August 22nd, 2021
There was this game we used to play with a plastic crocodile when I was a kid.
I’m not sure if our role was as dentist or some sadistic torturer (I mean, why would any animal need ALL its teeth removed?), but to take a turn would require you to choose and push down on one of its teeth, and hope for nothing to happen.
You would lose the game if the crocodile snapped your hand, which happened at random and without notice.
Over the past 10 months, I have done an exemplary job of keeping my shit together. Honestly, a previous version of me would have loved a traumatic event or two, as it would have given him a reason to embrace a dark whirlpool of self-pity and a license to be as self-destructive as he pleased. (Dude liked to drink and didn’t need a reason but would warmly welcome one if it presented itself.)
It’s because I’ve been able to keep myself together that I worry, without any logical reason or convincing evidence, that every time I visit home will be the time I snap.
I think about it every time, and I visit home often. Today, on my drive down, I imagined my fingers searching over the plastic teeth, hoping that this turn wouldn’t be the turn. And I started writing this post in my head, and when I walked into the living room the actual crocodile, the one in this photo, was sitting atop a bookshelf.
A cosmic reminder or an urgent warning, I don’t know.
But I know how it feels to come home. Like that first year after graduating high school. If you left your hometown, like I did, you know the feeling of coming home to visit, and knowing that you weren’t going to run into most, if any, of your favorite people.
They had moved on.
When I come home (and no offense to the rest of my family, who I adore), I know I’m not going to run into my favorite person there. It’s an empty, cold autumn day of a feeling.
And that feels, every single time, like I’m putting my hand into a crocodile’s mouth. I wish it was just home that made me feel like this. It can be hearing a song or seeing a bird or the wrong word on the wrong day.
Pushing down on plastic teeth, waiting for the end of the world.
In a weird way, the fact that you get to reset the crocodile makes me feel better.
He regrows all his teeth, ready for the next dentist (or sadist) to get all up in there. The circle of life via child’s play.
I might snap. Some day. But I also know I can reset. I can heal. I can grow.