Monday, February 14, 2011

My Roommate, the Monitor Lizard

Confession: I have never been an animal person. Early in childhood, I had a dog but not long enough to establish the well-accepted connection with man's best friend. Quite honestly, it always struck me as a bit silly how much we humanize domestic animals like dogs or cats: consistently photographing them, talking to them, dressing them, and indulging their whims.

My cousin in Waltham, Massachusetts gladly put me up for a visit, on the condition that I was "okay" with his pets. Now I knew he had a cat, a few snakes, a lizard, and I would be sharing living space with these creatures. I didn't imagine anything more than small reptiles, and I was certainly okay with that.

Welcome to the world of Tazzy, the monitor lizard. She was approximately 3 feet long and about a foot wide, with sharp-looking talons and yellow, watchful eyes. Crowned with speckled scales, she sauntered like a queen in her bed of straw and the faux log that she curled herself around. My cousin strategically placed her in a wood and glass enclosure which was quite secure, since he had built it himself. And the couch adjacent to the enclosure was extremely comfortable. Nonetheless, I had trouble sleeping that first night, due to Tazzy's intermittent nocturnal rumblings.

Tazzy was definitely female, and I was surprised by how well developed her feminine sensibilities were, especially for a reptile. Here is what I learned:

She is territorial. Sometimes I forget that she is there, waking up in that groggy place between dreaming and consciousness. She reminds me of her presence with a golden glowering glare that is uniquely her own. Admittedly, this is her room, her territory. She was here first. I AM the intruder, even though I am human, and she never lets me forget it.

She is moody. Women have their monthly cycles. Monitor lizards have their lunar egg laying periods. Whenever I visited Boston, it was Tazzy's time of the month. I learned that hormonal tempestuousness is universal among all she-creatures. She was bloated, she groaned, she grunted. She lay around acting crabby and refused to come out of her cage. I wondered if she craved any comfort foods.

She gets jealous. Whenever my cousin and I were in the room, her gaze was determinedly fixed on me. She didn't trust me. Mistress of the room was protective of her man. While amphibians and reptiles were polygamous by nature, my cousin's devotion led Tazzy to expect utter loyalty from him. Any other female was worthy of suspicion. My cousin assured me she was much better tempered after I had left.

So maybe it isn't about humanizing animals in our own image (apparently, even reptiles seem to understand affection). Maybe we are more animalistic than we think. After all, we eat, drink, sleep, lust, and we die. We are more often driven by emotion and passion than by logic. We are intrinsically selfish and focused on survival.

One key difference. With animals, their motives and actions are always very clear. They eat when they mean to eat and kill when they need to kill. They chase only when necessary. They do what they do without any pomp and circumstance. Without great visions, ambiguous words, or good intentions.

Without pretense.

I'd rather live in the animal world.

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