by Johanna Hardy
I’m tucked into the sand like a turtle’s nest. If I’m the nest, then you’re the egg, sitting in my lap, whirling and wiggling, giggling, coming to life like the hatch of turtle birth.
I’ve never seen a smile as glorious as the light that shines in yours. Your eyes smile first, then your nose, then your mouth. I didn’t know smiles could be so genetic.
I tell you about the baby turtles running, flapping, falling through the sand toward the sea, toward safety, toward life. I tell you I’ve seen it once in real life, and I tell you that it’s magical.
I tell you that I don’t know the name for baby turtles, that they are just baby turtles to me, wandering and finding their way.
I let my head rest upon your head, the smell, the touch of sun drifting up from your silky hair. I let you lean into me, twirl and ensnare your fingers into mine. I let us be just us.
I let you walk me to the shore, to the water still too cold to swim in. I let you lead me in a dance of spins at the edge of the waves, cold water splashing on our ankles, feeling real. The water makes for magic wings as it cascades up around us.
I want to think these wings are turtle flippers. Maybe instead of flying we can disappear into the water, safe from the dangers of the shore.
I race you back to dry land and laugh as I trip on my own feet and fall. Then you fall onto me, and I wonder if maybe being clumsy is genetic too.
I kneel in front of you with a towel in my hand. I wipe it over your hair, down your cheek. Pause. I want to keep you in this moment where I know I’ve never loved you more than now and I will never love you less. Your eyes stare back at mine. A smile appears. You mirror me, hand upon my cheek.
I realize I have been crying. I realize you’re wiping away the tears.
I pull you into me, feel your small warmth. I wrap the towel around your back, let it engulf us here in this moment.
I want to tell you that I’ve never felt more freedom than with you tucked in my arms.
I want to tell you that turtles always return to the same nesting ground every year. I want you to know we’ll always come back together on the shores of where we began.
I pull you up on my hip, your smile feeding into mine. You knock our foreheads together, gripping around my neck, giggling into the space between us.
I hold your body close to mine, feel the warmth between us before lowering you back to the ground. You stare up at me for a moment, a smile lingering in the quiet between us now.
I want to tell you that I have never understood the beauty of the eyes we share until I saw them on you.
I kneel before you, grip your hands in mine. I want to tell you that I’ll miss you. I want to keep holding your hands and looking at you.
I wish I had words for you.
I let go of your hands and pull you to me once more. I take in the shape of you in my arms and let you go as tears well in my eyes.
I watch you get in the car with your family to leave, leaving me standing alone as you go. I gave you to this family so you would be safe when I couldn’t care for you. They have let me claim you again, and I cling to the moments you’re mine.
I always hoped you’d be mine again somehow.
I wait until your car has turned a corner before I get back in my car.
I want to tell you about the turtle crawl, about the patterns left in the sand when the turtle moves across the sand. I want to tell you that each pattern is unique to the turtle, that the paths they make are their very own, and maybe our path will be the same.
I wish I didn’t have to see you so still.
I wish I could tell you that the turtle’s best sense is its sight, and I wish I knew what was coming.
I take your hand in mine, feel the cool pulse, beg for a dance, a light to return.
I pray into a silent room and wait for silence to answer me.
I want to see the smile in your eyes instead of the tears in my own.
I hope God will give me just that, just that one little thing.
I want you to know that water is a lot of life. It’s where we’re born, where we go to get clean. Where we cleanse our insides.
I want to submerge us and make us new. I want there to be more to us than this white sterile room. I want you to know at least a thousand times more that I love you. I love you. I love you.
I don’t want to tell you that I almost drowned. I don’t want you to know I stopped swimming because it got too hard. I don’t want you to know I almost gave up.
I squeeze my hand around yours, pause for a response. I wait in the quiet of the beeping of the heart.
I want to tell you that turtles live for over a hundred years, and I wonder why we can’t have so much time.
I wish I could tell you all the things I know. That even in the deepest trench, there is light and hope, cleansing and renewal. I want to tell you things will be okay.
I want you to know how I kept swimming. And maybe I do want you to know I almost stopped. I want you to know there’s always a way to survive the waters.
