Yesterday I put on my best “don’t rob me, I belong here” shorts and then walked three miles to an ATM, stopped by a bakery to buy the best brownie in Fortaleza, and walked three miles back to my apartment. I was out for two hours. When I got back and tossed my debit card on my desk a lizard flew out of my pocket. I don’t know how he got there. I have no idea how long he was there, or how I never felt him when jostling for money and my debit card. I’ve seen geckos on ceilings, inside cabinets, and fearlessly clinging to the outside of a window 200 feet above the street, but I had yet to find a live animal in my clothes. If my story seems weird just try imagining the cockamamie story he’s telling to his lizard friends right now.
He was cute. A gecko, green and black, with big eyes and a thin tail. He reminded me of some old friends, Sheriff Rango and Beans, two leopard geckos named after the protagonists in Rango. I bought them the day after seeing the movie. The movie blew me away; the geckos weren’t bad either.
I did my best to take care of Sheriff Rango and Beans. I bought them the biggest cage I could, multiple heaters and hide rocks, a hammock the ingrates never even touched, and turned wood boxes into hides for them. I took them out when I could but they tended to hide under counters or inside sofas so they didn’t come out often. Instead, I tried to disguise their
prison cage as an old west town, complete with a cactus, a picture of a saloon, and labels reading “General Store” and “Sheriff Station” above some of their hides.
I bought the lizards at a great time in my life. I was married, had a respectable job which I enjoyed, had disposable income, good friends, a clear path in life, and an apartment with a spiral staircase the wife insisted on. I thought the staircase was obnoxious, but it freed up more floor space for Rango and Beans so I never complained.
Things started to change after that. First came the marriage. Downplayed problems turned to massive, unfixable black holes and our relationship started to become unglued. Then came the job. I quit it to go to grad school so I would be qualified for another job which pays less. My disposable income and nice apartment died with that decision as well. It was a pretty bad financial decision in hindsight.
During the program my ex-wife and I officially split and I realized that I had no desire to be a K-12 teacher forever, which was a problem since I went to a grad program for Education with an internship specifically set up to teach civics at K-12 schools. After I graduated I gave my lizards to a nearby family, then stuffed a skiing backpack full of clothes and epilepsy medication and went to Brasil. I canceled my return flight.
I’ve been floating for the last three years now. I spent six months in Santiago and eight months in Oregon, but otherwise have generally been working a new job in a new country every month. Sometimes I look back and try to isolate the moment when my life changed. I can’t.
My marriage fell apart, I quit the job I had so I could focus on a program where I was a poor fit, I’m more financially strained, I gave away my lizards, and I’m not sure where I’ll be staying or what I’ll be doing in a year. I enjoy traveling but my savings and travel hacks (Hint- barter English lessons and volunteer in exchange for room and board) won’t last forever. Eventually the clock will strike midnight and I’ll be broke and staring at a giant gap on my resume.
Yesterday for the first time in forever I looked back on the wealth, comfort, and stability I had four years ago. I thought about what was a successful life then compared it to where I’m heading now and realized one thing: I wish I had my lizards with me.