Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Wear a Turtle Necklace

Today, as part of my "write everyday" project, I wrote an essay I've been mulling over for awhile. It's a very personal essay, and I hope you enjoy it.

Some relationships shape you, some break you, and others define you. The change is invisible, and sometimes undetectable. Occasionally we can look back and see what has happened to us. Many times it takes some backtracking to figure out where the change happened. I remember when I first realized I had a problem with people touching my nails. It took me looking back thirteen years, past my mom trying to pain my nails, past friends playing with my fingers, until I remembered my piano teacher obsessing about the clicking of my nails on the keys. He clipped them himself, and I haven’t let people touch my nails since. It's silly, and I know it's silly.

We are each a collage of memories and events that have pieced together through the years to make a unique person. These memories and events are littered with people. There is no memory without a person in it, even if the only person is you.

I don’t like my nails touched, and I wear a turtle necklace.

I don’t remember the first time my dad told us the story of Flash and Pokey. I don’t remember him telling us any other stories, though I’m sure he did. Like the slide that seems so much bigger as a child, in my mind he sat with us after dinner every night to tell us a story. I know now it couldn’t have been anywhere near every night. He was rarely home for dinner. Those nights he was, he would pull my brother close to him, and we would beg him to tell us the story of Flash and Pokey. Sometimes he would feign annoyance, but he never said no.

It always started the same. Flash was the fastest in the whole ocean, he would tell us. Flash was a dolphin. Pokey, on the other hand was a poor little turtle who could never keep up. Flash was mean. Pokey never fought back. It may not be all that original of a story, sort of a “Tortoise and the Hare” in the ocean, but we listened with rapt ears every time. We felt for Pokey when the speedy dolphin would call him names. We rooted for him when Flash challenged him to a race. We shook our heads in disbelief, when Flash got distracted by his other dolphin friends doing flips and spins. We rolled our eyes when Flash left the racetrack to chase some fish for lunch. We were saddened when he would Zoom in front of Pokey, who never let up. Every time Flash would poke fun at Pokey (no pun intended), he would respond with a slow sure voice: “I may be slow, but I’m doing the best that I can.”

Flash could have won easily, we knew that, and sometimes he did. Sometimes he won at the last second as he heard the cheers go up for the turtle, who was almost to the finish line. Other times he was no where to be seen after the race. We cheered for Pokey when he won. We were angry at Flash when he won. It never mattered to Pokey. Win or loose, he always had the last word. He always answered the critiques and the praise with: “Well, I just did the best that I could.”

We could tell that story forwards and backwards. So much so, that he stopped telling it as we got older. We never forgot it, though. It impacted no one more than my brother. I didn’t know how much until we were celebrating his birthday one year. My brother, who has Cerebral Palsy, only has the use of one hand, but that never stopped him from playing video games with the boys. That year he was really into a wrestling game. He had his own character. He called himself Nathan the Ninja. He and the boys were going at it for hours. Sometimes he won. Well, usually he won. We were wrapping up the party when he lost the last round. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He has the biggest smile in the world, and tonight was no exception. He received a high five from his competitor, and said to all who were watching.

“Well, I didn’t win, but I just did the best that I could.”

My heart broke. I’m not a sentimental person, but my eyes filled up with tears. Why can’t I do that? I asked myself. Why do I give up when I can’t do as good as someone else? My whole life I had looked up to my other brother. He was, in my eyes, perfect. An athlete, a good student, a musical ear, and charismatic, I wished I could be like him my whole life. No matter how I practiced, I couldn’t play piano like him, and he didn’t even try. So I quit. We played the same sports, but he always got the trophies. So I quit. He had friends around him constantly. I followed him around, afraid of my own awkwardness. I gave up. I had stopped trying because I would never be as good as my brother. Until that night. I realized I was looking up at the wrong brother.

The next day I put on a turtle necklace. It wasn’t anything fancy. It wasn’t expensive. I think I bought it for five dollars. I kept that necklace with me everyday for two years. Sometimes I hung it from a belt loop. Sometimes I wore it. Once I even wrapped it around my ponytail. I cried the day it broke. It was silly, but I felt like I was betraying my brother when I put different necklace on a week later. My turtle hangs from my rearview mirror now, right next to my parking permit. When I’m in my car I hold the turtle, now missing its shell, in my hand, and hear my brother’s voice. He reminds me everyday. It doesn’t matter if I’m the best at something. It doesn’t matter if I ‘win.’ The real victory is knowing that I did the best that I could.

I don’t like my nails touched, and today I bought a new turtle necklace.

Nathan has shaped the way I think. He has broken my cycle of giving up. In no small way, he has defined who I am.

1 comment:

  1. I totally cried! Hmmm, now I understand the meaning of the turtle you were telling me about a few weeks ago. Thanks for a great reminder to just do the best that I's so easy to forget sometimes! :)


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