I want you to know that turtles go underwater for so long that maybe they should drown. I want to tell you that maybe that’s me too. Maybe I was just holding my breath, almost drowning, but surfacing before water collapsed upon me.
I whisper to you, without turtles or dances, waters or shore, we are still us and I love you the same.
I want you to know what it means to find home.
I want this room to be gone. I want your eyes to be open. I want there to be more water around us than the IV in your arm.
I wait for a shift, a twitch, a shudder. I wait for life to come back. I want you to know that I will always wait for you.
I want to tell you that turtles carry their homes with them always. I want to tell you that I do the same. I want to tell you that your heart is my home. I want to tell you how afraid I am of losing it.
I’m curled at your side, as close to you as I’m allowed to be.
I want you to know I’m still waiting.
I want to tell you that it’s okay to go deeper so that your mind is protected when your body attacks. I want to tell you of the aches of my body in waiting for you to return.
I want to tell you that even turtles cry sometimes.
I want to go back to the waters, to hold you on my shoulders as we crash through the waves, circling and spinning, laughing and dancing. I want you to stand facing me, growing taller, bigger, longer, sweeter.
I watch as your small body writhes and twists, breaking your strength as your mind sleeps on. I want to tell you that I cried when I saw your body and mind separating, your body attacking what little of you I could still see. I want to hold you to make the pain stop.
I wish I could make the pain stop.
I want you to know that turtles can grow up to 2,000 pounds and that is only a fraction of the weight of my heart.
I’m on the beach. My feet are sinking into the sand. My heart’s sinking just as fast.
I wish I didn’t have to let you go on Easter. I wish we didn’t use your Easter dress.
I wish we would’ve chosen land so I could always find you again. I know that this is better. I know the waters will hold you. I know they will bring you new life in this death.
I watch as they let the remains of you go in the wind, floating into the water as candles float forward.
I want you to know that I know your soul is free.
I listen as guitars start to play. I listen to the voices whispering into the wind of how young you were. I want to stand and run into the arms of someone I love.
I want you to know that no one else in this moment will do.
I feel tears fall down my cheeks and fall to my knees, crawling toward the water for solace or light.
I am shaking on the shore as I turn and stand, walk toward the others. Eyes meet mine before glancing away. I wish I could tell them what to say.
I try to sing because I know you’d want me to try. I try not to cry because I think that’s what is best.
I try to tuck into my shell and disappear. I hope that when I come back, you will have come back too.
I want you to show me what it means to love. I want you to know that I tried so hard to be good enough for you.
I wish I could tell you the stories of mine. Of hope and loss, fear and love, life and death.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve lived through death before. I wish I could tell you it doesn’t get easier.
I dip my feet into the water, push myself forward until I am nearly knee-deep. I lower my head, drop it into my hands. I want to know why I had to lose you.
I want to tell you that turtles travel up to 10,000 miles a year. I want you to know I’d go so much further if I could find you in a place that miles could reach.
I sometimes think I could make sense of you by standing on the shores of the water. I wonder if it’s the only place left that I know how to find you.
I am standing here again. A different lake with different water.
I’ve traveled the mountains. I looked to the ocean. I still come back to the lakes.
I wonder if I’m ever not looking for you.
I want to find a turtle and tell you about it. I want to show you the colors of paint on the shells of the little ones. Of the wisdom in the age of the big ones. I want you to know more about turtles than I do.
I wish I could tell you more. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t know much about the turtles, but I tried, I tried to tell you what I did know.
I’m sitting here, freezing, waiting for meaning on the edge of a lake that sits between frozen and moving.
I’m waiting for winter’s edge to break. I’m waiting for everything to be okay.
I stand at the edge of the water, my feet pointing down towards its depths. I am waiting. I am hoping. I am breathing.
I want you to know I’m still swimming.
Johanna Hardy is a fiction and nonfiction writer working toward a master's degree at Northern Michigan University. Besides writing, Johanna enjoys hiking through the beauty of Michigan's Upper Peninsula with her two dogs
and playing and creating music with friends.