The unexpected interactions between me and all the creatures that made me feel like a proverbial loser of the game hide and seek weren’t always that which horror stories were made of. However, the unsuspecting way in which nature’s creations seem to just show up, and cause me to either pause in shock or run screaming, does feel somewhat unrelenting. I do my best to try not to feel singled out. Sure, there’ve been the “Ah isn’t that just adorable” creature moments, though very few and far between. Most encounters resulted in my questioning what the hell the odds were that once again I was being traumatized by that which otherwise coexists peacefully with nature, through no fault of my own. Those encounters made my skin crawl more than it presented the chance for any admiration of cuteness which seemed to be what most others experienced, making it hard not to take it personally. It is not my lack of desire to be an animal lover, but rather the bad experiences that shaped me for all the times that never allowed me the opportunity to do so. The single species of critters that instantly made me forget about the foreboding precursor around each heart stopping encounter corner… were Geckos, the only creatures that ever seemed to give off a docile and placid vibe in my presence.
It doesn’t have anything to do with the size of my predator, as bees and wasps will cause me to instantly bolt and the tiniest of them all, red ants and gnats, will forever terrorize me due to an allergic response to bites from every single one of them. In a class of their own, there was just more of an easy gentle coexistence shared with the small lizard population in the two warm weather states I called home. They are such tiny, perfect spectacles with the exception of the ease in which their tails can fall off while attempting to capture them, which I always found traumatizing, despite the fact they grow a replacement. The only time I ever attempted a rescue was to save them from death that was sure to occur as a result of being somewhere they shouldn’t have been, like inside my house.
Lizards are not all unpretentious, laidback beings, as the much larger species (iguanas) can do some pretty spooky stuff, like when the temperature suddenly drops below normal and they become lethargic, entranced in a state of hypothermia of sorts, which causes them to just fall out of the trees in tropical, southern Florida. One minute they’re in their natural habitat and the next they’re on the ground looking like they belong in Madame Tussauds House of Wax Museum. That stop and drop phenomenon is known as “raining iguanas,” and is often included in the weather warnings when temperatures drop into the 30’s and 40’s, which is quite funny when you think about the old saying it’s “raining cats and dogs,” which I do hope I never witness (they make white jackets that tie in the back for that). Considered an invasive species, some locals consume iguana meat, calling it “Chicken of the Trees,” a fact I find equally humorous. It is said to taste like, and have more protein than, chicken. Though Geckos are of the same reptile animal kingdom, it would feel too much like a betrayal by eating a relative of theirs and would have to be a last food source situation for my own survival to do so given the fact they are on the extremely short list for that which has not traumatized really me. It was difficult enough when learning to eat escargot. No matter how tasty I found them to be, I could never get the visual of snail tentacles out of my head while chewing and swallowing, or the memories of that trail of gooey slime they are so famous for leaving behind. Like the black poop line in the tail end of shrimp, I am left to wonder… does the slime of a snail still exist somewhere inside that delicacy? It is the ick factor that prevents the consumption of other things, like caviar. I have a serious aversion to eating anything that comes out of the puka (Hawaiian for “hole”) of another, the images of the initial origin far superseding any cravings for the extraordinary.
Just the thought of a comatose lizard falling out of a tree and onto my head begins the PTSD process that I acquired from all the creature encounters that went terribly wrong, and given my track record for them, highly likely that (that) would indeed happen to me if I were closer to South Florida and under a palm tree in abnormally frigid temperatures. Residents that find seemingly lifeless lizards on the ground when a cold snap occurs understand that as alarming as it may appear, they are not dead, but merely stunned by the cold in a frozen-like state and will come back to life once things warm up. I recently learned that another invasive species in Florida, the Burmese python, also has a similar fate. The dangerously huge and animal swallowing beasts are said to be best caught during colder than usual times, when they emerge out of hiding and head out into the open to bask in the sun to better regulate body temperatures and thus their ability to move about. That’s exactly how I feel about frigid weather, and the reason I’ve moved to warmer climate in states far South and West of the Northeast.
