The first time I caught a frog was back in 1997, when my mother moved to the United States just to be with us. I was the first of us who left, then my siblings, then my mother. My father had already been living here for a year or so. My brother and I were on our way to her apartment via metro bus to the outskirts of Madison, far NorthEast sidethere and ended up getting very lost.
I didn’t speak very much English at the time and neither did my brother. We walked and walked and I spited him for his slowness. Our feet were cold with the night dew and we were hungry. I hardened myself even more so we could continue on through our path thinking it was the only way we would make it. It was the only thing I knew to do, the only thing I let myself go by. I didn’t let it enter my head that he must have been more tired than I was, hungrier than I was, more scared than I was… He starts crying and I stop, getting angry at him again as he simply cries harder and tells me he’s scared. Hearing him say that out loud made me realize how I was really feeling and walked over to him, telling him to climb up my back. He was a lot smaller then so I had to squat down for him to be able to get up in one jump and for me to then prop him up and give him a piggyback ride for a little while. He stopped crying almost immediately.
After a few blocks, I started feeling him falling asleep on my shoulders. I stopped for a second time and told him, again angrily, that we couldn’t afford to stop until we got to mom’s apartment when in reality I was just too afraid of strangers and too insecure about my English to fathom asking anyone for help. The few times that I had actually asked for help in English before, after only a day of arriving to this country, had been returned with harshness and I didn’t need to know the language to read the frustration in their faces and their voices. No way I was going to go through that again. No. Not when I couldn’t make the words out of everybody’s fast flow in any coherent way that would give me hope of getting to mom’s anytime soon — yeah, that was it — I was scared and desperate knowing I had no idea where we were going but still having no other option than to go on.
Just then, I saw store lights in the distance. I put my brother down and immediately felt the adrenaline rushing through me combined with my legs feeling lighter all of a sudden. I look at my brother for a second before I started jogging away from him, threatening to leave him behind if he didn’t catch up. I just didn’t want him to stop. I mixed being encouraging with being mean and whatever else came to mind just so that we could make it. At that point, we were close. I knew we were close. We just had to be close.
I had a piece of paper with my mother’s address on it. I rode the adrenaline rush and asked a few passerbies how I could get there in really broken English. Every time I nodded and said “Thank You” even if I didn’t understand a damned thing. With every interaction I picked up bits and pieces of valuable information and the closer we got, the easier it was to piece them together. I kept that up until we came to the corner of Northport and Sherman, and I told my brother we had arrived. I pushed him up the hilly slope to the complex by his butt and told him to use his hands to crawl on up. He didn’t like to get dirty and enjoyed wearing clean, dressy clothes even if he didn’t particularly enjoy taking a shower. His favourite colour to wear was red and he liked to play “clean” games with his legos. That until we’d play Aliens and Predators or “American Gladiators.” When we played those games he’d go back upstairs to the room next to mamita’s, get changed, run back down, and come back outside ready to go all out..
My mother had been waiting by the door all night. When we saw her she ran to us as we ran to her. Luis started crying and I did too, hiding my face on her sweater so that she wouldn’t see me. A few seconds later I took my face off her shoulder, looked off to the side, and there it was… The first frog I had ever seen, tiny, shiny, green, white and blue. I let go of my mother’s embrace and slowly came upon the frog… A little closer… One step, two steps… A pause. I look at its shiny back instead of its teeny-tiny marbly eyes and find stillness. That split moment triggers my reflex to lash my arm out towards the critter, like a chameleon and into a flesh dome that would inevitably collapse its walls around it. I could feel the frog hitting the walls of my palm the closer I drew my fingers back together into a fist until I fully scooped its tiny body from underneath it.
The frog was cold, slimy and very lively. It must have been a tree frog, for there were lots of trees around there. Mom asked what I was doing and I said I had caught a frog and wanted to see it. She reminded me of my toad that got eaten by ants back in Perú and I said that this one was different and much smaller. I just wanted to see it.
We went inside and my brother washed his hands, his knees and his face. Mom gave him a cookie that visibly calmed him down and made him feel safer than he’d been all night. I asked for a fishbowl and Mom brought me a short glass instead. I opened my hand on its opening and the frog dropped into the glass on its back, quickly turning onto its legs and sitting there, very still again.
I took my hand out and it stayed there. I asked Mom for a dish, filled it with water and grabbed an ornamental stone that her host kept lots of the same kind inside a fishbowl. It was a black, onyx-like stone, smooth and about as big as a silver dollar. I put the stone on one side of the dish, about two inches away from the border, and picked up the little frog and put it on the stone. It sat there for a few seconds before it jumped into the water. I was overjoyed and mesmerized by the tiny critter, paying attention to its every move and anatomy. Suddenly, the frog leaped out of the dish and onto the floor. Once on the floor, I caught it the same way I had before and looked at it one last time. My brother wanted to see it too, so I showed it to him. He smiled and wanted to poke at it. I said not to, that it might get squished under his little fingers. Mom, my brother and I looked at the frog sitting quietly on my palm for a few seconds before opening the door and letting it go home, back into the wet, cold night.