Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Turtle

This blog is about turtles.

I've never been a turtle owner or lover or anything more than the casual turtle observer. As a child, I remember being mildly interested when, on a nature walk with my classmates, my friend Jon found a 'box' turtle. We gave it a name and collected grass and twigs and other offerings and put it into a shoe box. I don't think it was a box turtle, unless they are known to be particularly vicious. Poor Jon had to go to the hospital to remove the 'box' turtle's jaws from his little boy nether regions. In our 8 year old wisdom we decided that it was a snapping turtle, which any smart 8 year old will tell you will only release its death grip if it is struck by lightning. After this incident, I don't remember being particularly drawn to or fascinated by turtles.

And I'm still not. Sort of.

I'm not sure when it all began. But throughout this year, I've been seeing turtles. I see them everywhere. I first saw one at my parent's new home, slowly walking in the forested area nearby. Then I saw one at my own home, poking its head out to look at the sun. I was leaving work one day when I saw a turtle trying to make its way across the busy Old Hickory Boulevard traffic. I was of course filled with anxiety for the little guy, but he held his own. Slowly pausing and retracting into his shell, he managed to cross two lanes of 5 o'clock madness. I was feeling some triumphant elation for his small victory. And then the turtle got sassy. He started strutting into the turn lane. It happened slowly, and yet so fast that I didn't have time to prepare. The truck swerved into the turn lane, and the turtle's shell flipped up about seven feet. And there was goo, and blood, and muck. And I was frozen, transfixed and horror stricken. The only solace I had was that I was there with him (or her, I don't know) in his final moments.

I'm not a crazed lunatic who will catch a roach in a white paper bag and release it into its rightful home outdoors. I will grab a shoe and squish it. But something about the gooey dead turtle didn't sit well with me. It made me sad. I never forgot the poor turtle.

Well, the sightings continued. I see them walking down the street, sitting in the grass outside friends' homes, on the sidewalk by the mall. I see turtles in places that just don't make sense. I would expect to see a turtle, a frog, a lizard, or other such exotic domestic creatures in heavily forested areas, perhaps by a little creek, or at very least in a pet store. This month I've seen turtles shopping for expensive shoes, checking out library books, and venturing into Starbucks. I don't understand the infiltration of turtles into my life, but I decided that it must mean something.

I looked up turtle symbolism, and was only confused and frightened at the meanings assigned to our friend the turtle. I could deduce that I'm going to die soon, that I'm a goddess of fertility (ha) or that I'm a representation of earth and sky. I discarded the idea that perhaps turtles are following me and want to tell me something.

Until....I was reading a book a few weeks ago. A servant presents his master with a turtle brooch. It is made of rubies and gold and has an emerald eye. The servant tells the recipient that the turtle is a safe symbol. The turtle, he explains, always has a home wherever he goes. At a moment's notice, he has safety within himself and can rely on his intuition to protect his very being.

Well... I started thinking, especially about the part of always having a home. A transient home, to be sure, but still a home. Was I, am I supposed to be reading between the lines? Can I find some sort of meaning if I look closer at the turtle shell? As I thought on the turtle trouble, I was plagued with a sudden arresting thought that actually drained my face of the little color it has.

Austin and I were driving to pick up the kids when I blurted out "OH NO! AUS...do YOU see the turtles?!!?"

He looked sideways at me, his eyes very large, his voice very calm. "Well, do you see the turtles right now? Where might they be?"

It was at this point that I realized he thinks I'm seeing purple turtles floating in the car and nibbling his ear while they whisper the love sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a baritone German melody.

After putting his mind at ease about the presence of imaginary turtles, German or not, I was reassured that he had indeed noticed the strange infiltration of real live turtles moving in and out of my daily life. He doesn't get it either, and pretty soon we are going to call the CIA and ask what reasons they have for following us.