In general, harmless little Geckos have been my favorite experiences with the creatures of the outdoor kind, and have had only one indoor experience that proved incredibly disturbing. Geckos are small blessings that require no maintenance, survive on their own, and never seem to seek me out for any reason, boundaries I greatly appreciate. In fact, they always run from me when I am in close proximity and have provided me hours of introspection over the years. To watch their miniature behaviors, especially those that pertain to their mating ritual and the ease and worry-free way in which they scurry about, is like having your own animal planet video channel inside your eyeballs and since their behaviors appear consistent, feel just like reruns I never tire of watching. I am continuously astonished at the speed in which they can travel across any terrain be it horizontal or vertical (or upside down). They are so very quiet, just one of the things that make their presence so unassuming, unsuspecting and oh so welcome. On a recent bicycle ride on a macadam trail nearby, it was astonishing to find they had an innate sense to know which way to run to avoid my rolling ties as I raced along the path. I have never run over a Gecko, or caused their death in any fashion and are reminders of how the tiny things in life matter as much as the larger things do and that focusing on the fine details of my surroundings can lend itself to learning more about that which in busier times may have gone unnoticed. A stroke was the messenger of that life lesson and a horrible way to learn to slow down enough to see things that otherwise might more resemble a passing stream of blur seen from side eye.
First introduced to Geckos upon my initial arrival in Florida, I was instantly mesmerized by the ease in which they blended into the environment, which at times included the indoors. If they somehow secretly gained entry inside while I entered or exited the door of any southern-state home, I felt it was my humane duty to redirect them back outside. Though any attempt to catch and release was hilarious, it was always important to do so; if that didn’t occur, I was sure to find them as a miniature skeletal reptile shortly thereafter, looking nothing like their former selves. Whatever a Gecko consumed to thrive was never found anywhere inside any home I ever occupied. If it became complicated to wrangle those lightening fast little buggers, and return them to the great outdoors (just so they’d live), it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave out a bottle cap of spring water and a small piece of vegetation to increase their chance of survival. My attempts were never successful. It would soon become apparent that perhaps they instead preferred a diet of bugs, but in all these years, have never seen a one of them eat anything anywhere. It is pure speculation that they must exist on an insectivorous menu provided by Mother Nature, and not one from the kitchens of Janet Doolittle.
Like a natural magnet for everything creature-like, it was a blessing Geckos were in a class all their own and unlike most creatures had no desire to comingle with me. It isn’t how Geckos roll. They simply went about life oblivious to their surroundings and over the few decades I’ve become quite comfortable in their presence. I’ve only lost a few who didn’t understand that if they remained in the house it would be to their own demise. It always appeared their death ended in a quick, self-inflicted state of dehydration or starvation for lack of finding their way home, regardless of any attempt at saving them. I was never successful at enticing a Gecko back out into the outdoors, a simple act of creature kindness that I never fully mastered as most other untamed creatures tried to bite the hand that fed them allowing me to perfect my disappearing act. I always secretly hoped that just as they’d found their way inside, they’d find their own way out. No matter what method of capture I could conjure up, Geckos were just way too fast for me and the fear of my causing the loss of a tail was enough to get me to stop trying. There was usually a very good reason why something is trying so hard to get away from something else and therefore no good reason to further tempt fate or a different outcome.
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The Geckos in Hawaii were colorful, unlike the ones I encountered in Florida, though that seemed to be the only difference between them and I enjoyed their presence equally. It was after one particular Gecko encounter that prompted my support for banning straws aside from the whole save the planet plastics debate. I had a bad habit of leaving an unfinished beverage sitting on the kitchen counter overnight knowing full well I’d most likely drink from it again a little later, just one sign of being the offspring of parents born during the depression. I was taught early to “waste not, want not,” but knew from experience to never leave anything out uncovered that contained sugar or sustenance. It seems that one minute there’s nothing there and the next time you look you’ve got an army of marching ants, roaches, or worse. It was during my straw phase (an effort to prevent tooth staining) that would change the way I felt about leaving a glass of anything out overnight. The real issue began when straws became oversized, although they served a purpose for drinking smoothies, frozen alcoholic beverages, or milkshakes. There were medical benefits for me too, as it reduced the number of migraines I got from trying to suck something thick out of a thin straw, though larger straws increased the episodes and intensity of brain freezes. Still, thin straws served their purpose, and for me, a higher one was added to that list after a return to that drink left out on the kitchen counter the night before.
