He was about ten inches long; powder blue, and covered in gaudy orange polka dots. His eyes were round and yellow and lidless. His name was Crispin; he wasn’t named after quirky character actor Crispin Glover, as you might think, but rather after Crispin Sasserach, a character in an obscure Nugent Barker horror story, who ran a tavern and made soup out of the flesh of wandering travelers. An apt handle, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I first saw him clinging to the glass in a flea market pet stall, the overlapping lamellae on his tiny feet pressed adorably flat, his tongue flicking lazily over his eyeball in what I interpreted as a come hither gesture. He could be had for the laughably reasonable price of fifteen dollars, and after successfully begging my father for the money, I took possession, carrying my new little companion home in a clear plastic box with a black lid.
The Tokay gecko, according to Wikipedia, is the second largest of all gecko species, and originally hails from the rainforests of southeast Asia. Another amusing tidbit mentioned therein is that Tokays are known as the pit bulls of the gecko world, though Wikipedia was unclear on whether other gecko species gave them that distinction, perhaps out of misplaced jealousy.
Our relationship was rocky from the start. As soon as I got Crispin home, I reached into his tank to stroke his beautiful blue scales, and he promptly latched on to my finger with his wide, bony jaws and refused to let go. Love hurts, as I believe more than one wise person has pointed out. In a panic, I shook my hand so hard that I flung the hapless lizard across the room and against the far wall. He dropped to the floor unhurt and then stood there staring at me with his slit-pupiled eyes, an obvious challenge displayed in his short-legged stance. For a long time everyone stood around a little uncomfortably, unwilling to pick up the gauntlet this wee little reptile had thrown down, but at last between me and my nerve-wracked family members we managed to herd Crispin back into his box, and then vowed that no one would try to touch him ever again.
After the first few difficult days, Crispin and I settled into an uneasy routine. I would reach into the small tank adjoining his and pull out a handful of live crickets, which I would then very gingerly deposit into his inner sanctum, hoping I would be able to pull my defenseless hand free before he clamped down on it in unbridled rage. Crickets were his favorite food; he liked the challenge of following their quick, fitful movements with his golden eyes and then darting in for the kill, faster than the human eye could process. I had read that Tokays liked to eat mealworms as well, so I kept a supply of them on hand for variety, but more often than not I would find their dried up and uneaten carcasses in the bottom of his tank weeks later. Evidently he wasn’t interested in the slow and the steadfast; he only wanted the nimble ones you had to chase.
Crispin and I were together for the better part of a year, and though I cared for him faithfully and developed a deep and abiding love for him that still tugs at my heart to this very day, he never showed the slightest bit of appreciation, let alone affection of any sort. His initial bitey phase passed once his feeding schedule was established, though every now and then he would still lunge at me just to show who was boss. Mostly he just sat on his heat rock and licked his eyeballs scornfully, and regarded me with a stoic tolerance laced with burning resentment. When at long last I had to sell him to a pet store because I was moving overseas, I cried bitterly for a week, thinking often of his tiny blue triangular head tilting to watch me as I left him behind forever. Anthropomorphization, I knew; Crispin cared nothing for me at all, would not miss me as I missed him, would not dream of me from the cramped empty tank in the darkened pet store where I had abandoned him. He was simply the taker, and I the giver.
I realize now that this was my first experience with loving an impossibly reptilian creature who was incapable of loving me in return. And of course, naturally, it would not be the last.