I've always felt like a bit of a drifter. Therapist Joe says that this is because I moved quite a few times as a child. Even before I had conscious memory, we were moving and my surroundings changed almost constantly. It happens. Add to that the model of my parents' behavior, which is somewhat non-committal to places and objects. This isn't a negative trait, and I think overall it is a healthy(ish) approach to homes and picture frames and couches and what have you. But it has also taught me to be almost nonobservant towards my personal surroundings.

For example: my parents do not unpack their boxes. They get their clothes in the closet, they put some of their dishes in the cupboards, and then they call it quits. If you had moved 59 times in your life, you might do the same. After all, what is the point of unpacking your dainty little trifle boxes and Christmas decorations, putting them away into lovely storage boxes with labels, only to be packed and moved before they are used and appreciated?

Austin's family was a little bit better, though they moved just as often, if not more so. They unpacked their family portraits and seasonal doilies and had some continuity and familiarity of knick knacks. But overall, there was the same sense of home being a fluid idea. I've talked about this before, about finding a sense of home that doesn't attach itself to a specific location or roof. But how do you know when you've gone too far?

I've lived at the same address now for 18 months, which really is a long time. I have tried at times to organize a certain room or move things to the best feng shui attitude. But I don't feel like I've moved in. I don't bother to make things 'just so', because I really do think that we'll just pack up and leave soon, and then I'll just be sad about leaving the lovely rooms in the lovely home and I'll have lost all that lovely time and only have interest accrual to show for it. But I don't have a reason for feeling this way, other than the consistency of life thus far. We have no plans of moving this year, despite how many searches for English country homes I perform and exclaim over. I should just move in...right?

I'm not sure what this superfluity of turtle presence means for me. Perhaps I'm the Turtle Whisperer and they are calling to me. I hope not. I don't actually like touching turtles, as they have creepy old man skin and tongues that look like dried sponges. But really...can this be a coincidence? What if they are telling me NOT to pick out fun paint colors and maybe buy a piece of furniture? What if I'm inheriting my manor, complete with servants and large hats? What if I find out tomorrow that I'm actually sixth in line to the throne of Bohemia and they need me to come to court and learn about government and culture? Then I would have found the perfect shade of green/purple/grey/no red paint for my room and it will be in vain!

I'm torn between ideas of fixing the house to my liking and just leaving well enough alone. After all, my home is with my family and my friends...why should I move the bookcases just so? Then again, wouldn't it be nice if my kids heard the word 'home' and thought of their nice room with little flower decals on the walls and rugs that match the curtains? Would they be more grounded and less fearful of change?

I'm an awfully sentimental person, which doesn't match my home decorating constipation problem. It really doesn't make any sense that I want to remember the exact shade of the room Moira first had, about 8 houses ago. Who cares if it was lemon chiffon or banana or dawn's first break yellow? She won't remember it, even if I can close my eyes and see the soft powdery warm walls and can smell her baby lotion. But meanwhile, I'm not willing to commit to making any such memory in the here and now, because I already know that in a few short years it will be a fleeting thought, a random query that keeps me up at night until I can remember that my kitchen in this house was painted blue. And as I write that, I honestly have no idea what color my kitchen is. There are black cabinets and a dishwasher that likes to wash part of the floor for me every time it is turned on. Other than that, I know little of the rooms I inhabit.

So the turtle, so sayeth the honorable servant in my book, is a safe symbol. It is a nice thought. But even the turtle gets run over, and then it has neither home nor warmth nor safety. It has goo, and makes homewardbound commuters wonder overlong about their status in the universe and when they might feel comfortable settling into their life.

Even for a few weeks, for a few months, I think I would like to feel at home. I'm admittedly weary of keeping my house on my back. Setting it down to rest my legs sounds like a nice idea.

I'm just not sure where to start.

1 comment:

Beth McDermott said...

Maybe the moral you are actually looking for is "Slow and steady... gets smushed in traffic."
I missed everything in this blog after the 'goo.' I can't get past it. My heart is as broken as the poor creature's shell.