I was moving about the kitchen that following morning, in my usual hurry getting ready for work, and bent over the opaque large bore straw sticking out of the drink I’d left on the counter. Despite the water contents I observed below the protruding straw, and my hearty full-throttle suction, I drew nothing into my mouth. I pulled the glass away for repeat validation that there was indeed water present, which there was. I was suddenly stumped as to why, out of the blue, the long plastic siphon with significant girth failed me. I was as annoyed as I was thirsty and drew back a second time with stronger suction power. Suddenly my tongue felt as if a piece of sandpaper swiped the back of it and stayed there. I pulled the glass away and took the straw out of my mouth only to see the entire tail end of a Gecko sticking out of the straw that was just inside my mouth touching my tongue. I immediately freaked out. I sucked the backend of a Gecko’s ass out of a big straw where it somehow crawled into (to quench its thirst I surmised) only to get stuck and die there. I tried everything in my fridge and kitchen cupboards to act as a chaser to rid my tongue and mind of that sensation. Once I was able to do so, my next thought was to memorialize the moment. I am not one for photographing morbid things, but had I not taken a picture of what I just sucked out of my own drinking straw, nobody would have ever believed me.
I’ve headed many a warnings from others to avoid things found in drinks, none of which involved small reptiles. I pulled out the tiny limp and somewhat soggy, deceased body lodged tightly inside the large straw and laid it down on the counter, right next to a ruler I’d grabbed off my desk. The first thing I noticed is that it’s front and back legs were stuck parallel to it’s body, which confused me as to how it was able to move through the straw in the first place, looking more like a tiny torpedo than a reptile. I needed to measure that which felt so much bigger than the tongue inside my mouth. In total it was a three inch blockage in a drinking straw preventing me from sucking anything through it. I needed to digitally record the moment as a reminder to never do anything like that ever again. I stopped buying large bore straws and never left a thin straw in any beverage glass left out for whatever reason. After all, there is only so much the taste buds on one’s tongue can endure when consuming a dead, soggy non-food item. I should be grateful it wasn’t alive. I don’t think I could have handled that. I cringe when I see anyone eating anything that is still living and the reason the show “Fear Factor” was one I could easily dismiss without regret.
Not nearly as shocking, but equally disturbing, was the number of times a Gecko found its way into my watering can while watering the outdoor plants. I’d be lost in the joy of gardening and rehydrating when all of a sudden the water flow would suddenly come to a halt despite the weightiness of the watering can. Once again, the tricky question and frustration of what the hell is happening flashed through my brain. Most times it was just a tiny leaf that had fallen into the watering can only to gravitate towards the pouring tip to stop the flow when tilted and jerk with me. It usually only ever required pulling the leaf out of the spout to resume the water flow… until it was a dead soggy Gecko. What was it about these tiny interestingly simple creatures going in search of hydration only to result in death by miscalculation? The first time you grab what you think is a clogged leaf only to discover it is the body of a limp dead Gecko is the last time you blindly grab any protruding obstruction. It appeared that once their feet were wet, surfaces were no longer scaled with ease, as I would always find them floating in outside rain buckets; in shallow water they lived and in deep water they drowned. It was that simple. The suction found inside pool filters were a death sentence for Geckos as well, and I learned very quickly never to blindly reach down inside that drainage portal too, which also included dead frogs and an occasional snake. I would never survive life in a tropical rain forest, or worse yet, the everglades.
In the years that followed that terrible tasting event, when any inappropriate question of being an ass-kisser arose, it was hard to find a truthful response, as I was always confused as to whether that included the ass end of a tiny dead creature or whether the question applied solely to other humans. It also caused episodes of taste bud confusion when a similar texture on the tongue allowed for the return memory of that Gecko in a straw, so creature encounters gone wrong had influenced and complicated my dietary experiences as well.
