The Internet – Killing Childhood Dreams

One of my best childhood memories is reading Koko’s Kitten with my mother. We ordered it from Scholastic together, my mother letting me fill out the form in my shaky elementary school handwriting, and then, when it finally came, we read it together. Over and over and over again. I had seen the book featured on Reading Rainbow and was immediately obsessed with the story of this western lowland gorilla who, having been taught American sign language, repeatedly asked for a kitten. She wanted a real kitten, not a stupid stuffed kitty like the researchers kept trying to pawn off on her. When she was finally gifted a fluffy, grey, kitten for her birthday, Koko named her All Ball-because that’s just what she looked like to her! I fawned over the iconic picture of Koko and her kitten, feeling so deeply her love and affection, and I would think to myself, lying in the nook of my mother’s arm as she read to me, that I too was going to get my very own kitten just as soon as I could. And I did. I got Olympia while away at university fourteen years ago, making her the only childhood dream of mine that I have actually realized.

I was reminded of Koko the other day reading a question about her in The Ethicist. (Koko had shared an afternoon with Robin Williams decades ago and was saddened to hear of his passing. A reader wondered whether it was moral to tell Koko about the actor’s tragic death.) I was more concerned, however, with whatever happened to All Ball. It had never occurred to me to Google Koko before, forgetting that the past can be brought to life now with the magic of the Internet. I was stunned to watch actual footage of Koko and All Ball and was immediately transported back to my eight year old self who first fell in love with these beautiful animals. I watched Koko and All Ball cuddle and then I watched them chase and play and then I watched as her trainer explained to her that All Ball had gotten out of her cage and was hit by a car on a nearby logging road. I listened to Koko moan and cry through the night, alone in her pen, after being told All Ball was never coming home. It was heartbreaking.

Fucking Internet.

There are things you can’t un-see and there are things you can’t un-hear, as much as you wish you could. I can’t stop thinking about it. Happy memories of me and my mother are scarce for me and discovering that All Ball never made it past kittenhood tarnishes the memory for me. It dirties it about the edges. This image of my mother and I, snuggled up together, her voice lulling me to sleep with my favourite story, now feels uprooted, hit by a logging car. It hurts, to have this special recollection, that I cradled so fondly in my mind, be rewritten, changed.

I look up the book to see if there were any clues of this terrible end, anything I should have picked up on even reading it as a little girl. I’m surprised to learn that not only are there clues but the book itself tells the story. The very book is about love and loss: how Koko loved her kitten, lost her kitten and mourned her kitten.


How did I not know? Is it possible my mother held together the last few pages, seeing how much I loved the story, protecting me from its ending? It doesn’t sound like something she would do, being as matter of fact as she was, but maybe she did. I hold Olympia close to me, wondering. Maybe my mother didn’t want me to know. Maybe, somehow, she sensed I would have enough loss of my own.