlike any other on the street was so close to my home. I longed to get a closer look at him and maybe even pet and feed him. I thought of him so often that my curiosity got the better of me and so one day when the owners were not home I was lured into the mysterious confines of their backyard by other children who were as intrigued by the monkey as I was.

We were so young and wiry that it was an easy feat to climb the fence while ignoring the warning sign that urged us to stay out of the compound out of regard for little creature. A quick climb and a little jump easily landed us in the jungle like domain. It was so quiet that we began to wonder if the family had taken their pet with them when they left or maybe even given him away. Just when we were about to leave the premises in a state of disappointment the attack began. The monkey jumped from one of the trees directly onto my back while screeching in fear. 

He scratched my neck and my head in his desperation to defend himself all the while screaming as though he was the one in pain. Meanwhile I was confused and terrified as I fought to get him off of my back. I attempted to push him away to no avail. I tried running hoping that he would abandon his perch on my body. I became convinced that I was going to killed by the frightened animal and I cried out for help from my friends. They swatted at the monkey and even attempted to pull him off but he only dug his paws deeper into my back. 

I suppose that we made enough of a ruckus to arouse the dead because soon some of the adults had jumped over the fence to rescue all of us. A man grabbed a broom that leaned against a wall of the house and hit the now crazed animal with the bristles until he finally loosened his grip and ran to the highest branches of one of the trees to hide while we took the opportunity to escape from the horror of the moment. I had never been so glad to see a group grownups in my life even as my heroes chided me and the others for disobeying the command to stay clear of the area we had invaded. 

I’d take hours of being lectured about right and wrong over that incident with the frightened creature. Whenever I hear the phrase that someone “has a monkey on his back” I understand its meaning more completely than most people ever will. My childlike imagination had convinced me as I was fighting to be free from the creature that I was going to die. No doubt that is what the poor monkey was thinking as well. The worst aspect was that I could not see what was happening to me, I could only feel it. 

I suppose that life is often like my encounter with that monkey. We all too often place ourselves in situations that we knew we should avoid. We may spend more money than we should or maintain a toxic relationship that all of the signs tell us to avoid. Whatever the case we find ourselves feeling under attack and all of our efforts to extricate ourselves seem fruitless. The helplessness and hopelessness that overcomes us literally feels lethal but if we are as lucky as I was on that day some kind soul comes to our rescue. Hopefully we turn our mishap into a positive and learn from the mistakes we have made. 

There are valid reasons why we respect the wishes of others. It makes sense to think before we impulsively act. Jumping feet first into dangerous territory not only endangers us but also often creates a dilemma for others. That little monkey taught me these things at a very young age. Both of us reacted irrationally out of fear which is what most living beings do whenever they feel trapped.

I have always been grateful that cooler heads prevailed. The adults seemed to quickly forget the infractions that me and my comrades committed. From that day forward we gave that mysterious backyard a wide berth. The owners of the monkey never said a word but I always felt ashamed whenever I saw them. We moved away not long after that. I was glad to rid myself of the daily reminder of my transgression and embarrassing experience but somehow I never forgot how it had felt. It was a lesson that I would have preferred to have never learned but one that kept me on the straight and narrow forevermore. 

I often wondered how that monkey was doing. It eventually became illegal for anyone in the city to own such a creature much less allow it to run wild in the trees. I suppose that was actually a kind thing to do. That monkey needed to be free just as we all do. I hope that he got such an opportunity before the end of his days. As for me there have been other figurative monkeys on my back from time to time. I understood by then that I was not going to extricate myself from such attacks alone. I had learned how to seek help and oh what a difference that has made.