Turnt the Turtle: a Memoir

by Emily Caruso

People say that coming across a true friend is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So when I was confronted with that prime opportunity, I stuck my hand through the metaphorical window right into a creek where I picked up my once-in-a-lifetime best friend. His name: Turnt the Turtle. With his scraggily neck stretched out towards the sky and his moist shell dripping onto my palm, Turnt’s beak turned into a smile. Then I realized that Turnt was no ordinary lost baby turtle, but a lost baby snapping turtle. Like a mother with a special needs child, I loved him nonetheless and took him home with me.

Playing Mother Nature, I did my best attempt at recreating his habitat in a plastic bowl, complete with rocks for sun bathing and algae for afternoon snacks. While most eighteen-year-old girls prefer to spend their time in the presence of actual people who are fully responsive and, might I add, unnecessarily dramatic, I prefer to fill the void with a more quiet and thoughtful crowd. Sure, Turnt didn’t say much, but he was much more pensive and inquisitive than any of my friends. Though he seemed content with his new surroundings and we enjoyed each other’s company, Turnt and I both knew that a turtle in a bowl hidden from my mother with no other turtle friends was no life for a turtle.

Of course our friendship was short lived, only lasting ’til the next morning when my mom found him underneath the deck. “Get rid of him,” was her initial response. It was just as I expected her to say, but it struck me harder than I thought it would when I rolled the phrase through my head the night before. I pictured a life for him in the wild, one where he could grow to be 30 inches long with a lethal snapper ready at the nearest sign of danger. One where he had a girlfriend turtle and little kid turtles. Then I pictured a life with Turnt in captivity. One where he would be trapped in that bowl all day and have to listen to an annoying eighteen-year-old girl. One where he wouldn’t be free to grow into the predator he was meant to be. The answer was clear: I needed to release this turtle into the wild.

So that day after school I ventured off with Turnt the Turtle to the park where I originally found him. The creek was moving rapidly, accompanied by kids frolicking with their mothers and hooligans carrying nets upstream along the banks. As I set Turnt in the water and he started to float down towards the hooligans, my stomach started to churn. There was no way I was going to release Turnt only for him to be captured again! So without hesitation I picked him up out of the water, ready to take him to another creek.

The second creek was calmer, not a soul in sight. I said my goodbyes for the second time and let him go, only for him to float towards a hungry-looking snake. Now I’m not sure if snakes can even eat turtles, but I was not about to release him in harm’s way. So I picked him up again and moved him out of the snake’s path and watched him float off into the sunset embracing the unknown, his destiny.

Though he’s gone in creek somewhere probably with his new turtle family, I think we have a lot to learn from Turnt the Turtle and that is what will keep his memory alive. Being a high school senior, graduating is a lot like having a turtle. No one knows where we are going in life or what we will do–the possibilities are endless–but we have to trust in ourselves and let go, floating off into the sunset ready to embrace the unknown, our destiny.


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