This is an annual tradition of putting elephants in strange places, which celebrates the most metaphorically resonant moment of my life with Zachary Jacobi, and the importance of talking about the elephant in the room.


In February 2015, when Zach and I were both into each other, but we hadn’t talked about it, I asked them to build an elephant with me. It was for our end-of-engineering prank day, right before we get our iron rings, and elephants are a symbol of my department. I had a crush on Zach and wanted to spend more time with them, and Zach had been nursing a crush for years and wanted to spend time with me, so when I asked if they wanted to spend a Saturday cutting a six-foot-tall elephant out of plywood they said yes.

We borrowed my uncle’s power tools and set up a workbench in one of the student labs. At the time, we were both reading the book The Just City, although Zach was a few chapters ahead of me. A major arc in that book follows two characters who really into each other, but one of them knows she isn’t particularly attractive, and doesn’t feel all that special, and more importantly what she feels is more arete than eros; she wants the person she loves to be in her life so she can talk to him and watch him become the most excellent version of himself.

As we were talking about the book, and this theme, it’s only natural that our conversation turned to the general ethics of having crushes on your friends. Are you obligated to tell them? What if you don’t change your behaviour around them? What if you already like your friendship with them so much that you don’t need anything else, you’re already getting so much, even though, sure, it might be nice?

... We didn’t talk about our feelings for another four or five months, so I guess we decided that you aren’t ethically obligated to tell your friends about your crushes.

However, we did create an unrealistically metaphorically resonant scene. There we were, talking about this very general ethical question that of course neither of us has any personal stake in, and the whole time we’re making “elephant in the room” jokes, because we are literally constructing an elephant in the room. While… Not talking about the actual elephant in the room!

It was ridiculous.

Photograph of Tessa standing in front of a plywood-and-two-by-fours elephant that is taller than her. There is various debris on the floor from its creation.

The plywood frame of Ella Phantzjerald, which Zach and I built for the 2015 Iron Ring Stag at Waterloo.


We decided we couldn't leave this glowing elephant up lest it be interpreted as a Republican endorsement, but for a few glorious minutes Zach and my two-year elephant-aversary was properly celebrated.

Zach, if you're reading this: I think you're great!

A dark photograph, with a sort of messy glowing flat elephant in the middle. Tessa is crouching beside the elephant and showing it off.

A elephant painted with retroreflective spraypaint near Lake Merritt.


I got in the habit of painting the elephants pink; a symbol of something you can't help but think of.

"I'm glad we talked about it" could easily be the motto for Zach and my relationship.

Zach and I spoke for thirty-eight hours in January (I keep track of this in one of my embarrassingly-many spreadsheets about my life). We've now at least obliquely acknowledged our feelings for one another for three years. There's no one I talk to more. I'm glad we make so much time for each other.

Happy elephant-aversay!

Photograph of a grey elephant on a bright red brick wall. In nearly-illegible pink writing atop the elephant are the words 'I'm glad we talked about it.'

A painted pink elephant on a brick wall in West Oakland.



(in barely legible black marker on plum paint, and in other ways, too)

Four years of Zach and I putting elephants in strange places because of each other. Three years of doing so in distant places.

I always fret that my elephant-aversary art will be read as some kind of Republican political statement. I hope some tourist child found these and took in the lettering as well as the symbolism.

Photograph of a row of small dark plum elephants in front of an icy pond. The US capitol building can be see in the background.

A row of small elephants in Washington, DC.


After Zach died, I started learning on a different elephantine symbolism: trying not to forget.

Remembering hurts... forgetting hurts more.

Photograph of a pair of bright yellow painted elephants, one on each side of a corner in a concrete wall. One elephant has the words 'remembering hurts...' written on it, while hte other has the words 'forgetting hurts more'.

A pair of painted elephants on a concrete wall in South Berkeley.


(rendered illegible under snow)

Darling, I still think of you every day, but you are so small and shapeless. I wish I remembered you better.

Photograph of a bright orange sculpture of an elephant. There is a bit of painted paper beneath, in the same orange, which says, 'I wish I remembered you...' and then is obscured by snow.

A tiny sculpted elephant on a snowy bit of Toronto concrete.


Some future year, when mourning feels less true, I intend to treat elephant-aversary as a celebration again. Zach was really excellent, and we created a lot of excellence together, and that deserves a celebration. Not yet.

I miss you a lot.

Photograph of a small graffiti-covered building, with a white elephant pasted on top of some plywood. some not-very-legible text reads 'I miss you a lot'.

A wheatpasted elephant in a Toronto park.

Zach’s side of all this

Zach also hid elephants, less as a public art project and more as a bizarre, ongoing prank against their coworkers. Once a year, a toy elephant would show up at the office, with no explanation. Blame was cast. Apparently a building secretary was suspected, but then exonerated when an elephant still appeared after the office moved. Zach took the secret to their grave and I honestly think that’s hilarious.