You have an invisible alligator. You do not know his name. You do not know where he came from. You simply know he is there. You, of course, can see him while others cannot.
Your invisible alligator could eat you. You know that, but your invisible alligator is not interested in eating you or anyone you know. He is a very nice invisible alligator. It’s not that he does not eat. He most certainly does.
Stray dogs and feral cats have been known to vanish since the appearance of your invisible alligator. You walk down the street and a stray dog approaches, snickerty-snap, just like that, your invisible alligator has had a snack.
Dogs on leashes and cats with bells are perfectly safe around your invisible alligator. You do not think that this has anything to do with the rotten taste of leashes or bells but, instead, is a kind of respect for the more civilized creatures who live among us.
Your invisible alligator goes everywhere you go. When you go to the park to run, and swing, and play, your invisible alligator is there, as well. Of course, he does not run, or swing, or play. Your invisible alligator likes to sit in the sun and soak up the rays in his scutes and scales. His scutes are those little armor-like pieces along his back running from his neck to the end of his tail.
Sometimes when you go the park, you are tired of running, and swinging, and playing, so you sit on a park bench and soak up the rays along with your invisible alligator, who sits quietly at your feet. Sometimes as he sits at your feet, your invisible alligator opens his jaws wide as if he’s airing out his mouth. Because he is an invisible alligator, a squirrel may happen by, and snap, a squirrel becomes a snack.
Once, when you’d climbed to the top of the slide readying yourself to slither down to the ground, you looked over and saw your invisible alligator being approached by a murder of crows, which is what we call a bunch of crows. Moments later, those crows had been murdered, and all that remained were a few stray black and shiny feathers. You imagine that crows made crunchy treats.
Your invisible alligator sleeps by the side of your bed. You would invite him onto the bed, but you haven’t quite figured out how to get him up there. Your invisible alligator is quite large with the tip of his snout at one end of the bed and his tail curled around the other. Your invisible alligator is far too heavy for you to lift him up, so he sleeps on the floor by the side of your bed.
It is quite comforting having an invisible alligator sleeping beside your bed, especially since your older brother once told you that there were monsters under your bed. Monsters, you imagine, might make quite filling snacks for your invisible alligator. Even though your invisible alligator does not need to eat a lot and is generally satisfied with squirrels, crows, stray dogs, and feral cats, the monsters will not know that and stay tucked away, just out of reach of your invisible alligator’s snapping jaws. That is assuming that your brother is telling you the truth, which you doubt. Somewhat.
You try to explain this to your sister, about the monsters under your bed. “No,” your sister says. “There are no monsters under your bed. Don’t be silly,” she says. “Monsters live in closets.”
That night, you open the closet door before you go to bed. You do not know whether your sister or your brother is right about where the monsters in question spend their time waiting for you, but you do know that your invisible alligator is there waiting for them. You sleep very soundly that night and all the nights after, even if there is some swampy smell in the air.
You do not know your invisible alligator’s name. You are sure that he must have a name, but you simply do not know it. You consider giving your invisible alligator a name, but you are aware that your invisible alligator does not belong to you but your invisible alligator belongs with you. Your invisible alligator is not a possession but a companion, a friend.
You also do not speak alligator, so if your invisible alligator has a name, he cannot tell it to you. Maybe he has told you, but because you do not share a language with him, you did not understand. This makes you a little sad. You try not to think about this too much, for your invisible alligator and you are good friends. You think that sadness can be shared among friends but not dwelt on too long or longer than necessary.
It is also true that your invisible alligator does not speak English. This does not stop you from speaking to your invisible alligator. You think he must understand. You look into his dark eyes as they look back at you, and you feel that you and your alligator understand one another, even if you do not share a language.
You can mimic some of the sounds he makes, but you are not always convinced that alligators speak only with their voices. You think the swish of his tail or the turn of his snout might have meaning, too. You do not know for certain, however, as your invisible alligator cannot explain any of this to you.
Your invisible alligator goes to school with you. He goes everywhere with you. If Mary can bring her little lambs to school, why can’t you bring along your eight-foot-long invisible alligator? Your invisible alligator would likely not care to eat Mary’s lambs. All that wool would make eating them like eating cotton balls. You have never tried to eat a cotton ball, but you have an imagination. You can taste the idea of a cotton ball being chewed away at, and you don’t think much of the concept.
You are at your desk when your bully comes down the aisle with malicious intent. With a flick of your invisible alligator’s invisible tail, your bully’s feet are flipped forward and up. Without his feet and legs holding him aloft, your bully’s body drops to the ground in a plop. His bottom hits the ground, and he flops backward where his head hits the ground.
