Rocky the Lizard
Brayden, my eleven year old, has wanted a lizard for a long time. He had been asking for months. Finally, this summer, after saving up for weeks from his dog walking business and two lemonade stands, he made enough money to buy a bearded dragon, the terrarium and all the accessories. I spotted him some extra money, but I was happy to do so because he worked so hard to make it happen.
Evan didn’t think he should get the lizard. He didn’t think we needed another pet, and he also thought it was a huge responsibility. It did cost a bit more money than either of us anticipated, but I thought Brayden could handle the job. Also, there was some maintenance that none of us realized. We had to feed the little guy live crickets everyday. So after buying Rocky, the bearded dragon, we then had to invest in a cricket cage along with 500 live crickets. (Eek!)
Perhaps, there was a part of me that was living vicariously through Brayden’s love for animals. I had always wanted a lizard that you could hold and carry around on your shoulder, ever since I was a little girl. As an adult, that dream had obviously diminished significantly, but I was excited for him. I no longer wished for this kind of pet for myself, as I now had three children, two dogs and a husband to love, but it was fun to see the joy and excitement on Brayden’s face. I could wholeheartedly relate to it.
When I was a child I did have a tiny lizard named Tyler (but he was not the kind you could take out and play with.) I had two Gerbils named Annie and Amy. I had a frog named Scooter. I had a hamster named Chloe. I also had two cats named Cole and Bella, along with our family dogs: Nicki and Maggie. I absolutely loved animals, and Brayden completely takes after me.
So this is why I was fully in support of Rocky, the bearded dragon. Evan never held him or went near the thing, but Brayden and I enjoyed playing with it together. One night, early on, we overfed Rocky too many crickets and needed to figure out how to get them out of the terrarium and nearly peed our pants laughing together, trying to catch the crickets and put them back in the cricket cage. We had so much fun figuring out how to take care of the little guy.
Brayden cared for Rocky very well. Rocky lived in the corner of Brayden’s room and he talked to him everyday. He loved him. Brayden was good about turning the heat lamps on every morning and off each night, covering him with a blanket and saying goodnight to him when he went to bed. He checked his temperature daily. He cut up fresh veggies and gave him water regularly. I had to remind him sometimes to clean the cage, but Brayden was a good little first time pet owner. He was responsible, considering he never had to be in charge of a live creature before.
Much to our sadness, Rocky’s time with our family only lasted about 6 weeks. Last Tuesday, when we were saying goodnight to Rocky, we discovered that he had unexpectedly passed away. It was a devastating turn of events, that shocked us all. Unfortunately, we aren’t sure what exactly happened to Rocky, and we will never truly know how he died. We found his little body shriveled up, rigor mortis, in the corner by his favorite log. Brayden was undoubtedly horrified and broke down immediately. It was all quite tragic.
He said he had forgotten to feed Rocky live crickets for about a week. Brayden sobbed, blaming himself, but I tried to tell him it was my fault for forgetting to buy the crickets. We hugged each other in our pajamas and cried in the dim light of Rocky’s terrarium. We immediately put our robes and slippers on and went outside. We buried him in the front lawn, under Brayden’s favorite climbing tree. We came back inside and turned off his terrarium light one last time. Brayden then crawled into my bed and cried until his voice was hoarse.
I believe Brayden will always remember the night Rocky died, just as there are moments in my childhood that stand out to me still to this day. I hope that Brayden will remember the comfort, love and support I gave him in that moment though, if this is something that he hangs onto. I hope he can remember not the sadness of the moment, but instead the compassion, hugs and love I showed him.
In the past, when I was still drinking, by 9:00 at night, I would have been drunk and unable to handle the situation appropriately. I may have even yelled at him or blamed him for killing his pet. There would have been little compassion or understanding from the old me. I would not have been able to give Brayden the support he would have needed. I know going forward, I will always be the sober, loving support he needs, no matter what happens in our lives, and I know that is a comfort to us both.