A wink of her eye, a tongue flick, the way her mouth was upturned into what looked like a smile-I could stare at this lizard for hours just studying her mannerisms. The way she waddled when she walked, and would stop to cock her head up at me as if to say “what’s next?” As she got older, she became even cuter with her chubby beard; so chubby that it weighed her face down into a slight frown– and we formed a bond that no one else seemed to understand. Shall I start from the beginning?
Like many kids in school, I never really quite fit in. Moving from school to school throughout my childhood made keeping and committing to deep friendships difficult. I found myself wasting away my days watching discovery and nature channels. Once we had the internet (yes, back in my day there was a time where we did not have the internet); I spent the majority of my time online or in chat rooms. I do not recall how I ended up there-but I eventually stumbled upon reptile chat rooms and immediately took an interest.
I had been working before it was legal for me to work, since the age of 12. Mom and dad would never allow me to have a reptile in the house-they were a creepy thing; god forbid the scaly little demon got loose in the house to nibble on their toes at night. After much research and having some new online “reptile friends”, I saved up my money and purchased an entire setup for a baby bearded dragon-a 40 gallon tank, UVB lighting, dishes, décor, and all. How in the world was I going to get this huge setup into the house without my parents noticing?
My high school friend and I drove her car up to my house on a Saturday-not an easy feat with it being a mile long winding, rutty dirt driveway in the middle of the woods. My mom was in the living room, my dad at work. We stopped the car before it was in sight of the living room window. I casually walked inside, saying a quick hello to mom, and headed to my bedroom to open the window and remove the screen. I dropped the trash can outside of the window to use as a stepping stool. After slipping out the window my friend and I lugged the huge setup through-luckily my bed was on the other side so the tank would rest comfortably while I ran back through the front door-my mom oblivious to the fact that I just walked in through the front door twice (keep it casual, maybe she won’t notice…)
The enclosure was successfully set up on my dresser and ready for its new inhabitant. On my way home from school the next day we stopped at the pet store to pick out my new friend. The bearded dragon, which I later named Jade, was curled up in the corner of the tank away from the other lizards piling on top of one another. She didn’t look sick, just out of place-perhaps a little socially awkward like myself. She was perfect for me.
It was two weeks before my mom walked into my room and saw tiny Jade basking on her log, legs stretched back and mouth wide open in a happy grin. The look of surprise, then confusion, then a unsuccessfully hidden look of amusement came across my mom’s face as she exclaimed “it’s kind of cute!” I was off the hook. Jade went everywhere with me; grocery shopping, road trips, the beach, the mall, you name it. People would approach me, not realizing Jade was contently sitting on my shoulder looking at them curiously. I would giggle at their reactions that ranged from curiosity, freight, or “oh my goodness!” When I needed someone, Jade was always there-even when no one else was. She moved with me to college, was there while my boyfriend fought cancer-then had a battle with a disease herself; something called yellow fungus. It was not curable. The heartbreak I felt when she passed was unimaginable. She took all of my secrets with her, and now permanently resides on my shoulder as a tattoo-to continue her travels through life with me.
Now happily married and in a house of my own, I once again have a baby bearded dragon named Ruby. She was the dragon in the pet store that separated herself from the rest of the group, curled up in a corner looking lost. This time I was spared the trouble of sneaking the setup through a window-and it’s a good thing, because now my bedroom is on the second floor. During the evenings after work, after the feathered children are in bed, I find myself sipping wine; watching little Ruby lay on my husband’s chest while looking at me curiously just as Jade used to. My little girl came back to me.