Tropical weather makes for some insanely comfortable creatures behaving without boundaries between the indoors and the outdoors, which makes me extremely nervous, and for good reason. I learned the hard way to never slide a foot into shoes left outside the door that you haven’t shaken out first. Whatever the accurate name for those horrid, repulsive species I call roaches (including the ones that fly… aka palmetto bugs), it is just imperative to shake shoes upside down and all around first, like a rain stick, least you learn to scream a new scream and dance a new dance, neither of which are attractive when they occur out of nowhere and are within earshot of others. Never assume that something you left outside the door hasn’t turned into a safe haven for some creature, like a shoe cave of sorts. The first time you slide a foot into a shoe already preoccupied will simply give you a lengthy case of the willies that won’t easily be forgotten and will change how you put on your shoes for all the days that follow, which complicated the way I got dressed. There was no situation in which to let my creature guard down which is exhausting on the central nervous system.
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One of the silliest and mindboggling of Gecko encounters came during a drive across the United States, when I noticed a Gecko had inadvertently became a hood ornament after returning to my car that had been parked outside of the store I’d stopped at. I figured it would jump off once the engine started and the car began to move so I never entertained the thought of catch and release. I became aware of its continued presence at the first stop light, when it hadn’t moved, no matter how fast or slow I accelerated. It was apparent this little creature was hanging on for the long haul, and was unaffected by G-force. I drove for hours and miles with that little stowaway as my ride-share companion, separated only by a windshield. It brought me hours of humor observing its tenacity and mindfulness as to the many avenues for survival notwithstanding its miniature frame and miniscule body weight. I’ve seen crazy humans riding on hoods of cars before, hanging on for dear life though it seemed my hood ornament fared much better than those people did. The car clinger finally dismounted miles from its original location after a second stop along my travels. It was the first and last time I’d be accountable for the intrastate transporting and relocation of a Gecko.
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One of the most touching, endearing encounters with a Gecko happened during one of the darkest times in my life. I’d chosen to return to Hawaii a few years after a mild stroke and diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, as the weather there was optimal for better health. Given that I was still dependent upon the use of a cane for balance during that time, the public transportation system there would also enable me to be unrestricted in my ability to be independent despite the fact I’d chosen to give up driving during my physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation from that devastating event. The four years following the stroke were challenging, and included an unexpected relocation to be closer to family, which proved to be more challenging than the return to a state with four seasons and one that after decades of being away from, had become strangely unfamiliar. I had become accustomed to two seasons living in the tropics (or one long season in the islands) which had a positive effect on my body, and returning to the cold, and a difficult relationship with my first born, who I could only surmise feared she may get stuck taking care of her own mother, proved a setback to my recovery.
There were factors in my daughter’s life I was not fully aware of, having lived on opposite sides of the Northeast, and was saddened by a number of events that made it crystal clear that it would not be beneficial for me to remain there. After an opportunity I presented for an improved mother-daughter relationship was scoffed at, I made the six thousand mile trip back to the islands to save myself. I had barely survived the loss of my youngest daughter’s suicide in 2006, caused by years of addiction and subsequent mental health issues (a result of drug use and lifestyle), and after a Déjà Vu event with my eldest daughter, knew it would be the death of me had I stayed and witnessed that path all over again. I had come to the crossroads in life where nothing I could or would do could change the outcome for another as I spent decades attempting to do so for other friends and family members and for my patients as an addiction treatment nurse manager for one of the largest non-profit organizations in the U.S. I treated patients from the streets to those who worked in high-rises. An enabler was one character trait I never embraced nor perfected as doing so would not have proved beneficial to the process. I was more of a tough love person but learned that sometimes love just wasn’t enough and that it was never a cure for addiction but rather one of the many treatments necessary to combat it.
