The family had a dog when I was little. She loved me, I loved her, and that's pretty much the way it is with dogs. She was a rather smelly little dog to tell the truth because she spent most of her time in the river and woods and lived outside, but I didn't care too much. Her little heart was full to bursting with unconditional love, the only problem with that is she unconditionally loved others too. I wanted a pet all of my own.
I collected animals. I tried to save motherless birds, caught critters in the woods, netted fish... but none of them gave me the love I craved. Wild animals stay wild even if you contain them. Sure, the fish in my fish tank perked up when I showed up, but they might've just been hungry.
Dad had a big fish tank with tropical fish. I enjoyed the bright fish but they were Dad's, and quite frankly, not as smart as my river fish. Even so, I enjoyed going to the fish store to look at the exotics. One day Dad said I could pick the fish we'd take home. Now I'm not stupid, even though I was a pretty small little kid at that time. I could pick something out, but unless it was something Dad felt like buying we weren't going to get it.
I picked a turtle.
If you're old enough, you'll remember the little green turtles they used to sell. They don't sell them any more because they carry salmonella. Damned shame. They're adorable, and when I made eye contact through the glass it was love at first sight for both of us.
I tugged and pulled at Dad and showed him my heart's desire. He wavered. I could tell he was tempted to give in to me. Mom made it quite clear that turtles weren't fish. She can be just plain wrong-headed about pets, but I am nothing if not single-minded sometimes. I wanted the turtle. I needed the turtle. The turtle wanted and needed me.
First real victory of my life was cradling my Chinese food container with said turtle looking up at me on the ride home. Love. It cradled my finger with its gentle claws.
Yeah, yeah, yeah parental instructions about food, water, all your responsibility, don't blame us if it dies... blah, blah, blah. I already fed and watered the dog every day for my nickel/week allowance. I understood daily care. More than that, I needed someone to care for, and the turtle allowed me to pour my love into it.
I hunted for my turtle every day. I gave it worms, grubs, minnow, and berries. We took walks together. It basked on my forehead. I kissed it on the mouth and didn't die of salmonella. It was the best loved turtle ever, and I gave it the best life a captured turtle can live. I cried at the compost pile funeral years later.
That little green turtle will always be a part of my heart. Maybe all of my turtle art is a tribute to it. This piece is cut paper and hangs on my wall where I can see it every day.
Thank you to everyone who sent out good wishes and prayers for Danny. He is recovering, and is doing so well they sent him home. I was focused on my concerns for him when I was shaken this week by the sudden death my brother's life-long friend. You can see Gary's obit here. I can't express how sorry I am for everyone who loved him.