if you love someone, set them free (a tale of three lizards)

One night last week, Mark and the boys were off at Boy Scouts, and I was home with the girls prepping for dinner. I went to rinse off some veggies in the sink, and as soon as the water came on, a lizard tried to scramble up the side of the sink.  Being the calm and nondramatic person I am, I immediately jumped back and screamed bloody murder, which brought India and Karis running in to see what happened.  They caught sight of the lizard and immediately starting screaming, too. Both of them ran to their bedrooms, screeching and cowering in a corner, while I started sending text messages to Mark.  He suggested I trap the thing in a towel and fling it outside.  I didn’t really like that idea, so then I turned to Facebook.  No one there had any bright ideas either. Except for another friend from Florida who informed me that the entire state was ashamed of me.

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It’s true. I grew up around tons of lizards. Any time we sat in a patio chair in my backyard, there was bound to be one (or three) lingering under the chair cushion. I don’t know when I got to be so squeamish. Well, actually, yes I do.

First, there was the incident in college.  See, I decided to keep an iguana as a pet in my freshman dorm. I don’t really know what compelled me to do this, especially since they weren’t allowed.  In retrospect, that may have been my motivation.  Anyways, my iguana got loose one day and it was quite dramatic for a few hours, and I finally saw his tail peeking out from under my closet door.  If you have much experience with lizards you probably know how this ends. I grabbed him and pulled back and suddenly had only the tail of the iguana in my hand, flipping around as though still attached.  I dropped it to the floor in horror, where it continued to writhe on the ground for about two hours, as every other freshman on the floor came by to see the freak show in Kristen’s room.  I finally captured Stumpy (not his real name), but things were never the same between us.  In part, because of his resentment about the tail.  Also, in part because I accidently killed him.  But that’s a story for another time.

I had another negative run-in with a lizard shortly after grad school, that only sealed my disdain for their kind. I was on a trip to the Greek isles with a girlfriend . . . a trip we’d planned as a present to ourselves upon graduating. The part of the trip I was most looking forward to was hiking the volcano on Santorini.  I’d seen photos and heard legend of the beauty of this island, and one morning we took a long bus ride and set out to walk to the volcano’s edge. Less than a mile in, though, I tripped and fell into some jagged rock, which banged up my knee pretty good.  We were walking in as a guided group, and I really didn’t think I’d make it the rest of the way.  Not wanting to make anyone wait or cause a scene, I told the guide I would sit on a rock and wait for them until they circled back.  I sat on the rock for several minutes, trying to stop the bleeding and willing myself not to pass out from pain. It was hot and I was just a bit freaked out over being hurt and alone.  I decided to lean back and close my eyes to try to calm down and rest a bit, and suddenly I had a shooting pain from the OTHER knee.  I opened my eyes to find a lizard with his jaws firmly clamped on my knee.  I screamed and got him off, and with the inexplicable endurance of a crystal meth user, ran until I caught up with the group and then walked all the way to the volcano. Granted, I probably owe that lizard some gratitude.  Were it not for him, I probably would have sat there in pain and missed one of the world’s wonders. But still!  A lizard bit me!  Hence my freak-out at The Thing in the sink.

After a bit of strategizing, I decided my first priority was to get the lizard out of the side of the sink with the garbage disposal to avert something really gross from happening, and into the side with just a small drain, where I could trap him until the menfolk came home.  Oh, the irony of Jafta not being home.  I know with certainty that he would have valiantly grabbed the thing with one hand and escorted him into the backyard, but he wasn’t due back for another hour.  I gingerly set the cutting board into the sink as a ramp. All he had to do was climb up and make it to the other side, where I had another cutting board waiting as a room for his new home.  Except . . .

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He didn’t climb into the other side. He slithered along the sink’s edge and then crawled into a small space between the sink and the wall.

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I tried my best to forget about the lizard – imagining him to have somehow made his way into our backyard and (hopefully) on to greener pastures.  But then, one morning Kembe opened the toy drawer in the kitchen to a small surprise:

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Fortunately, Jafta was home this time, and just as I predicted he took hold of the lizard and gleefully pet him while the girls fashioned a lizard habitat out of the superhero bin.  They were all so excited.  India named him Cooper, after our only other family pet . . . a small caterpillar that turned into a butterfly and immediately flew away.

If you love someone, set them free.

If they don’t come back to you, then just name every living creature you come into contact with after him,

in a pathetic attempt at finding Cooper’s unrequited love with yet another member of the animal kingdom with no instinct to love you back.

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Suddenly, the lizard that was the cause of much screaming and crying just a few days prior was now a beloved family pet.  Karis spent hours “petting” him, and Jafta continued to hold him even after being bit several times.  But alas, this lovefest was not meant to be, and Cooper fled the coop a few days later, after one of the kids left a toy that acted as a ladder for Cooper’s escape.

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When we learned of his departure, India cried the saddest cry I’ve seen, devastated about the lizard leaving her.  A creature too grotesque for her to be in the kitchen with was now a thing of mourning.  Mark and I did our best not to laugh as we said a ceremonial goodbye to Cooper in the backyard.

And seriously.  Sorry, kids.  I really hope that thing is gone for good.


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