Dos Rios Preserve, Brazil
I loved the story of my birth. Mother and Dad told it to me so many times, it became a fable. The fairytale of my own life.
There they were, Charles and Elizabeth Whittenbrook, a wealthy and esteemed couple, two of the world’s most acclaimed environmentalists, credited with saving large sections of the rainforest.
They’d married “late in our youth,” as Dad liked to say, and they were finally pregnant with their long-awaited and much anticipated first child, yours truly. They were extraordinarily happy at their Brazilian refuge, Dos Rios, deep in the heart of the Amazon, awaiting the birth.
A radio call came to the preserve’s office. The child of a local Indian family had been injured. Could my parents help? Naturally, though Mother was nine months’ pregnant, she and Dad packed medical supplies and set out on horseback. They saved the child’s life and prepared to return home.
Suddenly, Mother went into labor. The tribe made her comfortable on a woven reed mat in the shaman’s hut, and there, beneath an Amazon moon, I was born. As Mother lay holding me in her naked arms, a tribal elder presented her and Dad with the rarest of gifts in honor of my birth—a baby hyacinth macaw.
Mother, in her impeccable English voice, with her love for the novels of Jane Austen, announced that I would be named Karaja, in honor of Brazil’s best-known native tribe, but that the honorary bird would be named Mr. Darcy, as per Jane Austen’s famous character in Pride and Prejudice.
My delighted father carried the placenta of my birth to a nearby river and ceremoniously presented it to the river gods, as instructed by the shaman.
“It was a blessing of the gods that neither I nor the shaman were eaten by piranhas during the ceremony,” Dad always said with a smile.
With a melodramatic story like that as a launching pad, I should have grown up to be the leader of a brave resistance or the demi-god of some powerful cult. But I didn’t. Imagine if Marilyn Monroe had had a daughter, and that daughter grew up to be a perfectly nice, accomplished, smart, well-adjusted person, and yet... the daughter knew she would always be a dim bulb compared to her mother’s shining star.
That’s how it felt to be my parents’ daughter.
Brilliance is always relative.
I grew up stuttering and chubby. It didn’t help that Mother and Dad were famous environmentalists, and it didn’t matter how rich they were. Not even fame and family fortune protects those of us who start out being perceived as different from the majority.
At boarding school I was known as P-P-Porky Whittenbrook. Later, when I overcame the stutter, I was known merely as Porky. At Yale I became a semi-vegetarian. Fin was fine. Fur was foul. I lost most of the weight and was then known as Carrot Whittenbrook. Did I mention my frizzy red hair?
I was grown before my peers called me only by my given name, Kara Whittenbrook. By then, the psychic damage was done. I had become one of the world’s few shy heiresses, and a bona fide recluse who preferred the rainforest to the so-called real world.
Plus I hated both pork and carrots.
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