Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Rock was a Turtle

It's also up at the Main Gallery page; I might consider adding a "Prose" link just for writing later.

Everyone remembers the Peanuts Halloween special "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown", right? It's a holiday classic at our house. Do you recall that everywhere Charlie went he got a rock at all the houses? Poor ol' Charlie Brown - he always tried so hard and what did he ever get in return? A rock. What good is a rock, really? My answer now is very different than it was when I first saw the show years ago. Because I had a rock and still have it in my heart.

My rock was a turtle.

He was a tiny bamboo turtle with a sticky bottom. The little thing was decorated in black with a Japanese kanji on his shell. His tan feet and head wiggled back and forth hinged by bits of wire inside. He wasn't even as big as a quarter; maybe a little bigger than a nickel. I got him at some museum in the tri-state area when I was relatively young. I was certainly a preteen, maybe six or seven years old. I don't remember. What I do remember is that the museum was my first field trip ever and the first time away from my parents like that. I had no friends back then (and rarely had any through all my school years as a fact) so it was a little lonely having no one to walk with or sit next to on the bus. But it was interesting. Even back then I loved culture, especially anything Asian.

We were shown all around the place and then at the end shoved in front of the "tourist trap" area all museums have. Gift shop, ahoy! It was only a small glass case but it held a surprising array of fake plastic weapons, toys and those little paper yo-yo's that are so much fun to flick out at people. All the kids jumped up and around, snatching at these giant stuffed things and swords, the ninja stars and jewelry. I sat there, numb. My parents were not rich, after all, and I had been given a dollar to spend. These toys cost five dollars and up (in the early eighties that was a big handful of cash for something like that). I remember how I felt at that moment. I held my breath at last after everyone had gone and the adult behind the counter was staring at me. I was asked countless times what I wanted and I didn't know how to say I didn't have any money - not enough, surely. But as it turned out I did have enough for something. At long last someone pried my dollar out of my grip and the frustrated person behind the counter gave me that tiny little turtle. It had been scary - there's nothing more frightening than an exasperated, loud adult to a small child that hadn't been taught how to handle herself in "worldly" situations such as buying anything by herself yet.

Shaking, I slowly walked back to where the gang of children were waiting for the bus and sat down - alone, of course. They had their toys out and were having fun and playing. Most were running about in the nearly empty waiting room hall, getting yelled at by the teachers and generally having a good time. I looked down at that minuscule turtle and saw no one else had anything so insignificant. Not a single child had anything that wasn't as big as their hand or bigger, and most had thought nothing of running up to the adult and screaming "give me that!" As for me it had taken all my courage just to end up with...this.

I was ashamed of my little turtle. The trip felt wasted and useless to me. It hurt a lot. I didn't want to carry this home as my big prize for traveling so far away from home with no one that liked me and buying something "by myself" for the first time. I'm sure I was ungrateful to my parents when I got home but I don't remember much about what happened afterwards. I just remember that turtle. As I grew older the turtle became bigger in my eyes every year, the first step I had taken to something so difficult to me as independence. He was adorable with his little swinging legs and head and no matter that he was small because I was too. I have tried very hard to accomplish what I set out to in my life and I have always been rewarded with a turtle. Nothing large, significant or worth a lot of money.

In the end of middle school I suddenly began to grow faint and pass out up to twenty times a day (it was more like 10 on the average). After a couple years of home schooling and doctor visits everyone said that I was merely depressed. I had always been treated badly by people around me for "faking" all those fainting spells. A year ago, however, I had another spell. This time my husband was close by to take me to a clinic that finally discovered I have extremely low blood pressure. It's a kind of disease and it's not my fault.

I struggled to work a night job and also go to school for graphic arts when I was around 25. The school rewarded me with a high grade score and I was considered the top of my class but I didn't receive any further help: the school went bankrupt shortly after.

When I tried to earn money and be "productive" like my parents always wanted me to be I was just as lucky. My co-workers turned on me and I was dumped from a shelving job to putting returns back on a shelf. I worked harder still, feeling that in the end all would be rewarded and one day I picked up a frozen turkey the wrong way. I injured my self for life but I received a ridiculously low settlement the store offered me.

There were many more experiences like this but they never dragged me all the way down. They're all turtles, in a way. Bittersweet and not what you would want to receive as an achievement or award but they're what life gave me. Good things happened because of the bad and I wouldn't be where I am today, married to an awesome guy that takes care of me like I'm a queen. I'm working at the other parts like I always do, trying to make more of a name for myself in my profession and still struggling with that crippling depression that will always be a part of me. I have the turtle in my heart to guide me, even though somewhere along my travels I lost the actual figure. I don't even know when he disappeared from my life. That dear little dollar turtle I so despised all those years ago means more to me than any hundred dollar turtle I could buy now. I mourn for him but he'll always be in my memory, a symbol of everything I tried to do in my life.

Others can have their fame or their fortune, their money; whatever.

I had a turtle.

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