THE FINAL VOYAGE OF THE LEOPARD GECKO
I had had her since I lived over on Warburton Avenue in Yonkers, directly behind where the Son of Sam used to live - or more specifically, his neighbor Sam Carr. She was a magnificent leopard gecko with a noble disposition and easy temperament, looking wise, looking very Ray Harryhausen, very psychotronic. A sort of bonsai dinosaur from a remote island like the movies you came home from school to watch back in 1978. She ambled through her little faux-New Mexico habitat like a little lavender-yellow-black tank and was also very psychedelic - a feature I found extremely pleasant many times. She was a good egg, as they say. And now she's extinct like they thought the Coelacanth was. She had been sick, blind and not eating for some time - as if she had reptilian rickets or dropsy or something extreme like that. It was very frustrating and even the vet couldn't do anything except charge me a hundred bucks for the visit. He had a great white shark's jaws in his office and I had seen him at reptile expos - you see a lot of freaks at those shows, talking about leucistic Burmese pythons and melanistic carpet pythons and albino Argentine horned frogs and "high yellow" (love it!) leopard geckoes.
She wasn't from an expo though - unlike my boa "Mob Star" (I named her after an extremely entertaining book about John Gotti - a book that even outlined Gotti's favorite cold cuts). She was bought from the mellow dude behind the counter at Petland Discounts - his name was Scott and he was a tall black dude and he was leaving the area to become a tattoo artist. I had her for a long time - 7 years - and she saw a lot of crazy shit. I got her back when I was a little bit like Lance in Apocalypse Now. I was an assistant supervisor at a group home in Scarsdale, a facility for adults who were developmentally disabled except we referred to them as "the consumers". It was surreal. I discovered Ecstasy at that time, thanks to a jovial and highly opinionated British co-worker. I had fun then - non-stop - in a youthful, hedonistic sort of way. I had my flings. I experimented. In my memory that entire era is recalled as an ridiculously long summer. Spliffs and bonny lasses and shits and giggles and a lot of us thought we were Hunter S. But we were more like Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. Feckless.
Today is Wednesday; she died on Sunday. I had a feeling she would die that day, she looked so weak when I left to go to work that morning. It broke my heart - more than Fredo did to Michael - but I also did not want her to suffer. She would not even take food by hand - resigned, quiet, unseeing, unflappable, stoic, looking wise - the Yoda of geckoes - even in her final hours. When my fiance called me at work to tell me, I wasn't too surprised or sad. I realized then that I had known the gecko longer than the woman who was going to be my wife - holy shit. I could hardly remember the days before Simone - the woman who helped tame the man who made a beast of himself to forget the pain of being a man. How many times had I gotten stoned and drawn a stylized leopard gecko while listening to Aphex Twin? That gecko saw me through so many phases - including evil wired ones - that at times, I would look at her being all calm and robust and stout and proud and sanguine in her tank and I would be ashamed. She knew me.
So I did the only thing I could - I left my part-time job to go do something, well, respectful with the body. I was not yet sure what. I was at another group home this time and I grabbed one of the residents - my buddy Larry. He's the best. One time I was in an elevator with him and he started laughing for no reason and he looked around and then down at the floor - a little shy but still laughing quietly - and he just said, "Jim - I'm laughing." Everybody likes him and he's short and likable so I took him. I also wanted an excuse to leave the residence so I decided that Larry and I had to go do some stuff. "Larry we gotta go do stuff" I said and he nodded sagely - he understood. Also I didn't want Simone's younger daughter to know - at least not by seeing the brownish, bloated body, conspicuously not moving. I mean can you imagine? She's very sensitive and had been helping me "monitor" the gecko of late; the first thing she did when she got home from school was to check on the gecko. I still had time.
I raced home to Sleepy Hollow in the company vehicle and realized then that the gecko had waited until I moved into my new domain; she was loyal like that. The gecko had gotten plump and content in Eastchester while everybody else starved on the street; by the time we made it to Sleepy Hollow, she was hollow, frail, tiny. But she had a strong heart. For that and many other reasons she deserved a decent goodbye - no pagan rites, just simple respect. I decided I would take her to the Hudson - out of respect. I kissed my wifey hello and Larry put on an episode of Sanford and Son and I scoured my home for a good gecko coffin. I found a fancy pen box - someone had once given me a Colibri pen as a gift. The villain from the 007 flick The Man with the Golden Gun had a gun made from - among other things - a Colibri lighter; I liked that little detail. I pulled Larry away from Sanford and Son and kissed my wifey goodbye and drove down to the Hudson and parked and went down to the river's edge - Larry was too nervous to go down with me. I said to him "Don't be nervous Larry" and he goes "I'm not being nervous." So I let him be and he asked, what are you doing? He had no clue there was a dead gecko in the Colibri box.
I called up to him, "I just need to throw this box into the river. I'll be right up." He shouted down, "OK Jim," and then I threw the box into the river. I thanked the gecko for having been and God for having the gecko be. I looked up and saw Larry waiting patiently and made myself stop thinking about the gecko. "Larry! " I yelled. "Let's shake a leg!"
We both got into the van. I started it up and said, "Let's do this."
"Let's do this like Brutus," he replied.
And I thought to myself, I taught him that.
Slee lives in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Leopard Gecko lives in heaven.