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  • Writer's pictureHillora Lang

Turtle Tears

I lie near the headwaters of the stream flowing into the beaver pond above the house. There’s a tiny little turtle, like the ones you get as a kid from the pet store, perched on a rock just the other side of the burbling pool where the water starts its fall. Gravity is a marvelous thing, really. It pulls the spring-cold water over the edge of the pool, down the rocky stream bed, into the beaver pond and out the other side. All the way to the ocean, a million miles away.

Gravity is a marvelous thing.

It holds me here, tight against the muddy ground. I can’t float away, even if I want to.

It’s the intelligent, responsible part of me that loves gravity. It’s that broken part that resents it.

I lie on my stomach, cotton dress rucked up under me, bare thighs, bony knees, digging toes burrowing into the long roots of wet grass. The turtle’s tiny amphibian eyes stare into mine, blinking lazily in the dappled sun. Do turtles cry? It seems strange – trailing my fingers through the water, back and forth, back and forth – that I have more in common with this little turtle than with any person I know.

I should have loved you.

How hard could it be? Parents loved each other, loved their children. Brothers and sisters loved their siblings. Everyone loved someone, or looked forward to loving someone, someday.

Everyone but me.

I felt things, I knew that much, at least. I felt hurt when people ignored me, or picked on me, or were thoughtlessly cruel. I felt grateful when people were kind or generous. I felt lost when I saw other people connected to each other, and knew that I would never be linked like they were.

I inch closer to the shallow pool, stretching my hand across the gurgling water toward the turtle’s rock. Mud oozes from the spongy ground, grinding into my chest. This dress will never come clean; it will always smell of mud and regret. My fingers reach the edge of the flat rock and creep slowly upward, toward a tiny clawed foot. One fingernail touches a miniscule amphibian claw, and I smile. Trust, pleasure, regret, joy. Is this what love is?

How can I love a turtle, and not you?

What am I?

The back of my head is hot, sun beating down through new-green leaves. I close my eyes, smell the freshness of the water bubbling up through the ground. The earth has exactly the same amount of water today as it had four million years ago, four hundred million years ago. The water filling this muddy pool was once dinosaur pee, was once drunk by a wooly mammoth, was once rain that fell on the bare head of Shakespeare as he walked along the bank of the Thames. The water filling this muddy pool was once turtle tears. The water filling this pool was my tears.

If I drop my head just a bit, into the water, will my parched heart absorb all the tears ever cried?

It is exhausting to not feel what I should feel. It rips my mind into shreds, annihilates my soul. It hurts. Maybe that will be enough.

I pull myself out of the mud and wring out the front of my dress, rinse the dirt from my feet and slide them into sandals. The startled turtle slips from its rock and disappears into the sodden grass. I let the pull of gravity draw me downhill, along the stream, past the beaver pond, along the driveway. The screen door slams open and my mom steps out on the porch.

“Where have you been? What have you…” She sees the muddy condition of my dress, my knees, my sandals. Today of all days. I see the thought as clearly as if it were written in the air above her head. Tears fill her eyes. Grief, frustration, disappointment.

Maybe it will be enough.

I imitate her, feel matching tears swelling and spilling. I can see her face change and I know that once again she believes I have a heart like her, that I am her child, that I am human.

Upstairs, I strip out of my muddy dress and step into the shower. Hot water crashes into my face and washes bits of spring grass from my knees, from between my toes. Gravity splashes over me, pulling ancient water from the shower head. I bathe in dinosaur pee, in turtle tears. I use the gray towel to dry off.

The pink one would be too happy. I should be sad. I should feel something.

I slip into the dress Mom bought me yesterday, do up the shiny black buttons. Brush my hair. Black pantyhose, black pumps. Gravity pulls me downstairs, out the door, into the black car the funeral home sent. Four-hundred-million-year-old dinosaur pee falls from the sky. Four-million-year-old turtle tears splash up beneath the car’s tires.

My sister always wore black. She loved the drama. She loved life. She loved me.

I should feel something.

I should feel something.

Why can’t I feel anything?

What am I?

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