The difficulty of a long journey back to the islands, before fully recovering from residual stroke symptoms, and navigating the new ones that came with MS, proved devastating. One month after landing in a new apartment and trying to get situated, I fell ill extremely fast, a situation which resulted in an admission to Hospice services due to my inability to thrive without the integration of treatment measures that would otherwise lengthen an irreversible condition, which I had elected in the decades long health challenges that followed me after a bout of blood cancer in my youth and other life-threatening conditions throughout adulthood. I suddenly found myself in a situation where I didn’t have anyone I was close to there, as the few close friends that I did have had moved away in the nine years since my last residency there. The five months I spent in Hospice were scary not for the fear of dying, because my lifelong experience of dancing with death conditioned me to stop fighting when it seemed immanent, but rather because it would occur six thousand miles from anyone I ever loved. As a nurse, my belief was that few come into life alone and few should go out alone, but when I found myself isolated, it was one of the most difficult challenges any adverse health event had ever presented and was most disheartening to endure. I believe it is an honor to be with one who is crossing over, to help make that transition an easy one for someone who might be fearful when coming close to leaving life for death, but to do so with perfect strangers is minus the absolute comfort received when doing so surrounded by those you are connected to by love. It is the tragic scenario so many have suffered during the pandemic and will result in unresolved grief and guilt. To comfort those who might be fighting reasons not to let go, and to tell them it is okay to do so, that everyone left behind will find a way to cope with the sorrow and loss so that there are no emotions left unaddressed and the soul is free to fly should come from those who are extremely close, not strangers, though the latter is better than having no alternative at all. I would have never imagined it would be me who was faced with the emptiness of dying alone.
I journeyed through those five months, surrounded only by the professionals that arrived at my apartment to coordinate and supervise my care. It was the loneliest months I’d ever endured, regardless of a lifetime of other hardships. There were weekly visits from the nurse, a nurse’s aide when I required personal care, a massage therapist for additional pain control therapy, the social worker, the clergyman, the pharmacy deliveryman, and once, the physician, who was there to determine my ability to remain in my apartment without anyone else living there to assist me. I faintly recall a scary discussion of putting me into a nursing home because I was alone. I was after all, only sixty-five years old so I hung on to every ounce of what was left of me. In those five months, there were multiple calls for an ambulance that I would later find disturbed the surrounding neighbors who were not familiar with the new person that occupied the apartment that felt more like a prison for the six months for which I never left with exception of those emergency services. As a retired nurse, with a year of Hospice experience, it was confusing to me as to why I was transported to the emergency room four times and admitted to the hospital once since as is not standard practice for a Hospice patient; lifesaving measures are not part of the care plan. It seemed nobody knew exactly what to do with my determination to stay in my own apartment but I also knew firsthand that nursing home placement was easier to accomplish when being discharged from a hospital versus taking a patient out of their home to do so. Suddenly it seemed the more strangers coming into my life increased the odds of my losing what little was left of my own, and after a number of events that accidentally or purposely sped up the dying process, the fear of not dying naturally, but rather from the hands of another, was far more sinister than I could comprehend and it literally scared the death out of me. When dying becomes more challenging than living, it left only one choice. I had to find my way back to the light no matter what the odds were and no matter if I died while doing so as where I suddenly found myself was not how I envisioned my story should or would end.
It would take another six months following the last hospital stay (at which time I signed myself off Hospice services) to make the necessary changes needed to regain the health and strength required to get on a plane and return to the mainland after one of the worst years in my life; never mind that a global pandemic occurred just three months prior to my departure date. I was 5’ 8” tall and weighed just less than ninety pounds and was in a wheelchair by then. It would prove most difficult to claw my way back the point where I could tolerate eating or drinking after months of the inability to do either. It took weeks for the body not to reject that which entered the mouth, at which time two tablespoons of lactose-free, 2% milk every two hours became the only plan that worked. I remember the first grocery delivery of a gallon of milk proved too heavy to get from the front door to the fridge, and knew the road ahead was going to be long and difficult one because of that reality. I sat in my wheelchair and pushed the gallon of milk across the floor with my cane. It was a strain to get it from the floor into the refrigerator. A good friend on the mainland suggested that I look into meal delivery services, like Hello Fresh, Home Chef, or Blue Apron, but I advised her that I already had a service… it was called Meals on Wheels. The waiting list for that service was one month; I didn’t think I’d make it that long. Somehow I did. That five month experience of death and dying changed me in innumerable ways, in mind, body, and spirit; there is little I cannot survive now. It took everything I had in me to be where I am today.
