Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mythology, Childhood, and the Cyclic Nature of Lizards


There is an electricity in trespassing. It's a prickling under the skin, a sense of mischief and risk, a middle finger to someone else's idea of borders– all in the creeping exploration of places we don't quite belong.

As a child, I trespassed in vacant lots, chasing insects in old fields gone to seed. I played in the cracks of the suburbs, crouched amongst the weeds, entranced. And as the days ran through and the shadows grew long, I often realized in waves of sudden paralyzing fear, that I was alone and very vulnerable there.   

On endless summer afternoons, the trailer park up the road was another tempting haunt. Wandering the rows of mobile homes, with their faded pastel awnings and sad cactus gardens, I was silent as a street cat, edgy, and quick to duck out of sight.

It was still as death there too– inhabitants all squirreled away in their air conditioned boxes. But every so often a window shade would slightly part, and I would feel the eyes of someone unseen, watching me. For a split second then, the cactus gardens turned to bone, the mobile homes raised up on scaly chicken's legs, and I fled in dry gasping breaths from Baba Yaga's doorstep, racing home through the suburban dust.  

Sometimes the body says "slow down", and the mind must listen. #100happydays

Then one day, I came upon a group of trailer park boys, all about my age, standing in a tight little circle. They didn't notice me, preoccupied as they were. But as I crept closer, I saw that the boys encircled a limp little form– something small and helpless at their feet.

It was an alligator lizard– missing half its tail with one leg twisted all wrong, strapped to an unlit firework. Its three functional legs still feebly pushed at the dirt, but the firework was too heavy to move and the little creature too tired to really fight. The boys jeered at their prize, and the blood pounded to my head.

No. No. No. No. No. No.

Here it was– real evil in the world. And all the fears of child-stealing witches and unseen monsters bled down the walls of my brain.

I ran then, like I had run from Baba Yaga so many times before. But this time, I ran into the heart of that cruel little circle and snatched the lizard away.

And ran. And ran. And ran. And ran.

I ran until my lungs burned and my vision clouded,
until the sound of my own sobs drowned out the shrieks of the boys behind me.
I ran, pressing the lizard flat against my bony chest, weeping all the way home.   

Image 5-18-14 at 7.45 PM

But the lizard lived, at least long enough for us to clean its wounds and lay it gently in the backyard planter. By morning it was gone. I never saw it again.

A decade later, in May of 2012 another injured alligator lizard wandered into our house. It was the first I'd seen in over a decade– the first I'd seen since monsters became real. I disinfected its wounds, gave it some water, and released it.

Today, almost exactly two years later, the same(?) individual returned. In the triptych above, the lower panels are May 2012, and the upper panel is May 2014. Note the similar scale patterning and location of tail injury/regrowth.

In this, I find the mystery of tiny lives, lived unseen around us.
In this, I find the horror and cruelty that humans are capable of.
And most of all, in this, I find the mythology of childhood– fairy tales and daydreams– slamming hard into reality.

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