Terrapin the Turtle
I am 28 years old and I sleep with a stuffed animal. Fortunately, I don’t have trouble sleeping without him, like if I am sleeping elsewhere or if there is an actual four year old in the house that needs him. I don’t know if he is restless when I am away, we have never talked about it.
Terrapin has traveled with me for a decade. Just a little longer than my famous dog Skrap. He came to me in a tree house that traveled just a little less than I did. This tree house had started in the Book of Mormon Belt and then to underground city life via unused offices at second hand shops. These days it’s above ground in full swing being rearranged by every kind of love and small child.
Those days though, the tree house was under another house. I slept the best there of anywhere, but in retrospect I guess I wasn’t really trying to sleep when I was runnin and gunnin.
When I went to the tree house that time I found a very small and very well cared for cardboard box with three items in it. These were the three that my family whose sacred workshop the tree house was, had decided after long deliberation to part with. There was a stuffed turtle, very flat, with two black plastic eyes about the size of my splayed hand.
I knew he would come with me. “What is his name?”
Terrapin the turtle.
It had a nice ring, very proper. I did not know the word Terrapin at the time or it’s strong association with turtles. I just thought it was a high-class boyish name like Buckley or Ferguson.
He looked very stern; he didn’t have an embroidered smile.
When I was little stuffed animals like this worried me a lot. I always insisted on bringing them home and then I tortured myself believing they were unhappy and I was why.
Terrapin was a turning point for me though. We accepted each other. We didn’t try to fix each other. We didn’t feel bad when the other never smiled.
In the woods Terrapin had a little harness made from bike inter tubes and he swung from my own harness. I didn’t do much climbing. I am not one for being high up in contraptions built by people. But on the rare occasion, Terrapin came with me for courage.
Once he plummeted nearly 120 feet after slipping from his harness. That was the same descent where my boob got stuck in my 8. I was topless and rushing to get to the ground to find him. Nothing like a boob in a descending device to make you slow down and think about what you’re doing. Fifteen minutes later I was on the ground with no permanent damage and a resolve to wear my shirt next time. Terrapin was turned over on his shell at the base of the tree.
A turtle can’t turn himself over very well when he lands like that.
His flatness got flatter from a whole lot of hanging in the bottom of a backpack hitchhiking back and forth across the country. I was always finding some important errand 3000 miles away, usually involving love. The bottom of the backpack also made his softness softer.
He was always taking off for a couple of days at a time, that Terrapin. And I would find him in places I had never been before. Once he took off from a punk house in West Olympia, only to turn up three days later in a field I hadn’t cut across in months. He was missing his left eye.
So when he took off from my bike cart on the coast of Florida I was not too concerned. I was sure he would turn up.
Years went by. I was beginning to think he was gone.
I went to a paper bag sale at the thrift shop in Libby Montana to try to find some boots and a sweater. I was in post acute withdrawal in a tee-pee in sub zero weather with a hoody and a holy pair of canvas sneakers.
A paper bag sale, if you are not familiar, is where you pay a flat price, in this case five dollars, for a bag that you can then fill with anything from the store.
I found a pair of snow boots with liners that were big enough I could and would wear three pairs of socks in them. I rounded an aisle and there on a meager little shelf of four or five toys was Terrapin. I didn’t notice at first but something made me do a double take.
He had changed an awful lot. To be honest he was huge and looked rather like a kangaroo but I recognized his serious disposition and his missing left eye. He was hard to fit in my bag; his tail was huge. The cashier was forgiving, I don’t think your five dollar bag is supposed to be bulging out the top like that.
He has a button eye now so he can find his way home easier and a secret in his pocket. The kids I know love him and look for him when they come over.
They wear him like a hat.