After doing roaming presentations, I started helping out on stage. At first I was just like a display rack. I just held the bird while the presenter talked about it. That's when Rachel first showed up at the center. I saw her walk in with her friend, Nadine, and I almost keeled over right on stage. Of course I'd thought about seeing her again. I'd tried once or twice to get contact information on all the Animorphs. But everyone had pretty much disappeared. I'd pretty much decided that it was better for me to leave that all behind, start over fresh. But then, there she was. I wasn't entirely sure it was her. Her hair was brown, and she kind of slinked into the auditorium – and I'd never known Rachel to slink.
After the show, Nadine ambushed me. She had a million and one questions & she was snapping pictures left and right. And all I was thinking the whole time was how to ask her what her friend's name was without sounding like a weirdo. So I invited her to come back and see more birds… "and you can bring your friend if you want."
Nadine had to practically drag Rachel to the back. We were introduced, and I at least knew that her name was Rachel. But she was nervous, and I was used to a Rachel that practically oozed confidence from every pore. So I did what I could to put her at ease. I let her handle a peregrine falcon (I knew she'd fall for that one). She resisted for awhile, but finally gave in. She let herself go, and I could tell she was enjoying stroking his feathers. So, while her guard was down, I tested her. I used thought-speak to call her name. It was as if I'd thrown icewater on her. She withdrew immediately and rushed out.
I let her go, but I still had Nadine there – my last chance. So I encouraged Nadine to volunteer at the center. She was enthusiastic, but said she'd have to check with Rachel, since she didn't have her own transportation at that time. That week was seriously the most emotionally charged week of my life. I was so sure that it was the same Rachel, and yet, she was so obviously different. I felt like I needed to know for sure, and I needed her to know who I was. But at the same time, I was afraid that I was chasing memories, dragging up the past that we had both obviously moved on from.
The next day, there she was. Reluctant, but there. She came to the back where the birds where, and stumbled across my section – where all the birds I cared for and handled were kept. I saw her stop at Cruiser's cage, and she started talking to him. She looked so sad. I knew I had to come out and tell her who I was. But something was still holding me back. I hadn't told anyone my story in so long. And what if I was wrong about who she was? Maybe deep down I wanted so badly to have a resolution, that I had convinced myself that she was someone she wasn't. But then, she walked past my other birds, Xena, Ax-man, and Prince Jake. She stopped as if frozen, and then she shuddered. It was an incredibly physical reaction. And I knew. So I told her to meet me the next day. I needed time to rehearse what I was going to say.
It's possible that that was the longest 24 hours of my life. I don't think I ever dreaded a battle as much as I dreaded that conversation. I couldn't come up with any way to say it without sounding like I had totally abandoned the Animorphs… because I had. I could have found Rachel. I could have knocked on her mom's door & asked where she was going to school. I could have searched the internet. But I hadn't. I had convinced myself that everyone else had moved on, and that they didn't need me. I knew everyone had gone different directions – it never occurred to me that my "death" may have been the reason.
Well, the day came… I told Rachel who I was. I was ready to apologize, beg forgiveness, plead my case, grovel & anything else she demanded. But she was a different Rachel. She basically said, the past is the past, let's leave it there. And we started over. And yeah, I asked her to marry me. Even after not seeing her for five years, after building a whole life without her, within a few hours of getting reacquainted, I knew I never wanted to be apart from her again. Crazy? Probably. But my life has always been crazy.