hile I was at the pet store today, buying food for wild birds and our domestic serpent, I stopped to look at a red iguana in one of the containers there. He (or she) seemed lively and alert, though not looking his best, as he was about to shed and his skin looked dull in consequence. Honestly, I would have liked to take him home with me, but I’m not up to taking care of another pet, and anyway, the way I’m feeling I worry that any creature that joins me may well outlive me.
It was forty-eight years ago today that my pet iguana Molly Bloom joined me. I had wanted an iguana for years, and in honor of my graduating from high school my father decided to give me one. I had a habitat already set up and ready to go, and we went to select my new pet together. The lizards were active and lively-looking, which was reassuring, in that it suggested they had been well-treated and not “damaged in shipment” as one pet supplier had described an episode that resulted in dead reptiles.
After looking at the bright-eyed little creatures in the container, I selected one that looked alert and healthy, and the lady in charge reached in to pick her up and place her in a container for me to take home with me. As she did so another iguana seized her chance. Running up the woman’s arm she made a wild leap into the center of the store and headed off at high speed for points unknown. My father, the saleswoman, and I then fanned out in a sort of circle surrounding the escapee, who was moving from point to point at blinding speed, visible to the unaided eye only when stationary.
Finally the woman crept up behind her while I stationed myself on the floor in front of her, my hand palm upward on the floor. The woman made a sudden grab for her, and the lizard vanished in a flash, shooting across the empty space and coming to a stop on my hand. I curled my palm around the small green creature, picked her up, and announced, I’m going to take this one too. And so it was that Molly became part of my life.
She was a surly creature, unlike my other iguana, my first pick. She was fond of bananas, so long as they were overripe and mushy, and when I gave her assorted fruit she would always pick the cherries out and eat them first. When I had to move her she would do serious damage to my skin, leaving me with scratches up my arm that refused to heal quickly, so I bought a thick glove to wear when I had to move her. She quickly identified the glove as her enemy, and would attack it on sight, biting it and whipping it with her tail. In later years, when she lived in my bathroom on a perch that ran a foot under the ceiling from one end of the room to the other, she managed to open the cupboard where I kept the glove, pull it out, and rip it apart. When I told my father about it he remarked, Well, at least she knew who her enemy was.
She eventually grew to be just under five feet long. She went through several containers as she grew, breaking out of the last one in a memorable moment. I was out in the backyard at the time, when I heard one of the dogs barking—I forget which one now. I came in to find that somebody—I’m not sure who, though I have my suspicions—had overturned the garbage and spread it out over the kitchen floor, and now my iguana was digging through it, while the dog virtuously called my attention to her misdeeds. At my appearance Molly took fright and ran for the bathroom, climbing up a towel rack and installing herself on top of a cabinet. She seemed to like it there, so I let her stay, and she made it her home for about a decade.
She lived over twenty years, a good life for an iguana I guess. One day I walked into the bathroom to find her posed in a position as if she were about to leap off the tall cabinet, her back feet on top of it and her front feet on its side, her head down. I thought at first she’d just frozen there for a moment, as she sometimes did when startled, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that whatever it was she had been doing, she wasn’t going to finish it. I buried her body alongside the north fence, and went on with my life without her. She had been a part of it throughout my twenties and most of my thirties, and I had enjoyed her presence.
Not everybody felt the same way. Visitors expressed their pleasure that I no longer had that creature living in my bathroom—but I missed her.