My fingers get twitchy whenever I see an anole. My dad calls them chameleons. Don’t tell him this, but I was so sure he was wrong about that, I googled it. Turns out he’s right (don’t tell him that either). You know the lizards I’m talking about, with their slender bodies and smartly chiseled heads, transformed a bright green or muddy brown depending upon their conditions.
I’d never seen one until my family rented a house for a week on Neptune Beach near Jacksonville. I don’t remember much about that week other than the Belle Barbie doll my mom bought me, the scratchy faux-grass carpeting that covered the patio floor, and the lizard that bit my thumb and held on as I swung him through the air. Dad had discovered him and scooped him up and handed him to me. I was wildly curious until the little bugger latched on with his nubby little teeth. Mom was pissed.
You might wonder why my interest in these chomping chameleons prevailed after that poor first impression. I do, too. But when we moved to the beach soon after our trip, I kept my eyes peeled for them. And when I was old enough to run about the yard by myself, I started catching them. I’d stalk them in the bushes, moving quietly, quietly, until THERE! There it was, squirming in my dirt-streaked fingers. My cronies—two girls who lived next door—and I would place them in habitats we’d put together in buckets, or just stroke their soft little bodies for a few seconds before letting them go. I’d watch their tails whip out of sight, a little sad to see them go.
Back then, when I was eight or nine or ten, I didn’t feel bad about snatching these creatures out of their worlds and placing them so self-assuredly into mine. I was pleased with myself. Now, I’m admittedly a little disgusted by my old pastime. It seems cruel. And, after moving north before slowly creeping south just a few years ago, I hadn’t touched one in more than a decade. Until yesterday.
I wasn’t going to do it, told myself not to, but when I saw it sunning on the deck, I couldn’t keep my hands to myself. I delicately plucked it from the railing and cradled it in my hands. The smooth, reptilian skin was a sun-baked grass green. I released my hold quickly, but the guilt pooled in my brain as its webbed toes skittered up my arm before daring to leap from my bicep to the wood. It landed with a slap and still it ran, sweeping around a balustrade. It was gone and had taken with it that twitchy, must-touch feeling. For good, I hope, but only time will tell.
I’ve seen one since then, but I let it be, I swear. After all, what could I do? Mom was standing right there.