You are tempted to laugh. However, you know that laughing at the misfortune of others is a kind of bullying, so instead, you look in your heart for some sympathy. You put a look of concern on your face and hop up out of your seat to help your bully off of the ground.
“I’m sorry,” you say. You begin to explain about your invisible alligator.
“Your what?” your bully says.
“Invisible alligator,” you start to explain again.
Your bully laughs and points. “He says he has an invisible alligator,” he says to the rest of the class and laughs louder.
Your look of concern tumbles away from your face and sinks from your heart. Your belly shrinks and twists. Your bully, you think, can assist himself. You are hurt and embarrassed.
As you turn to head back to your desk, your bully lunges toward you. As he does, your invisible alligator flicks his tail once again, and once again, your invisible alligator sweeps your bully off of his feet. This time, your bully belly flops on the floor beside you. You cannot find the concern that you had before. Laughter has been used against you as a weapon. Laughter should be used only for joy, you think, not derision.
Meanwhile, your bully beats a hasty retreat. He has bruises to attend to, and you are not his only victim. Your bully will salve his wounds by inflicting them on others. Sadly, your invisible alligator cannot help them. They must find their own menagerie for protection.
Your bully does not seem to be able to focus on his other victims. Perhaps your bully’s inability to rain pain and destruction down upon you has interfered with his ability to do so to others. As a result, your bully’s other victims are spared his malignant attention.
Your bully returns his focus to you. You cannot, and should not, escape, your bully must believe. You cannot be the example of one who gets away, so your bully is intent on making you a different kind of example, one that is to be feared and strike terror in hearts and minds. Your invisible alligator, on the other hand, has a different plan.
Your bully persists. Your invisible alligator resists. Soon, you no longer have to put a look of concern on your face because, in your heart, you are concerned, and the look comes without bidding. You are convinced that anyone who falls down, backwards, forwards, and sideways, as your bully has been doing, must be getting bruised silly. At the very least, his ankles and feet must be aching from being battered by an invisible alligator’s tail and snout.
Despite all of this, your bully continues his attacks. He tries to set traps, but your invisible alligator undoes all of your bully’s plans, warning you when tacks are placed or water spread on your chair, keeping your bully away from your desk if he tries to plant signs or deface your desk or your books or your papers. You know that your invisible alligator could simply put an end to all of this with a snap of his mighty jaws, but your invisible alligator knows that causing harm may feel good for a time, but regret will long outlast the satisfaction of revenge.
You consider whether your invisible alligator might simply bite off one of your bully’s legs. The benefits, you think, might be two-fold. Your bully would be stopped in the short-term and slowed down in the long-term while your invisible alligator would enjoy a nice snack, and the lives of some squirrels might be spared. Then, of course, you remember that many a pirate hobbled about on a peg leg, and being one legged never changed a pirate’s personality much. Nope, all the peg-legged pirates you’ve ever read about were still bullies, so you reject this plan, never bringing it to the attention of your invisible alligator.
You don’t think your invisible alligator ever independently considered biting off your bully’s leg. Your invisible alligator can be nicer than you in that way. You admire your invisible alligator’s courage. You decide to try to live life more like your invisible alligator, not the part where he sleeps on the floor and eats squirrels, and crows, and stray dogs, and feral cats. No, you want to be the invisible alligator who only does what he has to in order to prevent harm.
Finally, your bully has retreated. He no longer approaches you with malignant intent. He appears to have finally figured out that something is out of his control and that he cannot harm you anymore. You have never mentioned your invisible alligator since that first time. You never felt you had to. You knew that you had given your bully fair warning, informing him of your invisible alligator’s presence, but after weeks of tumbling and bruising, your bully has finally given up. He may not believe in your invisible alligator, but he does know that you are protected. Now, you think, is the time to approach your bully.
“Hey,” you say to your bully one day. You’ve walked down the aisle towards the back of the room where your bully prefers to sit. He is leaning to one side. His last fall seems to have bruised his bottom in a way that remains painful. In his eyes, you can see a mix of wariness and fear.
You would like to tell your bully that you asked your invisible alligator to stay behind and that he has not accompanied you to this meeting. Unfortunately, because your alligator is invisible, your bully cannot see that the invisible alligator is resting comfortably by your desk, several feet behind you. You also do not want to risk another attack by laughter, so you choose not to bring up the existence of your invisible alligator this time.
You are not here to injure or taunt your bully, you want to say. You want him to know that you will not become a bully yourself. You already know that in your own heart. You want to tell him that you are here to commit an act of friendship. You look at your bully and consider what words might build that bridge. Then, you consider one of the lessons that your invisible alligator has taught you. You do not always need language to create a bridge, a friendship.
You look at your bully with kindness in your eyes and a smile on your lips. You hold out your hand to him. You think your invisible alligator would be proud of you.
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