It took a good ten minutes just to brush my teeth, as rolling my wheelchair up to the bathroom sink and squeezing the toothpaste onto the toothbrush burned up the first five and was only half the battle. I was so weak I had to take breaks in-between brush strokes which took up the other five (minutes). I remember leaning on the sink top with my head resting on both arms and how that brought back memories of the number of nursing home residents I found in that same position. I avoided looking up at the mirror as it seemed to undermine any progress made, for the image reflected was one of fragility. My spirit felt, and looked, so fractured. The person that I was got lost in the person I saw, so I stopped looking. Besides, I didn’t need a mirror to brush the hair I knew was falling out by the brush full, the result of malnutrition, illness, and the adverse affects of drug toxicity (which caused painful gross edema in the lower extremities, burning and peeling of the skin on my hands and feet, and blurred, double vision). It was during this time that the tiniest of creatures would find its way into my home and provide me with hope that I could indeed crawl back from what felt like the longest, darkest rabbit hole I could have ever fallen into.
I had a long history of naming creatures stemming from scary encounters, but this was different. I named this baby Gecko, Jack, out of a deep sense of companionship and comforting kindness felt by his timely presence. Jack was the fragment of light that shone through the cracks of the darkness, and he stayed for a few days giving me something to look out for, to look after, other than myself. Another parallel of hope was a wet mango seed that I had placed into a zip-lock sandwich bag so that the ants wouldn’t find their way to it until I could dispose of it on trash day. It sat on the windowsill next to my hospital bed, and I found it days after a hospital discharge. The remaining mango meat that was attached to the large seed had turned brown making the contents of the bag look mushy. It looked like death. A closer look revealed the seed had cracked open exposing a greenish-white sprout that proved life had maintained itself during the time it received no attention other than the light from the window and the bag that turned out to be a protective cover. Sometimes life just happens when we aren’t looking just as death does.
I first noticed Jack while laying in the hospital bed in my living room. The walls were white and the stone tile was light beige, so his dark little body was easily detected wherever he was. When one is bedbound, there is little surrounding diversion activity like when spotting something moving where activity isn’t expected to occur, and because of my nearsightedness, asking the Hospice staff if what I suspected was a bug (or creature) on the wall versus a scuff or mark, got me into trouble with concerns of my lucidity. Nobody ever asked me about my vision status and unbeknownst to me, resulted in my receiving an anti-hallucinogenic that in turn resulted in the toxic response that landed me in the hospital under observation for the bizarre after affects from the same. It is what happens when a person is given a drug for a condition they do not suffer from. There were so many things to recuperate from that I had to view progress in the smallest of increments. Though difficult to stand, due to weakness and inability to maintain the blood pressure necessary not to stand upright without passing out, I made a few feeble attempts to catch and release Jack, but he was too fast for me. It was apparent he wasn’t going anywhere and that it was going to be just Jack and me in that house of horrors. It was easy to lose him as he had full reign of the place and I was mobility impaired so I never knew exactly where he was until I did.
One night, I felt my hair move, and wondered what the hell was in bed with me since roaches were a staple on the islands (due to the magnitude of tourism and subsequent food trash left behind by most) and it was a daily task to keep them out of my apartment. Having something crawl on me while I am sleeping is one of my biggest PTSD evoking fears and the reason I kept a clean and orderly home even while in the process of death and dying no matter how hard that was. Those fears stemmed from being witness to the true stories involving insects and the infirmed while working in a number of nursing homes, where one patient died from approximately two hundred red ant bites after reports of an infestation were ignored, and another time when insect larvae was extracted from an ear of another patient (I now sleep with cotton in my ears because of that). In a panic, I instantly brushed my hand across my hair only to knock Jack off and onto my arm, where it appeared he was in no hurry to scurry away from my wrinkled, sagging flesh, void of the muscle mass that was there only months prior. I found Jack’s desire to remain most uncommon and oddly comforting.
