Lived Experience/Memoir

Iguanas (Part II)

I’ve written about my first two iguanas, and the time has finally come to write about my third. His history with me starts when I had already started acquiring a small army of birds and reptiles. It happened a bit like an accident — someone I once knew had two cockatiels and not enough time for both, so they gave me one, and next thing I knew, she had three pet budgies and I had two geckos. It stirred up a lot of emotions around my Dino and Lizzie, so I kept looking on craigslist, where I had acquired my two geckos in unfortunate conditions.

One of those geckos was unable to climb because he was one of the few types that doesn’t have hairy-spatula-feet. He came in an overcrowded, undersized aquarium in which his wastes had solidified fine-grain sand into clay that I could only break off the bottom by power-drilling into it. The other came to me in a mould-infested, former mosquito-coil lantern. When I found my third iguana on craigslist, I told them that I would only be taking the specimen, because I preferred my iguanas to wander freely within my apartment. He turned out to be housed with a couple who didn’t spare the time to socialize him, because they already had a small dog and at least one rat. The boyfriend had acquired him as a baby, and treated him as an amusing Thing You Just Look At For Fun, until the girlfriend convinced him to put him up for adoption because it was clear to her that this was not meeting his needs. They told me he was three years old.

So I went to pick him up, expecting to see some difference between how he looked in his picture from a year and a half prior to that day, and was a bit shocked to see an iguana that was only slightly larger than a well-cared-for six-month-old iguana I had seen years ago. They showed me his enclosure — which was left open so that he could roam — and handed me his food. Then it was time to approach the bright green little man, perched on top of a 3-foot-wide flatscreen television. As I took a couple steps towards him, he lifted himself up on his tiny little legs, puffed up his wee green body, and pushed his dewlap out in an effort to look terrifyingly enormous. I took off my coat to make myself look smaller, and as I reached for him, his tail started whipping around. My hands and forearms sustained being torn into shreds within seconds until he stopped and started holding his breath while I massaged his neck. I was talking to him in a soft voice the entire time, and the couple told me to just take him without paying them any money for re-homing him. I set up his first roost as soon as I got home, and he spent the first two nights climbing out of it at 3 in the morning to wiggle around under the heaters until I got up and put him back.

It was a couple months before he got used to me and helped me reach an understanding of him as an individual. And that part is really important — he was completely different from either Dino or Lizzie in the way he wanted me to interact with him. He showed me just how individual iguanas, and really all reptiles and birds, are. I had seen a hint of this between snakes before. I had even acknowledged that when you put two birds together, especially of the opposite sexes, they will manifest two completely opposite personalities. But Godzilla was genuinely an individual, setting himself apart from all other iguanas I’ve interacted with before. And he showed me what he did and didn’t like in ways that distinguished that individual personality. He was an introvert, whereas Dino was definitely an extrovert. He only liked a particular part of his face and neck rubbed, in a particular way, or he would show how uncomfortable he was by moving his dewlap up and down. And if someone  touched him or interacted with him in ways I specifically told them he didn’t like, he just wasn’t the same for the rest of the day.

When the time came that I had to move out of my little no-privacy bachelor suite, I had to make a lot of adjustments for all my pets. But Godzilla was hit the hardest of all. He started burying himself in my blankets and sleeping on my bed from the late afternoon until the next morning, when he had enough of my first roommate at the new flat. Then he started sneaking into her room while she was in the shower or climbing onto the bed with her while she was sitting on it, and having a great big shit right in the middle of the bed as soon as her back was turned. I even started making sure that he had already gone before I let him wander, but he just started saving a little to get back at her. I mean, he really didn’t like her. And that was the only person he did that to, out of multiple consecutive roommates to share that flat with me.

Within a year and a half of acquiring him, Godzilla doubled in size. I recognized that ultimately, he should have been at least that big when I first got him, but he probably hadn’t been eating as much as he needed to grow because of the Yorkshire terrier that spent all day terrorizing him for his first three years. Now that he was boldly inhaling more than four times what he used to eat, I knew he was going to out-grow his enclosure, and over a couple of weeks, built an absolute monstrosity to house him in.

I wound up being able (with help) to build my birds’ roost into the center section of a partially-disassemble-able 7-foot-tall tower with three 24-cubic-foot sections, complete with doors and a ladder to help the wee man climb down on his own. So when I had to move again a few months later, it was less of a shock this time around, and more of an annoyance that he had to spend most of a day in the transport cage. Until then, he enjoyed walks and sunbathing on the front lawn, where occasionally a stranger would walk up and give him organic lettuce just for being so fascinating.

When I acquired a violin, I would walk into the room where his roost was and play for him. When I made ramen soup, he would climb up on the stove by himself an hour or two later and eat all the vegetable peels. And when he came out of the shower every day, he would climb up a shelving unit I put in the kitchen, and bob his head at me from on top of the fridge. He was my best friend, and when I felt anxious (as I frequently did while cycling through a series of shitty roommates in that flat), I would go talk to him and pet him or pick him up and hold him until I felt calmer.

This is the last picture I took of him with my Nikon camera. It was July, before the second move I put him through, before a boatload of turbulence precipitated into the worst six months in the last ten years of my life. His life was taken by what appears to be poisoning, in the middle of November, just a few days following my 28th birthday. He died in my hands at 2 a.m. as I wept over him, holding him wrapped in my towel. I am the last thing he ever saw. The last thing he ever smelled.

I remain consumed with grief for his sudden death, bursting into sobs whenever I think about his last moments. He filled an emotional chasm that runs deep within me, now empty without him in my life. His death has brought about a change I never anticipated — I am finally able to grieve for a lifetime filled with loss and trauma.

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