Driving down the freeway, Sophy begins telling me about her fear of frogs. When Sophy was a small child in Mexico, her father and mother were so broke they sent her to live with an aunt. The aunt’s children feasted on mangoes and oranges while Sophy was given a single egg and tortilla a day, Sophy was also forced to sleep on a cement floor that was open to the backyard. During the night, scores of frogs would hop across the yard, drawn towards the damp cement floor. Sophy would scream and scream, terrified of the frogs hopping on her body.
Fast forward five years and Sophy and I are living in rural Mexico. I was getting settled into watching a movie on Netflix when I heard Sophy screaming. I ran outside into the dark expecting to see coyotes, rattlesnakes, an injured child. Instead, it was a frog.
“It’s horrible,” cried Sophy. “It’s hiding by the basement stairs. It’s big.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get a plastic bag and get rid of it.”
I grabbed a couple of plastic bags from the kitchen, fitting one over my hand and using the other as an improvised game bag. I told Sophy to grab the flashlight. As soon as I shined the light on it I saw what Sophy meant—it was big and pear-shaped, a toad not a frog. Sophy didn’t distinguish between frogs and toads—they were both equally horrifying. When the light hit the toad, it hopped away and squirmed into a crevice in the rock wall. Unfortunately for the toad, it was an ostrich move since it left exposed a plump hindleg.
I pulled on its leg and drew him out of the crevice. As soon as I dumped him in the game bag he let out a rush of urine—a surprising amount for a desert toad.
“You have to kill it,” said Sophy.
“I’m not going to kill it.”
“It will just come back. It comes here because we have water.” Sophy was in a panic. She couldn’t even bear to look at plastic bag in my hand.
“No. I’ll take it up the hill.”
“I’m going to be afraid every time I walk out of the house. Put it in the trash can.
I walked over to the trash can. The bag was weighty and the toad was moving inside the bag. I hardened myself—too hard—and placed the bag with the toad in the bottom of the barrel.
Maybe an hour passed. Sophy was asleep. I paused the movie I was watching and admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to bed knowing that the toad was slowly dying in the trash can.
I walked outside—it was a gorgeous night—with a blood moon more orange than red.
I opened the barrel and the bag with the toad shifted. It was still alive. I drew the bag out of the barrel and walked up the dirt road to the top of the hill. I carefully opened the bag so I wouldn’t get any poisonous piss on me.
The toad was motionless for a moment, then began hopping away in the opposite direction of our house.
Rarely do things work out so well. Sophy thinks the toad is dead. The toad is alive.
Not so fast.
Sophy and I are out the next day running errands. Sophy gets a phone call from our niece Sylvia, who is visiting us. “The frog is back,” says Sylvia. “He’s in front of our house. What am I supposed to do?”
Listening to this, I thought That is one dumb-ass frog.
Sophy ends the call. “What did you do with the frog?”
I told her I took it out of the trash barrel and set it free.
Sophy was on low boil. “My wellness means less to you than a frog?”
One of the things I’ve learned from Mexicans is it’s often best to remain silent during an argument. On the drive home, there were only a few desultory attempts at conversation. I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought Sophy. If you know me even a little bit, you know I’m not capable of killing that creature. Rattlesnakes and scorpions, sure. Harmless toads, no.
We parked in our driveway. All three kids and Sylvia were huddled together on our front patio. Alexander came running down to the car. “The frog! It’s right there!”
I did my plastic bag maneuver and grabbed the toad from where it squatted next to a potted basil plant. Walking back to the car I said to the kids, “All right. Pile in. We’re taking this guy far away.”
The kids climbed in and we drove a couple miles away from our house. All the while Alexander held the bag, which shifted with the toad’s movements. I remembered a handsome house that was used as a location for a telenovela. As I rolled up on it I saw it had an outbuilding with two huge water tanks. I pulled over and seconds later the toad was on the ground hopping toward the water tanks.
When I got home I said to Sophy, “That frog isn’t going to bother you anymore.”
“Oh, really? Is that what the frog told you?”
“I took it all the way to the house with the blue roof tiles.”
“And what if it comes back?”
We were both smiling by now.
I said, “If that thing comes all the way here, then you have to face it. That frog is a messenger from God. The universe is telling you to make your peace with frogs.”