Tortuga

At age six, my parents got me a turtle, which I hated with a burning passion. I knew even then that the thing was a consolation prize after countless whiny requests for a dog. I would stare at that ugly, dark, cold animal for what seemed like hours, in the hopes that just by wishing real hard, it would turn into the toy poodle I yearned for.

Brittany from across the street had a bichon frisé. She got it for her birthday, in the middle of the party and all. It leapt out of the box, a pink bow around its fluffy neck, and started licking Brittany in the face. Brittany also had a Barbie jeep and was always Sleeping Beauty for Halloween. One time I asked her if I could put on the dress, just for fun, and she said, “But that doesn’t make sense, Cat. You don’t look anything like a princess.”

Mom would say we’d get a dog when I was older and could take good care of it myself. She and Dad worked a lot and were always tired when they got home. The turtle took little effort on their part, but that’s because it was boring and didn’t do much to begin with. I tried tying a string around it like a leash and walking it around the block, but the kids saw it and made fun of me. Brittany laughed the hardest. I kicked the turtle, and it flopped onto its back and flailed pathetically, and I cried later that night because I felt guilty, but also because I hated it.

I didn’t name it. Dad came up with some funny ideas, but I refused to baptize the thing. I said it did not deserve nice things like a name, which seemed to have upset Dad. Part of me was satisfied, because now he knew how I felt.

We had a school project about our pets. We had to take pictures of them, and find cool facts to share with the class. Kimberly, George, Sarah, Benjamin, Matthew, and Brittany had dogs. They told us that dogs see in black and white, and that each dog year is like seven human years, and that humans have had dogs as pets for twelve thousand years. Sophie, Marjorie, Jennifer, and Freddie had cats. They said cats sleep for 70% of their lives, and always fall upright, and can’t taste sweets. 

Turtles are cold-blooded. Their shell is called a carapace.

At my seventh birthday party, my parents went all out. They got a cake so big my whole name fit into it. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CATALINA!” All my family came, and brought more food than we knew what to do with. We served taquitos, tamales, churros, arroz con leche, flan, and a bunch more. The kids didn’t eat much of it, but they played with the piñata. Dad gave everyone a party hat, even a tiny one for the turtle. I had to laugh when I saw it. It was a lot of fun. 

At some point, Brittany bit into a tamal without taking the wrapper off. She spat it all out in the grass, making a fuss, saying it was disgusting. My cousins giggled and whispered “gringa” under their breaths. I was so embarrassed that I actually wished we had gotten different kinds of food. Everyone knows how to eat hot dogs and cake pops.

I looked around nervously and saw the turtle. I grabbed it and showed it to Brittany. “Hey Brittany, doesn’t the turtle look funny with this little hat?” Brittany glared at it. “It looks stupid,” she said. But I guess curiosity got the best of her, and she reached to touch the silly little hat. Just in that moment, the turtle bit her fingertip. It didn’t draw blood or anything, but Brittany started bawling right then and there. 

I turned away and started eating a churro so she wouldn’t notice I was laughing. I let the turtle have a little of it, too. It stretched its wrinkly neck out to take a bite, and I smiled.