When all the other girls in our class were fawning over Justin Timberlake and Nick Carter, we were in love with a crocodile hunter. Not just any crocodile hunter, but The Crocodile Hunter. My twin sister Nikki and I would crowd close to the TV on Saturday mornings, flip to The Discovery Channel, and watch as Steve Irwin fearlessly wrangled rattle snakes, hippos, lizards, and crocs. We were enamored by his sun-toasted skin, his almandine eyes and desert-blond hair, the charming gap between his front teeth. We ran around the house imitating his famous catchphrase in our crude Australian accents, “Crikey, mate!” We went to the Discovery Store in the mall and made Mom buy us toy crocs of our own to wrangle. Nikki even got a Stretchy Steve-O doll, whose arms stretched when you pulled them hard. We would each grab an arm and pull in opposite directions, pulling Steve as hard as we could.
The Halloween of 2003, when we were nine years old, Nikki went as Steve. We dressed her in a short sleeve khaki button down, matching khaki shorts and tan boots with tall white socks. One of Dad’s belts, which was too big for her, we fastened loosely around her waist. We got her a little rubber snake to bring around too.
Nikki and I had a fascination with nature. Mom bought us science kits that would help us identify indigenous leaves and insects. We had a huge book called “The Nature Book,” where there were colorful images of animals and plants in all different ecosystems. My favorite was the Rainforest, and hers, the Ocean.
At first Steve did the show on his own, but then got married to Terri and they took their honeymoon hunting crocs. It was a TV special that Nikki and I wouldn’t miss. Steve and Terri were to us the most perfect couple. They would take turns driving the van or holding the camera, each narrating the scene in perfect calmness and elation. In 1998, Bindi Irwin was born, and would be a regular addition to the show. Steve was now more than a crocodile hunter. He was a husband and a father.
There were plenty of close calls on the show, where Steve would watch a rattlesnake slithering on a branch and then it would suddenly strike. But Steve was always low on his knees. He was a professional that preached safety at all costs.
2006 was our first year of Junior High, and we were excited. Nikki and I always loved school. At recess we would play Marine Biologists and look out through imaginary binoculars to search for dolphins, whales or manatees. We loved science class, where we would be dissecting frogs this year. On September 4th, the last day of summer vacation, I watched the news. Steve Irwin was dead.
We always knew Steve was fearless, but never believed he was mortal. According to the report, Steve was stung by a venomous stingray while filming a documentary about the deadliest sea creatures in the world. I ran up to Nikki’s room with tears in my eyes and told her what had happened to Steve. We sat on her bed. She held Stretchy Steve-O in her hands and we stared at him, crying.
This was our first experience with death and mourning. The loss of our first love. We cried for Terri and Bindi. We saw Bindi speak about her father on TV, at his memorial service. She was eight years old and addressed her audience with such poise, among them, her mother and her younger brother. She said she wanted to serve animals just like her father. And we cried again for our crocodile hunter.
Kaila Allison is a senior at New York University studying Creative Writing and Adolescent Psychology. She has published fiction in the Minetta Review, the Gallatin Review, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and Potluck Mag.