My friend Molly and I were strolling through East Rock Park last Saturday morning. Not unlike the joggers and the church picnickers, we were thinking about life and what it felt like to live it on that sunny morning. We were happily yammering away when in the middle of the path, in broad daylight, unmoving and prone was a four-foot long iguana.
There was a man standing next to it and looking down at it sadly. Closer, we realized the iguana was really hurt. I mean really hurt; as in, he reared his head when he was prodded, and opened his big mouth to hiss a silent hiss of dying. His guts were in his mouth. The poor thing was busted up near dead.
The man on the Blackberry was Justin of Friends of East Rock. He had already phoned the police and was on hold with animal control. Molly and I took turns getting closer looks at the lizard, at once morbidly curious and frightened.
Justin looked at us and said earnestly, "I have to go to a meeting. I've called the police…" And with that, we were charged with responsibility, immediacy, and yes, citizenship. He left us and there we stood guarding the dying iguana. Thus began a Saturday morning taste of real community.
A man walked up with a baby boy, came and checked out the iguana, told us it was supposed to be green, not the jaundice it was. We wondered together if it had been dumped, already hit by a car, or if a Parks and Rec. truck had run it over. The cynic in me thought it had been hit then put in the middle of the park to be found and buried. The half-full woman in me believed it had been living happily in the park for months, and upon reaching for a far-off branch, had fallen from the tall oaks above us.
The man with the baby offered to stay with the iguana while Molly gathered sticks to weigh down a make-shift trash bag shroud for the thing. I went to houses around the park knocking on doors, asking if anyone was missing a pet iguana. I interrupted a woman mowing her lawn, explained the story, and she told me that she was certain none of her neighbors to the right of her had a pet iguana. But the people two houses down, who knew? She didn't really know them. At another house, a man came to the door while on hold with the telephone. "I hope you aren't missing an iguana," I greeted him. He was happy to report he wasn't and was so kind to then ask the operator to hold while I filled him in on what was going on in the park.
And what was going on in the park, as I now looked back to see Molly amid a small and curious crowd, was in the business of community. Some sixth graders came with their bikes and their father. Turns out they were from my school, Foote School. Turns out they were coming from an alderman's party. Turns out the man with the baby wants to run for alderman. Turns out the local poet Alice Mattison and her husband Ed came to see what was going on. Her husband is a former alderman.
Then, the policeman arrived and declared, "The Green Iguana is not native to this park." At first I thought no shit, and as he talked it was clear he was familiar with reptiles; he's got a few snakes as pets. He reckoned the iguana was kept by some ignoramuses who dropped it in the park and that then a truck came by and squashed the thing. He went to check on the iguana under the glad bag and when he poked it, nothing happened.
It didn't move. It was dead. It had died just there. It was alive and then it was dead.
He picked up the body, and folded the thing in, and the thing arced at the bottom of the trash bag.
People's faces were all sad. We were all sad for this poor alien, this poor orphan, and this poor untold story of a living thing.
And that was it. We used the bathroom, and kept walking down Orange street feeling like we belonged to something bigger than ourselves. And that the charge of respecting a helpless living thing, no matter how random and bazaar, brought people out of their own lives, and brought us together. Iguana community like that, don't you?