PermaLink Being The Turtle06/28/2006 07:02 PM

No, it's not a nickname.  Please stop asking.
The last two days have reminded me why this lump of three-quarters of an ounce of gold around my neck is there.  Those of you who know me only from here, or from Lotusphere, don't know where The Turtle came from.

I am going to tell you.

But first, I am going to tell you about turtles.  We're not spectacular.  We're awkward, not often elegant, adaptable, durable, and we use our strength not to shield ourselves from the world, but to extend ourselves further out into the world.  Take bigger risks, give more of ourselves because we know that if things come apart, we have a tremendous strength that will save us... from ourselves.  We are the ultimate optimists, because we know what the worst can be.

I have suffered almost all my life from chronic clinical depression.  My stepmother, a few years ago, said, "I've thought you were a time-bomb since you were eight years old."  While I think it'd have been nice to hear it a little sooner than my forty-first year, to hear that made sense and confirmed something that I knew all the time I grew up, that things were not right with me but that if I was strong, I could make it through.  The strength almost failed me a couple of times... one morning in November, 1978, my stepmother found me in the kitchen before dawn, cradling my father's 30-30 rifle with a round chambered and wondering if I was going to see the sun come up.  Years later, after my marriage came apart and I was again staring down the abyss, I finally sought treatment and saved my own life again.

In between, though, in a required American modern literature course at Michigan State, I found a symbol.  Still available on Amazon, you can find a copy of Marge Piercy's 1974 novel, Small Changes.  While most of the best characters are women, I identified strongly with it, particularly a timid-but-strong woman named Beth who takes as her personal symbol a turtle.  She thinks about it during the worst days of her abusive marriage to a lout, pictures herself flying a little turtle flag.  It got me through a destructive and dangerous time in my life, one that saw me homeless, broke, alone, in a lot of pain.

I made it through.  I made it through being poor, so poor that I was living on seven dollars a week and weighed one hundred thirty-five pounds.  So poor I couldn't afford the ten dollars at the free clinic in Syracuse to get a broken, abscessed tooth pulled.  I made it through homelessness, living on couches, living out of a backpack, living nowhere, scraping rent together during the Reagan Depression, made it through aloneness.

I have been The Turtle ever since.  It's been more than twenty-five years now.

Almost no one who knows me now has ever known any of these things about me until now.

They probably think it's a nickname.

What happened last night hurt.  Marnie got me through so many things just by being there and being My Kitten.  Sitting on me, softening me up, purring, flicking her tail around.  Losing her hurt more than anything I've been through in a long time, and will continue to hurt in many ways, for a long time.  I still think about all the cats I've lost.  Chester.  Hog.  Tess.  Spot.  Data.  Harry.  Boris.  Mao.  And now, Marnie.

I will lose them all some day.  I will lose a little piece of me everytime I lose one of them, and I will go through this fourteen more times.  Someday, someone will bury me out on the hill by the cherry trees, just as I have laid the cats to rest.

I understand now that I had to go through this.  I had to.  It's my job.  I do it because I can do it.  I am strong.  I am a tough motherfucker.  I have seen horrible things in the world and not shied away.  I have been through pain.  Loss.  Desolation.  And I did it, because... I can.

And yes, I had to go through this.  But I am not sure anymore what I had to learn from Marnie's death.   I used to think that there was something I had to learn in everything.  When Nancy left, I thought for a very long time about the things I knew I would need to learn.  When things failed with Marilyn, I wondered what lesson there was to learn, other than "don't do this again."  Years ago, there were good things I learned about living at the bottom of the world, things about me and my ability to survive where others collapsed and sometimes died.

I don't know what I'm supposed to learn from Marnie.  She was a sweet, smart kitten who loved me very much and I loved her.  She never did bad things, always was nice to be with, was always distinct and independent.  I just don't know what I'm supposed to learn from her sudden death.  At this point in my life I don't feel like I have anything to prove to anyone about my ability to absorb and diffuse pain and sorrow, or my ability to care about something else that has lived and died.  I don't feel like there's some object lesson about caring about things that you might lose:  I've lost and regained and lost so much in my life already.

I just don't know.

Maybe what I was supposed to learn is that I can still ask the questions, and that maybe I don't need or even want an answer.

And that is very much... turtle.
This page has been accessed 64 times. .
Blabber :v

1. Mubashra 10/24/2009 09:16:08 AM

this is the most idiotic website!!!!!!!!
suckers :emb

2. Adi07/20/2006 12:04:47 PM

Hey Turtle. Thanks for explaining and sharing. I guess that even when you're better and life is treating you well, depression kinda stays something you have to live with and deal with for the rest of your life. I'm so sorry about the little kitty too. I'm typing this up with my cat on my lap, resting her chin on my wrist, her head hobbling up and down as I type, and I know how much you get to love these animals. I lost my 18 year old love-of-my-life cat last year, but it was something that was anticipated and I prepared myself for it months before already, so still not similar to your loss. It still broke my heart though, still cry thinking about it.

On another note: I'm so glad you are writing a blog again, a pity I only discovered it now. You are an excellent writer and a great member of the Lotus community. It's great reading.

3. Deb M07/18/2006 01:17:43 PM

Haven't been by your site in a while--just dropped in to see if there was anything new going on.

Sorry to hear about Marnie. It never gets easier. I have ten of my own. Knowing every single one of them will leave a big hole in my heart when they go doesn't stop us from loving them.

I must say, I miss your old cat pages.

Deb M.
(formerly Harleywench from the bratpage days)

4. ChangeWarrior (Deb)06/30/2006 10:23:13 AM

I'm so sorry for your pain.
Maybe there's nothing else to learn except that death happens and you now know you're strong enough to handle it when it does.
For what it's worth, you're one of the coolest people I know.
Anyone who's been through as much as you have, who has been able to overcome the darkest part of worthy of admiration.

Here's a thought that's always kept me going through my dark moments...Today may be horrible; tomorrow's a fresh start.

Hang in there, man.

5. Karen06/29/2006 08:34:21 AM

I think you're right. And I'm sorry about your kitten. I find the loss of a pet, with its unconditional love, to be especially devastating.

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