The turtle died.
We think he died this weekend. At least that's when we noticed him at the bottom front right corner of the tank, still as could be, eyes clouded over. His little turtle soul lives on. But Timmy's tiny body has quit this beautiful, big world.
I was sad. We were given Timmy by Ian's father three years ago as a housewarming gift of sorts, when the boys and I moved into "the old grey house" by the water, as the kids affectionately refer to it. Ian's father had found him in the middle of a road while out riding his motorcycle. A turtle-lover himself with Tommy the turtle -- now, it has been discovered, actually Tammy the turtle-- at home, he wanted to give the little guy a good home. And so the little guy came to live with us.
For a long time, when it was just me, the boys, and one dog, Timmy took center stage. He lived in his great big tank in our enormous kitchen at the old grey house, and he would jump off his floating log and swim to the edge of the tank to say good morning at the start of each day. The boys were fascinated with him. Nolan was not quite three, and Sean had just turned five. They took turns feeding him, and they loved chatting with him while coloring at the kitchen table.
When we bought the "new" house with Ian toward the end of 2008, Timmy came with us. His tank took up residence in what seemed like the perfect spot--a large mudroom of sorts between the living room and kitchen. It's a pass-through, really. And we tapped on the glass and said hi to Timmy as we walked between the rooms or headed into the basement.
He was no longer center-stage, though. Timmy took a back seat to just about everything. We now had two dogs--and by last July, three, since Lopez came to live with us. We were a busy family with two very active boys, various commitments, three jobs between the two of us, a sociable and lively neighborhood, and so on. We made sure to feed Timmy, but we no longer spent long dinners at a table beside him to keep him company. I wondered, maybe once or twice, if he was lonely.
His tank was a monster of a thing to clean, too. It was a production, at best. Ian was the one who took care of it, in addition to his already loaded plate. But Timmy was a turtle and, after all, turtles like Timmy love the swamp life, so we didn't feel it so bad if we let the tank go...a little.
And then he died.
His tank was pretty mossy. His shell looked terrible. It hadn't looked good since a few months after we adopted him, so we weren't sure what to make of it. But when the boys and I came back from church yesterday morning, Ian pulled me aside while the boys ran out to play. "I think, uh, Timmy died," he said.
My heart sank. I felt guilty of neglect. Ian hugged me and reminded me that, "maybe we spread ourselves a little too thin," in the pet department. I knelt on the floor before the tank and stared at Timmy's little body, sunk to the bottom like a stone. "Maybe he was sick to begin with, and it just got worse," Ian offered. Maybe.
The boys came in from playing outside in the spring weather, and we enjoyed a little lunch together in the war room (dining room that functions for all meals, homework, craft projects, etc...). At the end of our meal, after the plates were filed away in the dishwasher and the kids were chugging the last of their drinks, we broke the news to the kids.
Nolan immediately went to the tank to verify facts. "Yep," he declared upon returning to table. "Dead."
Sean's eyes brimmed with tears. He needed me with him to go look at the tank. We hugged each other and Sean sobbed. Sobbed. We talked about him for a little while, dried tears, and then the kids scampered off to the important business of racing, pretending and creating outside in the early spring sunshine. I went outside to do a little more garden clean-up and spring prep-work, while Ian ran a drainage hose out the window into the yard from the tank.
It was otherwise a spectacular day. The sun was setting beautifully over the harbor just beyond the yard. After we wrapped up dinner and the plates were once again filed in the dishwasher, we all went outside to pay our final respects to Timmy. Ian had dug a deep hole on the side of the garage to which the dogs do not have access. He fashioned a cross out of two sticks, and Sean had chosen three colorful marbles to place on the grave. We marched solemnly out of the house, through the gate and around the garage. The dogs watched us from the other side of the picket fence beside the big hole in the ground. We said a few words, and Ian placed Timmy, wrapped in a brown shopping bag, into the hole and began to cover it. Sean burst into tears.
Ian patted the dirt down on top, Nolan slammed the cross in the ground like he was staking a claim, and Sean placed a neat little triangle of the marbles in front of the cross. We walked inside and Nolan remarked that the blank wall at which Timmy's tank once stood now "looks weird."
Later, Sean thoughtfully pondered Timmy's afterlife.
"I think he's in heaven," he said. "I think God puts all the animals in heaven in one place. It's like there's this one big cloud, and above it is the Star of Bethlehem. The Star of Bethlehem was above the manger where Jesus was born. And that's where the animals were then, and when they die, the star is above them in heaven."
Makes sense to me.
RIP Timmy. We miss you.