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She Found Comfort in Her “Imaginary” Raccoon Friends

She didn’t think she’d find her favorite animal in Colombia, until some friends came along.

Coati, member of the raccoon family

I just noticed as we boarded the plane to Colombia. “Mom, my raccoons! They’re gone!”

“I’m sorry, honey, it’s too late to go back,” my mother said, corralling me and my two siblings.

We were going to visit my dad, a civil engineer who had been transferred to Medellín, where his company had a contract to clean up the Medellín River. We joined Dad for the summer and for two months at Christmastime. This was in the ’80s, when the Colombian drug cartels made it too dangerous for us to play outside or go anywhere without my dad. He worked long hours, so we spent a lot of time in his small apartment. It was hard for me as an eight-year-old to be cooped up far from my friends.

Losing my beloved raccoons—a pair of stuffed toys that stuck together with their Velcro paws—only made it harder. Raccoons were my favorite animal, their eyes kind and curious. To save space in my backpack, I’d attached the toys to the outer strap using their Velcro. They must have fallen off.

In Medellín, my mom offered to buy me a new stuffed animal, but my raccoons were irreplaceable. The only thing that cheered me up were the weekends. Dad took us on drives through the mountains. One day we discovered a restaurant nestled in the jungle. We sat at a table near the window, and I spotted an animal in a tree. Bright eyes, a ringed tail—“Dad! A raccoon!”

“I don’t think there are any raccoons in South America,” he said, not looking up from the menu. The animal disappeared. But I had seen it….

This happened each time we ate there. Maybe I’m the only one who can see them, I thought. It became a kind of game for me to look for their curious eyes peeking from the trees.

One afternoon a waiter tossed some fruit outside. Dozens of my “imaginary” friends came running. Finally, my family saw them too. We learned they were coati—members of the raccoon family. It wasn’t a coincidence that we’d found this off-road eatery. Someone knew I needed my favorite animal.

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