I’ve heard stories about how certain animals can sense things that humans can miss, like anxiety, sadness, sickness, or dying, and that night Jack didn’t leave me for any one of them. I was afraid that I was going to roll over and kill my new (and only) friend, as he was only a tiny little thing. Since my encounters had always been of the horrifying kind, my encounter with Jack touched me in a way that no other creature had, and I wanted to memorialize him in the same journaling process I had embarked on from the beginning of what I believed was my last journey. I grabbed the camera that I had used to provide images that accompanied my written journaling of death and dying, knowing that at some point, my friends and family back on the mainland might better understand how that process occurred from that which I would leave behind. When I bid them farewell to return to Hawaii, the last image they had of me contradicted the body and mind I had become entrapped in. I wanted them to have some sense of closure versus wondering how things could have seemingly flipped from one extreme to the next, because it really hadn’t. It was a month’s long process that went unseen by those who knew me, though phone conversations hinted to the loss of sharpness of the mind, which most found sad and disturbing. I watched myself die, one day at a time, and some days, minutes or hours at a time. Jack appeared at the very moment I had nothing left, when I feared the events that unfolded were irreversible, and that this indeed was my life’s ending, but his uncanny presence shocked me back into the energy that was of the side of the living, and gave me something else to ponder besides my own death. I am now a believer that one can only fully appreciate the very best after experiencing the very worst. I also discovered that dying was way harder than living. That the easy way out was indeed living, something I hope that those who believe the opposite might reconsider having learned that from one who’s been down that road, one who also survived the suicide of her own daughter, even if found within the story of another. I know that suicide is not because one doesn’t wish to live, but rather a wish to end the suffering, whatever the cause may be.
Jack became a part of my Hospice journey until suddenly one day he was no longer there. I looked for him in every room I was present in, expecting to find his tiny skeleton, like the one I had turned into but was somehow still alive. I feared he’d succumbed to the same fate I had, just a short time before, which was the inability to eat or drink that which was necessary to sustain life. The photo I took of Jack on my back is a grim reminder of how obvious my spinal column had become, no longer buried beneath the muscles that allowed me to live a life full of unassisted labor and a number of backbreaking but flourishing careers. I thought about how my spinal column resembled the spine of a fish seen while deboning, with each vertebra distinguishable and palpable. I didn’t want to find Jack’s skeleton, and I never did. It turns out that after I discovered a very large toad in my living room (I thought I really was hallucinating that time), and had fought a month’s long battle with the landlord over the insane number of nats and mosquitoes throughout the apartment due to a number of old torn screens in the windows that housed large uncovered rain catch barrels just on the other side, a perfect breeding ground for many creatures and pests that easily found their way inside. I had gotten so sick and weak so quickly after signing that lease that I lost the ability to fight for that which should have already been tended to prior to any tenant’s arrival. They were times that I was barely able to address basic self-care needs let alone maintenance repairs and pest control, which were absent for that entire year. I had landlords that immigrated from an underdeveloped country who weren’t familiar with the UnitedState’s (and state specific) landlord tenant laws and other health department ordinances. That I survived that year is nothing short of a miracle.
Jack became the mirage of life, like seeing a body of water while crawling through the dessert slowly dying of dehydration. In the days since, I have never encountered a Gecko that would take up residence on my person. There was something miraculous about watching life while losing my own. It was a reminder that there is definitely a circle of life that it ebbs and flows without much input from anyone or anything other than time and is just how the world goes round, with or without us. It was a reminder that I was never really alone, outside of my faith which I never lost, and that not all creatures in my life entered it to take something away from me or left me with some deranged memory from a terrifying encounter that would continue to haunt me throughout life. Though those five months in Hospice remain something I’m still trying to come to terms with, and to be able to read that which I had detailed in a journal or review graphic pictures taken throughout what should have been the end of my own story, remains too difficult to do in totality. But my memories of that tiny little Gecko that had no fear of the living skeleton that continued to breathe, eventually pulling off the incomprehensible return to better health, remains one of the few things that still stumps me. It is also why my soft spot for Geckos lives on, sans the fact that I did suck a dead one up through my drinking straw during better times. They say our experiences shape what we become, and I hoped that Jack felt my gratitude for all that he brought to me in the days that were darker than I believed could ever lighten again. Jack may have been the tiniest friend I’ve ever had but he left the biggest imprint during a dire time in my life that will forever be engrained in my memory as I continue to live my best life. I’m so glad I had the strength and wherewithal to snap that photo, a tribute to harrowing times when the smallest of gestures resulted in so much more.