Norm and the Gecko
Geckos sometimes crawl inside air conditioners. You know where this is headed.
It happened again last night. I turned the air conditioner on in the bedroom. As the swing door opened, I heard a grinding sound. A few small pieces of what looked like white plastic fell out, followed by a tail. Still flapping away on the floor.
I looked up and saw the tail's former owner moving around inside the air conditioner. I felt bad for it. But it happens. So often that I didn't even dispose of the tail. "I'll get to it in the morning," I thought, "assuming the ants don't get to it first."
In bed for the night, I returned to a book I've been reading. It's called Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. I read a page or two before noticing the tailless gecko on the floor next to the gecko-less tail. It didn't look good. It looked like it would probably die soon. And it looked like it knew.
Where I'm at in the book, the neurosurgeon's still a boy. One with a rough home life. And a woman in a magic shop named Ruth is teaching him the "magic trick" of mindfulness and compassion. I was moved by something I'd read, and then I, too, began to feel a strong sense of compassion.
Tears came to my eyes. But not with any force or desire to get out. They just arrived from the gentle wave that had moved through me. The same one that generated a kind of energy that felt like it was beaming out of me.
After I finished reading, I watched the new Norm Macdonald special on Netflix. The one he recorded alone and in one take from his home in 2020, shortly before he died. More waves. More beams.
By the time the special ended, the gecko had moved from the floor to the curtain just next to where I was lying in bed. It was close. Close enough that I could have reached over and touched it. I know this next part is just a story I'm telling myself, but it seemed like it wanted to be close to something living before it died. And with all the waves of compassion and whatnot moving through me and beaming out of me, not to mention matters of mere proximity, it seemed like maybe I was the one.
It was still on the curtain when I turned the lights out. When I got back into bed, I half-expected it to crawl in with me. And I was prepared to let it. But it never did. At least not that I’m aware of. Because sleep. I slept. And in the morning, there was only a tail.
As the day went on, I kept wondering where the gecko was, if it had survived the night. Every now and then I'd walk back into the bedroom and look somewhere I hadn't yet.
Eventually, I found it. It was at the bottom of a little canvas bag on the floor under a dressing table. Deceased. So it's with an oddly heavy heart that I add to the story I'm telling myself that I think it crawled inside that bag to be alone and die. All of this is very anthropomorphic of me, I know. But I’ve never been a gecko. And let’s just say that my research into geckos’ social intelligence and knowledge of death is limited. So I will proceed.
I can imagine being that small. I can imagine wanting to be alone and die. And I can imagine climbing up a mountain just to climb back down into a hole to embrace the abyss.
True: The gecko might have just been being a gecko from the start. Climbing things merely because geckos climb things. Dying in a bag just because that’s where the Reaper was waiting for it the whole time.
Also true: I decide what I think is and could or ought to be. And so do you. I'm the author of my stories. And so are you. In fact, we are all the authors of all the stories. All the ones we know, anyway. Because how could we not be? Tell me a story you're not telling. One that hasn't passed through you. One that hasn't come into contact with your thoughts or your feelings. Go on then.
I immediately brought the bag outside and dumped the body out for the ants. Because that's all it was. A body. Food for the little ones. The living thing it once held—the thing that seemed for part of a night to experience the same thrum of the world that I had—is with me now. A reminder of my capacity for more compassionate energy generation.
It's all right here. In my consciousness, or my brain, or my heart, or my heart’s brain, or wherever all our hidden little pulsing pockets are. It’s in one of them. Or a bunch of them. Or maybe all of them. Next to all the living pieces I kept of Norm and his final special. Making waves and beams. Those intangible things that shape who we are and keep going after we leave.