My wife Mel and I were at a turtle farm in the Cayman Islands. It was part of a cruise we took to celebrate our 11-year anniversary. With each stop on the cruise, there were excursions. Mel and I are tourists, but since we aren’t really the kind of people to just shoot off and do our own thing, we paid for tours. We each took turns picking different excursions, and this one, the turtle farm, was her idea. And I will be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I am not a turtle enthusiast. I don’t find turtles cute or cuddly, or anything like that. In fact, I don’t think much about turtles outside of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which are not real, and very exciting, and far from the reality of a large-shelled reptile floating around in seawater.
However, I must admit that once I actually saw the massive and majestic 500-pound creatures, I was blown away. The sun was hot, and it smelled like animals and saltwater. The turtles splashed and grunted.
“These things are amazing,” I said.
Mel smiled. “I know!” she said. “See! You can have fun at a turtle farm.”
We went from one group of turtles to the next. All of them were larger than life. All of them had huge shells and large beak-like mouths. There really wasn’t much between us and the turtles, outside of a sign that said, “Do not touch the turtles.”
“Why can’t we touch them?” I asked.
Mel shrugged, but she also gave me a suspicious look—a sideways glance that seemed to say, “Don’t you dare touch those turtles.”
It was right about then that our guide said, “These turtles have really powerful jaws.” He went on, telling us how they are strong enough to bite through another turtle’s shell, and that our fingers look a lot like the food they are fed. “One of these turtles could very easily bite through your whole hand, which would be bad for the turtle and very unfortunate for you.”
One of the turtles swam up to me. It looked so soft and friendly, harmless really. I didn’t know when else I would have the opportunity to touch a large sea turtle. Clearly this wasn’t a life goal, but when face to face with such a majestic creature, I couldn’t help but want to reach out and touch it. I don’t know if this means I have a touch fixation when it comes to turtles. I haven’t been around them enough. Perhaps it just means I’m a fool at heart, a child of sorts, that when told not to do something like touch a turtle, I have to touch the turtle.
Okay, perhaps I’m just a fool, but what I do know is that when Mel’s back was turned and the guide was walking the group to the next tank, I touched a turtle—just its shell. I felt confident that I was a good distance from its mouth and in no danger. I assumed that its shell wouldn’t have much feeling, but I was wrong. The turtle reached up with its flipper and swatted at my arm, almost like it was trying to pull me into its mouth. It grunted loudly and swam away. There was splashing water, I jerked my hand away, and in all the commotion, Mel turned around.
“Really?” she said. “They tell you not to touch the turtle, and what do you do? You touch it.”
I held up my hand. “See! I’m good!”
“What if you’d lost your hand?” she said.
“But I didn’t,” I said. I held up my hand again. “It’s all good.”
We stood next to the tank for a while. I don’t think that Mel was mad, but instead she was let down. She gave me the same look she gives our son when he tries to reach out the van window while we are driving. It was a furrowed brow, straight-mouthed, mother’s look, that seemed to say, “You know better.” But the complicated part about all of it is that I’m not her child.
I’m her husband. I should know better, and it isn’t her job to tell me to know better. And the fact is, I did know better. I had been warned, and I clearly disregarded it. In the past, I had heard women with three kids jokingly say that they really had four kids (including their husband and the children). This joke has always bothered me in the past. I felt it gave good upstanding husbands a bad rap, but thinking back on this sea turtle moment, I realized that perhaps my wife actually has four kids—not just three.
After giving me her disapproving look, Mel let out a breath.
“Wait,” I said. “If I lost my hand to a turtle, could you still love me?”
I was trying to make light of the situation, and it was working to some extent. She gave me a half grin. Then she placed her hands on her hips. “I mean, honestly, you were told not to touch the turtle. Then you touched it, and if you had lost your hand, then I’d have to explain that you are an idiot who somehow managed to lose his hand to a sea turtle. I’m not saying that I’d leave you, but it would take me some time to get over you doing something so stupid.”
This whole conversation made me think of Arrested Development, when Buster Bluth loses his hand to a seal. It was funny on the show, but I don’t know how funny it would be in real life. I have to assume it would be embarrassing for my wife to have to explain the circumstances surrounding such a loss. And it was in that moment that I realized I might just be a moron.
I was that one guy, the one in the group who was told not to touch, and I touched. Had I lost my hand, I’d have probably made trending news on Facebook. I’d have been that guy, and most importantly, Mel would have been married to that guy, and no one wants to be married to that dumb ass.
We didn’t talk for a while after that. I went through a few emotions. I felt picked on at first, but then, by the time we got on the bus to head back to our boat, I looked over at Mel and said, “I’m sorry I touched the turtle.”
“It’s OK,” she said. “I still love you.”
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