Duchess

This first post was supposed to be about me and Arizona in general — why I live here, what I like, what I don’t like, how people can possibly survive in the ridiculous summer temperatures.

But last Sunday, Duchess died. I’d known her all my life, or at least since my first school field trip. I must have been around five the first time I saw her reddish-brown hair and soulful eyes. She used to sit on her steel-beam perch and watch the crowds who gathered to watch her right back.

Every chance I got, I went to see her. I would linger at her place, watching her stretch out her long arms and as she graceful swung around her enclosure. In later years, my grandfather and I took a myriad of pictures of her and her family. She lived with her daughter Bess, “son-in-law” Michael, and granddaughter Kasih. After my grandfather died, I visited her alone — though I had all but abandoned my photography. I just watched her instead.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Duchess was an orangutan. In fact, she was the oldest living orangutan in captivity until she was put down last Sunday after a weeks-long battle against cancer. She had been at the Phoenix Zoo almost since its opening day back in 1962. I would wager that everyone who attended school in and around Phoenix from the zoo’s opening day until very recently had “met” Duchess. I don’t know how many of them spent as much time as I did watching her, but I’m sure I am not the only human who visited the zoo just to see the orangutans.

The zoo held a memorial for Duchess today. I didn’t go. It’s 111 degrees out today, and I try not to leave the house in the summer. I hope a lot of other people showed up for her, despite the weather. When the heat passes, I’ll go and visit what’s left of the family. Bess, Michael, and Kasih will probably be over the loss of their matriarch by then, but I fear I will always miss Duchess’s soulful gaze.

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