I'd learned the trick from my cousin the day before. We were sitting on the playroom floor at my Granny's house; two parakeets chittering away behind us. I told her my family was going to Stanley Park the next day, and about how badly I wanted to feed the squirrels.
"I know how you can get them to come up to you" she said, cracking gum.
"You take two coins - a nickel and a dime - and you click their sides together. Squirrels hear it and they think it sounds like nuts being cracked open. They'll come right up to you."
She paused for emphasis. "I bet you could pet them if you wanted."
I WAS SO IN.
For the next eighteen hours, I never put down my change purse. I held it so tightly I wore little sequin indents into my sweaty kid palm. Its 15 cent contents were the key to making my nine-year-old squirrel-obsessed dreams come true. I would feed one, it would let me pet it, and then it would come home with me and we’d be best friends forever.
As far as kid plans went, it was pretty foolproof.
We arrived at the park the next morning, dew slick on the cold spring grass. I bounded out of the family station wagon with singular purpose.
"Heather, wait!" my mom called from the lineup at the snack cart. "You can't call them without the peanuts!"
I ignored her. We were finally here! AND HERE...THERE BE SQUIRRELS!
I pulled my nickel and dime out of my change purse and began gently clicking them together.
Within 20 seconds, my siren song had entranced four squirrels. They hopped over expectantly, noses twitching, eyes bright.
I remember thinking they were a lot bigger than I'd expected—more like small cats—and sleek and black instead of scruffy and brown. I remember starting to worry that perhaps the Wonderful World of Disney—the TV show I watched religiously every Sunday night at 6pm—had fudged the truth about how friendly and safe woodland creatures were. I remember my mother yelling "Jesus Heather, stop!" and I remember mentally agreeing with her and somehow not being able to relay that information to my still clicking hands.
The next part is a bit of a blur.
The way my mother tells it, one of the squirrels decided to claim the nuts I was clearly hiding and jumped on to my leg, clinging by its claws to my corduroy overalls. In an instant I transformed from a quiet, polite, slightly prissy little girl to a spittle-flecked maniac. As my legs and arms flailed, trying desperately to dislodge the squirrel, I began hurling out a heaving, obscene cloud of f-bombs and s-bangs so loud and so dense that some say it still hovers over Lost Lagoon on misty spring evenings.
Years later and decades older, I find myself back at Stanley Park on a bright, dewy spring day. Birds are chirruping happily, waves are lapping and squirrels are doing squirrelly things. As I walk up to a concession stand to buy coffee, I think briefly about trying my luck with them again.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" said the smiling gent behind the counter. "Absolutely" I reply.
He hands me the coffee, and plunks down my change on the metal napkin holder. It makes an all-too-familiar clink.
"Looks like you've made a friend already" he quips.
I don't even need to turn around to know what's behind me. And I don't even realize it as the words start to pour out of me.