When is a turtle more than a turtle?


The other day, I carried a turtle all around Paris.  I have become that person.  Years ago when we lived in Africa, a friend from the embassy told me the story of an American lady living in Africa who wanted to return to the US, but she also wanted to travel with a turtle in her pocket.  Because you can’t always have your cake and eat it too, the turtle was denied at the plane.  Hysterics ensued, the lady refused to give up said turtle, and embassy authorities were called in to mediate.  I don’t remember the end of the story, but I am picturing the two: lady and her turtle, sitting happily together somewhere in the middle of Africa watching a sunset and drinking a Tusker beer.  At that time, I didn’t really get it.  Now I am wiser. This was not lost on me the other day as I paraded from taxi, to metro, and finally on foot with a small turtle tucked into my backpack– all the while nursing a terrific hangover that under different circumstances would have kept me in bed most of the day.

Back to the beginning:  My son was given a turtle.  I told him I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.  Dad said he would handle the turtle during upcoming summer break and move to a new apartment.  Dad traveled, Dad forgot. Seventeen year old son in tears.  Mom caved.  Mom gets the turtle.  Those are the basics of how I ended up with Squirt in my backpack.At the time, perhaps because of hangover, I didn’t not really pause to think why my son was crying over a turtle that he had for about 6 months.  What I didn’t see at the time, was that the turtle was a gift from a friend, it was a tie to the previous school year and all that happened, including the death of a friend’s mom a week prior.  What I didn’t see was that 17 is still young and still boiling with emotions.  I didn’t see that giving up the turtle meant moving on.  I see that more clearly now.

After agreeing to figure out the turtle situation (nooo, I don’t mean flush him down the toilet) I helped my son empty the stinking (literally) tank, pack it up, and put Squirt safely in a plastic case for transport.  My first stop was to drop off some things for storage.  With no firm plan and only 24 hours left in Paris to figure out Squirtgate 2016, I dropped the very large and unwieldy aquarium on the side of the road as a free give away.  Travelling lighter now, I considered my options.

My first and favorite plan was to find a Chinese restaurant with a fish tank and quietly slip Squirt into the tank while I distracted the waiter with questions about vegan dim sum.  I was actually plotting out how to do this… I could actually, in my mind’s eye, envision myself with a large menu distracting the waiter, flipping pages, dropping something, then slipping Squirt to his new home.  I mean if you visualize something, it can happen, right.  At least that is what they say.

Option two: drop Squirt off at the lake in the park and let nature take its course.  A bit harsh, but then he may provide a swan or fish some extra protein.  Or he might live happily ever after, who am I to say?
At the time – I didn’t know there was an option three – give him to BFF in Paris and let her figure this out.  I love this plan and I didn’t even have to visualize it!  What I love even more, is that after 12 moves in 22 years – I can say I have a BFF in Paris!.  How did I ever get so lucky?  Being a nomad is emotionally exhausting.  (Is this what my son was feeling, too?)  I have been graced with amazing friendships over the years – people I can count on all over the world. People who I can leave a turtle with.

As I may have mentioned, I had a hangover and so did BFF.  Some friends and I had an impromptu reunion the night before and one glass of rosé led to another, one cigarette turned into another, one conversation turned into another, one Justin Beiber song turned into another, and around 2:30a.m., BFF and I were staggering home.  (She says I made her walk, I say we couldn’t find a taxi.)  So, by the time I got the turtle the next day, I decided I needed a five minute break before taking Squirt to his final resting place, err I mean home.  I stop into BFF’s house and proudly announce: “Guess what I have in my backpack?!  A TURTLE!!”

Right on cue, her son says: “I want a turtle!”  (Even though they are moving in a few weeks and they may be the crazy Americans with a turtle in their pocket on a plane.  I have to think that because of hangover, BFF’s reasoning powers were a little slow.)  Squirt had just received a call from the governor and had a few weeks of reprieve to safely swim in his tank!!

Oh, but … I had left his tank on the side of the road several blocks (which felt like miles) away.  Squirt safely with boy, I trudge down the block to see if the tank is still there.  Praise the lord – no one decided they needed an aquarium in the 30 minutes it was left there.  I carry the glass tank back to BFF’s house, and set ‘er up. Squirt has never looked so happy.  Actually, I couldn’t tell.  He’s a turtle.  But I sure felt relieved and so did my son.

Now, I am feeling deeply indebted to BFF – but then I remember a time months ago when I gave her my Teva sandals to wear while I strolled on the feces covered streets of Paris barefoot, carrying her Louboutins, because she couldn’t walk another step in heels .  The balance might not exactly be even, but who’s keeping track?  That is what friends are for, right?

P.S.  I sent a sneak peak of this story to BFF to give her a morning giggle.  She promptly wrote back: “Not to go all dark on you, but can you read this at the after party at my wake.”  Please note she didn’t ask me to give the eulogy, but I guess after party will do.










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