I was at an aquarium; standing in front of a wall of glass, and curiously peeking in on the interesting lives of the sea critters who existed on the opposite side.
This made sense, because Charlie and I had watched a “live stream” of aquarium footage a few weeks before; about twenty minutes into it, though, I had noticed that things began repeating. It was a very subtle looping transition (no glitches), but I still noticed it.
“Charlie,” I called out from my spot on the couch, “those two scuba divers just entered the shot from the bottom left.. again. In the exact same way they did earlier.”
I took another sip of peach-flavored sangria from my mug, eyeing the screen critically. I had just purchased this TV for the living room the week before (I hadn’t owned one in a year), and I already mistrusted the thing. Then, another repetition occurred.
“HA! I knew it,” I celebrated. “That weird-looking blow fish just waddled across the screen AT THE SAME TIME that the shark appeared ominously in the background. Remember that happening TWENTY MINUTES AGO?”
So we turned the live stream off.
And here I was now, actually standing in front of a very similar looking display. The thick glass likely separated me from at least a hundred different types of fish — from shrimp and sharks to seahorses and sea dragons — but all I can remember really honing in on was this tiny, sad-looking turtle, wading slowly near the bottom of the glass.
“We have to get him out of there,” I told Charlie, determined to set him free.
And then things happened quickly. With no one else around (and that should have been my first red flag; when is there NOT a crowd at the aquarium?), I bent down and located a strange mechanism underneath the display; a lever that, when you turned it, sealed off the main water ‘rig’ but allowed certain things to pass through. There was a slide to the motion, too; you could open the ‘window’ to a size as small as an inch or make it wide enough to accommodate a small sea turtle. And I made it exactly that big.
It felt like achieving success at a claw machine. Remember those?
The sea turtle popped out, I scooped him up, and the next thing I knew, we were all driving home together — with Charlie driving and me in the passenger’s seat, gently holding the turtle.
I blinked. I was standing outside of my house now, staring down at a kiddie pool. I had filled it up with water, apparently (although I didn’t recall doing so) and tossed the sea turtle inside of it, eagerly looking for signs that this made him happy — that he was having fun, swimming around in the water. I watched him lift his head up, off of the surface of the water, and I worried that maybe he couldn’t breathe underwater; that maybe, at the aquarium, they’d installed some sort of air pump that had made it possible. He safely made it over to the side of the kiddie pool and then then stayed there, clinging to the plastic wall; I picked him up and noticed, with surprise, that he had gotten heavier.
Then, in a flash, the sea turtle had grown to be twelve times its size and was hugging me. There’s no other way of describing it; he had wrapped his cute little sea turtle arms around me and was embracing me. He squeezed me a little too tightly once, and I sighed in a way that asked him to relax his grip. A twenty-something year old was skateboarding through the neighborhood; he had gone up and down my driveway a few times, without asking, nodding vaguely in my direction as he did so, but now, he was skateboarding on TWO skateboards, one moving underneath each of his feet. I couldn’t believe it. If you’ve seen my driveway, you would understand how reckless he was being.
Meanwhile, the turtle was still hugging me. I thought about calling for Charlie — asking him to come outside and take a look at this! Snap a picture! It was completely adorable. But then I started worrying again.
The sea turtle has gotten so much bigger, I thought to myself. Just in one day! He was tiny this morning, and now he’s massive. How big is he going to get? Where will I keep him? How will I take care of him? CAN he breathe underwater? He’s going to need a bigger pool..
Just as I was thinking these things to myself, a group of people began cutting across my yard, seemingly coming from my neighbor’s house. One of them, a young girl named Sarah, I recognized as someone who had attended the same church I did years ago (back when I went to church). She took in the sight of the sea turtle and looked openly worried.
She shared that it was a certain breed of turtle – a rare one, apparently – and that it would grow to be absolutely enormous; just as I had worried the case might be.
“What should I do?” I asked her, and even as the words were leaving my mouth, I quietly wondered why I was asking someone so much younger than me, someone who had just stumbled onto the situation, for advice.
“Call for a ranger and have them come and pick him up,” she suggested.
She walked away with the others, and I thought to myself — a ranger? That sounds like a park thing. Not an aquarium thing.
And technically, I STOLE this turtle from the aquarium. It occurred to me, for the very first time, that I had done something wrong.
When I call them and ask them to pick up the turtle, they’re going to ask how I got it. I can’t just say it showed up on my doorstep, or that I bought it from someone off of Craigslist — the first answer wouldn’t make sense; the second claim, I couldn’t substantiate with documentation; and thirdly, I just couldn’t lie like that!
Maybe if I tell them that I wanted to give him a better life, they won’t consider it robbery, I hoped. I didn’t mean to steal him. I just wanted him to be happy. He seemed so lonely and confined in there.
So I called the aquarium, I confessed that I had the sea turtle they were probably missing, and then I waited, thinking maybe I’ll go to jail, or maybe they’ll just charge me a five million dollar fine. I sighed.
While I waited, I looked down at the turtle; he was still hugging me, but he had pulled back in his embrace just a little bit, enough that I could see his face. I realized, without feeling surprised, that he was now taller than me. And I noticed that he was wearing rings on his turtle hands (paws?). He pulled one of them off – his favorite – and handed it to me; speaking for the first time, he smiled and asked (in a kind and elderly voice that strangely resembled my grandfather’s): “So this means that you were my girlfriend?”
I feel like I might have ridden back to the aquarium with turt (what I named him — how original) in an underwater spaceship (if that makes sense). I don’t remember anything else.
And this is what happens when I’m sick; I dream dreams that are slightly more interesting and bizarre than usual. I can’t really grasp the “deep meaning” behind this one, but if I had to try to boil it all down into a practical and water-soluble lesson..
- Don’t lie, and don’t steal. While good intentions can mean a lot, they can’t justify bad actions.
Still here (with a throat that feels like it’s made of sandpaper and an army of lemons standing ‘at the ready’ on the kitchen counter),