How I Ruined a Perfectly Good Lizard

Part Two of Two (I hope)

At the time of this story, my cat Sabine was an exclusively inside cat. In an ongoing effort to keep her entertained and prevent her from trying to kill me out of boredom, I got three lizards known as anoles. They’re those little green guys about the size of your finger. For some reason in my adult life, probably my mom’s fault, I’ve developed a weird pet-naming scheme: cats get European names, birds get Native American names, fish get names of various alleged Mafia members, and lizards get Mexican names. The particular lizard who is the subject of this story was named El Rincon del Amor, or “Barrel of Love”.

Whenever I cleaned the lizard cages, I put the lizards into the little cardboard boxes they came home in and I locked Sabine in a bedroom. One day, whilst cleaning, I heard a tremendous noise from the lizard box area. I went rushing out to find that Sabine had broken out of the bedroom and had extracted all three lizards from their boxes. I captured two of the lizards safe and sound (fast little suckers, too), but when I found the third, El Rincon, one of his eyes was bleeding.

I was horrified. I checked Sabine’s mouth and claws for El Rincon’s eye, but couldn’t find it. I yelled at her about how we are all one under this roof and blah blah blah. Then I called a veterinarian friend of mine. It was about 10:30 at night on a Tuesday, and he said about the only place he could think of was an animal emergency room about 45 minutes away. So I packed up El Rincon and headed out. At one point, I got lost, and went to a gas station for directions. There was a kindly cop there, and when he heard my destination, made ready to escort me. But when I told him it was a lizard I had in tow, he just pointed me in the direction. Sigh. But I got there.

At the emergency room, I waited for about an hour and a half. Many other, furrier, animals were in far direr straits: a cat was having trouble having kittens, a dog had been hit by a car … it was all terribly sad. Finally my turn came. The first thing that happened was the doctor offered, very gently, to not treat El Rincon. You see, the emergency room visit was $60, and El Rincon cost $5 when he was new and had both his eyes. But no, I am an animal freak who has seen too many kung-fu movies and I have consequently developed that westerner-befuddling sense of honor. Had Sabine killed him, I would have buried him. But since she had left him alive, he was now my responsibility. And so I bowed to the doctor and very gently explained that her suggestion could not be so.

The good news turned out that El Rincon’s eye was intact and only his lid had been scratched. There was only a risk of sepsis, a toxic blood infection that lizards inherently get from cats as an ancient way of exacting revenge from the cat owner. So the doctor cleaned up his eyelid, gave him a shot, put him on a four-hour feeding schedule for three days, and told me at that point I should take him to a regular doctor for a checkup and another shot. A wha—?! Four-hour feeding schedule?! I didn’t know about that part when I made my honorable kung-fu animal-freak commitment.

The doctor gave me two droppers, one to be filled with some milligrams of beef baby food and one to be filled with some milligrams of water. Then she showed me how to use a paper clip to pry his little lizard lips apart for feedings. Of course, when she did it, he was adorable and agreeable. Naturally, when I woke up at 5:00 a.m., four hours later on that Wednesday morning, he was worse than a cat with a pill. After an hour, I got him to take everything and went back to bed for an hour, contemplating how to manage this new wrinkle in my schedule.

I was pretty sure I couldn’t call in sick to work for three days on account of lizard feedings. And I worked just far enough away that I couldn’t come home for lunch to feed him. Hmmm … how to make a wounded lizard portable? I ended up putting him in one of those white corningware pie dishes with a glass lid, taped it shut, and tossed the whole getup into a duffel bag with a heating pad, a washcloth, and all the other wondrous accouterments of lizard care and feeding. And off I went to work. I set it all up discreetly under my desk—I was a professional, after all, working at a steel company, after all, and this was just the sort of soft womanly error they’d expect me to make—with the pie dish half on the heating pad and half off. So far, so good.

Lunchtime came, and I turned my back to the door of my cubicle and extracted my one-eyed lizard for his feeding. Just as I was in the middle of wrestling with the lizard and the paper clip and the beef baby food, I heard a “Holy—” at the door. It was Jim, the kind of accountant who made other accountants look as flamboyant as Siegfried and/or Roy. He wore white socks every day and, for a strict Catholic man, he had a surprisingly small family. Jim was a great guy—for April Fool’s Day one year I took all the staples out of his stapler and put his wastebasket on his desk, and he thought that was all quite a wild hoot—and we got along just fine on every professional level, being similarly anal about numbers. But this was going a little too far.

“Denise! Is that a…?” he asked.

“Oh, uh, this is my, uh, lizard,” I said, and I held up El Rincon so he could see.

“A liz—?! Good golly! Well, what the heck do you … Why is …”

Since Jim and I could oftentimes read each other’s thoughts, I hesitantly filled in all his ellipses best I could, but he still walked away baffled and, I daresay, possibly enduring a crisis of faith. But I knew Jim. He’d keep his mouth shut. And he did, but for all three days he kept showing up in my office at lunchtime, full of various forms of unspoken punctuation, and leaving in a cloud of dandruff, utterly bewildered. I consider it a testimony to our friendship that he ever helped me out with accounting problems again.

So, flash forward. Eighty-five dollars later, El Rincon del Amor had attained his full health again. But one day, I noticed him in his cage, I swear, looking at me. Now, now, I thought. You could fit three lizard brains on the head of a pin. He is not looking at you. But he was. Then he stopped eating again, and turned brown, and I thought something along the lines of, “No way in hell, buddy. I spent 85 bucks on you,” having long ago forsaken my eastern honor. So I pulled him out of his cage, got the old feeding apparatus and fed him some water. First he turned green, and then his throat turned red, and then he started doing little pushups in my hand. He was … my god … he was displaying! He had got the Florence Nightingale effect and had fallen in love with his nurse! Oh no … I’d ruined another animal!

This went on for about a year or so, with every so often him not eating and turning brown, and me hand-feeding him, and him doing his green-red-pushup thing. And then one day, he was dead. It happens. But what should I do with this odd little animal who loved me and canoodled me into far more interaction with a lizard than I thought proper? What should I do with this animal who took a little piece of my heart when he died? The usual ritual of stuffing him into an empty toilet paper roll and burying him didn’t seem quite right. And then I got an idea.

El Rincon would have a Viking funeral. I got one of those white styrofoam containers that hotdogs have been known to come in and cut it in half to make a little boat. I lined it with soft tissue, and laid him inside with a dead cricket, since the live ones just jump out again, having no sense of honor or history whatsoever. I took the boat out to the pond in the back, placed it gently on the water, and set it on fire. He floated off into the darkness, and I quietly damned the carcinogens as my vision blurred. El Rincon del Amor, Barrel of Love, had truly lived up to his name on earth. May he give the lady lizards of Valhalla a run for their money.

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