And we gather during recess. That’s when the rest of the clubs meet—Power Rangers Club, Soccer Club, Jonathan Taylor Thomas Club. We like to think our work isn’t as superficial. We like to think we are enacting real change.
We hook loose-leaf into the jaws of our Trapper Keepers, unzip sparkly pencil pouches. We sit cross-legged in gravel, open plastic-covered books on our laps. We are library kids. We rely on massive volumes, categorized, detailed. We cross-reference. We make lists called CRITICAL and JUST REGULAR ENDANGERED and VULNERABLE and NEAR THREATENED. We are least concerned about LEAST CONCERNED. There are too many to fit in there. But we are so sad about the Black Rhino. We are so sad about the Orangutan. We are so, so sad about the Giant Panda.
At home, we watch commercials for the WWF. Sometimes we get it confused with the wrestling one, which our brothers are always watching. In the commercial, someone shoots a tiger. We are scared of the commercial but know watching it is necessary. The tiger’s paw is trapped in a snare but a man’s voice says you can pay to help. If you pay, you get a tiger picture and a tiger t-shirt. We ask our mothers if we can donate, if we can give eighteen dollars a month or a one-time gift of fifty. We tell them the words straight from the commercial: we are the only ones that can make a difference. We say it with meaning, with please please. They say it’s a scam. They say that for everything, though—the hungry kids with the penny rice-bowls; the sad, scabbed dogs in cages.
At recess, we discuss. We decide our cause is worthy, that our mothers are mistaken. We decide we can lift credit cards from purses. We sit in our rooms at night and practice making our voices grown-up-deep. Our brothers are in the den with the TV loud. They watch Bret Hart put Shawn Michaels in a Sharpshooter while we lie in bed, while we whisper against the wall: We are the only ones that can make a difference. Size small. Yes, it’s a Visa.
When we’re ready, we slide the credit cards out the night before and stick them in our backpacks. At recess, it’s business as usual; we list bonobo facts, sketch out Ganges River dolphins, North Atlantic right whales. We make the calls after school before our mothers get home. We can expect three to four weeks for delivery. But the cards burn and burn in our palms. What we find is that once we save the tigers, there are other things we want. We are just watching TV, and one after another, we see them: all the things our mothers have said no to. Between commercials for the brand-name cereals we can’t have, the sneakers we can’t afford, we see these: mail-order opportunities, only a call away. We want ZooBooks. We want Muzzy. We want Pure Moods. We want to call Miss Cleo. Our brothers catch us and say they will tell our mothers, that we’re shit-for-brains, that bills will come and we’ll get caught. But how will they return all of this stuff? we ask. Our brothers think for a second. They rip the cards from our hands, pick up the cordless. Our brothers want to call 1-800-HOT-GRLS. They want to pay $3.50 per minute.
Our mothers come home and make boxed mac and cheese and give it to us on tray tables in front of the TV. We eat. We do homework. We bathe and put on pajamas. When everyone is asleep, we return the cards. We feel powerful. We are making a difference. We are enacting real change.
Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her work can be found in Hobart, Barrelhouse, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.