Sometimes, I fantasize about bringing lotion to the zoo and rubbing it on the tortoises.
I want them to feel young again.
The tortoises are total zoo celebrities, everybody is allowed to reach their hands into their corral and stroke them, and the tortoises seem to enjoy their status as wrinkly, wise cocks of the walk. (It would be so easy to moisturize them.)
My uncle Henry’s iguana became such a star yesterday when they reunited at Henry’s nursing home. For 23 years, Saint Ignatius the iguana has been Uncle Henry’s companion but during these last two months, hospitalization has separated them. Most humans haven’t shown much patience with Henry’s decades-long bout of untreated schizophrenia, but Saint has. Saint never discriminated against Henry because of his mental condition. Saint recognizes Henry’s wisdom, appreciates Henry’s mystical lifestyle, and embraces him with open claws.
Yesterday afternoon, when I walked into Henry’s room, I found him relaxing in his bed, his head resting on a fish pillow.
“Knock, knock,” I said. “Get up! There’s a surprise for you in the front courtyard!”
“Is it a big lizard?!”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to go see!”
Henry leapt out of bed faster than any schizophrenic with Parkinson’s ever has, grabbed the wheelchair he uses as a walker, and plodded in his Jesus sandals alongside me. We got tangled in a bit of wheelchair congestion in the front lobby, being Sunday all the invalids were in there enjoying sun and fresh gossip, and finally, we made it around the lumps and rolled into the courtyard.
Henry’s face became a grinning reptile’s when he saw his baby in the large clear bin we’d set on a patio table.
“Saint!” he squealed. “My beauty-full beauty-full Saint! I love you. I apologize, Saint! I’m so sorry!”
I opened the bin, Henry took his best friend out, and he kissed Saint’s scaly cheeks and head, telling him over and over how he was beauty-full and he was so sorry for leaving him.
Henry was beaming so intently that his Slavic eyes disappeared into squints and he placed Saint on his lap, the bond between them firmly rekindled. Patients in wheelchairs rolled over to the sliding glass door to ogle and discuss the iguana, most commenting either on how beautiful the lizard was or how frightened they were that he might eat them. One patient in particular began discussing his ex-girlfriend’s snakes and how dinosaurs and human used to roam the earth together.
Listening to a creationist and a schizophrenic have a conversation is worth its weight in antipsychotics.
We snapped a few family portraits before leaving and never have I witnessed a more bittersweet reunion than that of my uncle and his reptile. The reunion truly brought to life the lyrics of Peaches & Herb’s Reunited:
Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited ’cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited
‘Cause we’re reunited, hey, hey…