I’ve been afraid of alligators my whole life. As a child, I had recurring nightmares that an evil, hungry alligator hid behind a tree and chased me around the woods. This could have been a fathomable dream for a kid living in Baton Rouge, but Stamford, Connecticut wasn’t known for its surplus alligator population. Nonetheless, I was terrified, and my father brought home Izod shirts and a giant stuffed pink alligator toy in an effort to soothe my debilitating panic.
“See?” Dad said. “Alligators are friendly! They’re even smiling on your shirts.”
I didn’t buy it, and spent the next three decades shrouded in fear. When I first met my husband’s family many years ago in Ohio, it was at an alligator-themed party. There was an alligator cake and alligator décor, and everyone wore alligator nametags. If you think that paper plates can’t be scary, you are wrong.
It was time for me to wrangle my fear by the tail, so during a recent trip to Naples, Florida, I made the (shockingly brave) decision to (willingly) encounter an alligator. I started at the Naples Botanical Garden. Then I tried Freedom Park, followed by Koreshan State Park. No luck. By the time I got to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, I just wanted to get it over with. As I entered the grounds, my life’s milestones flashed before me. I can leave now, and no one would know. I could drive to Dairy Queen and forget this whole thing ever happened.
Somehow, I sallied forth. I inhaled deeply, trudged into that nature center and approached a Conservancy volunteer.
“I’d like to see an alligator, please,” I squeaked.
And then I found myself peering at one.
Maybe he was 10 inches long and swimming around a cute little tank, but soon he’ll be a six footer lounging in a marsh. I’ll probably wonder if he wants to have me for dinner, and he’ll probably be recovering from nightmares about saucer-eyed humans. Baby steps.