As the garage door started its noisy ascent that morning, the beginning to another scorching-hot summer day was revealed. It was late June, and the southeast was experiencing record-breaking heat and humidity. Unlike many kids who while away their summer days by sleeping late and playing video games, my children spend their weekdays at an adventure camp, where they kayak, hike, bike and swim in the river. That means our mornings are organized chaos, filling water bottles, slathering on enough sunscreen to adequately cover an elephant, and making sure they have both water shoes and hiking shoes. That particular morning seemed extra rushed as we were taking precautions to make sure the kids survived a day in the 100º+ sun.
Our routine was that we all left at the same time each day. My husband would head straight to work, and I would take the kids to camp on my way to the office. We all hurriedly piled into the cars, and my husband pulled away down the street. As I eased out of the garage, there was immediately a loud popping sound, a sound like a gunshot. It was so loud that I yelped. My husband even heard it and slammed on his brakes to see what happened. He told me later that he thought my tire had somehow blown, but my first impression was that an irresponsible kid left a bike or other such plaything in my way, and that we all just missed it in our mad dash out of the house.
As my husband hurried back to make sure my car was okay to drive, I pulled to the end of the driveway and glanced in my rearview mirror to see what toy I would soon be replacing.
OH. MY. LORD.
What I saw in my mirror was not the twisted remains of a Barbie two-wheeler or a skateboard reduced to toothpicks. It was neither an empty Gatorade® bottle nor that large tub of sidewalk chalk that I had imagined. I gasped in horror as stared at the scene. My husband made his way to the garage as I buried my face in my hands. It was bad…blood and guts kind of bad.
“What is it? OHMYGOSH! WHAT IS IT?”
I couldn’t even bring myself to look again. All I knew was that whatever it was, it was no longer in the land of the living. My husband walked slowly to my window and said, “A giant box turtle…well, it WAS a giant box turtle.”
I was shaking, and I immediately ordered the kids not to look.
“Don’t turn around!”
“Roll up your window!”
“DO NOT get out of the car!”
I was too late. My 12-year-old son was already at my husband’s side. Even though we were on a tight schedule, you can’t just leave carnage like that by the front sidewalk, and I saw my husband coming out of the garage with the snow shovel. (Note: Yes, we have snow shovels in South Carolina, and now our shovel has been used to scoop snow exactly the same amount of times as it has been used to scoop turtle guts.) My son stood there both disgusted and fascinated by the unceremonious circle of life he had just witnessed.
Back in my SUV, my then seven-year-old began to cry. Even though she didn’t get out of the car, the idea that a “sweet” turtle had just met its maker at the hands of an evil Honda Pilot was enough to cue the dramatics. “YOU KILLED A TURTLE!” (As if I weren’t feeling bad enough about it already.)
I took turns watching my husband clean the mess and burying my face in my palms. I couldn’t get out. My empty stomach couldn’t handle the gore. My son walked back to the car and said, “That’s kind of sad. It would have been cool to have a big turtle around the house.” (Knife in the heart, thankyouverymuch.)
My husband pulled the garden hose out to help with the clean up as I tried to console my daughter. He was scrubbing to no avail. I motioned for him to come to my window and asked, “What’s the yellow stuff that won’t come off the driveway?” He paused for a moment…“Turtle eggs.”
I KILLED A PREGNANT MAMA TURTLE.
The wailing and sobbing from the backseat kicked into high gear.
He said that he didn’t have time to finish cleaning, and I didn’t have the time or stomach to help. He went inside to wash up, and I told him I’d do what I could when I came home from work in the early afternoon. We left the crime scene with my son jokingly calling me a “turtle killer” and my daughter crying quietly.
I knew that I couldn’t leave a grisly reminder on the driveway all summer long. I rushed home and found a steel scrub brush, filled a bucket with soapy water, and put on my big girl panties. I got down on my hands and knees as the harsh summer sun burned my neck and shoulders, and I scrubbed.
The remains of the turtle eggs were baked into our driveway like a gruesome omelet left on the stovetop too long. I gagged, and sweat rolled down my face and back like a river, but the stain wouldn’t lift.
I had to have the mess gone before my daughter came home that night, so I quickly drove to Home Depot to see if some ingenious person had created a magical turtle gut stain remover. I was actually desperate enough to ask an employee if they had “a cleaner that gets smooshed turtle stains off of concrete”. (As a mother, you never imagine you’ll be uttering those words as you’re driving your newborn home from the hospital.) I left with some kind of spray cleaner that eventually did the trick.
We’re far enough removed from that awful June morning to joke about it now. I’m still the infamous Turtle Killer, and we made sure to do a quick sweep of the driveway every morning after. If my kids took away anything from Turtlegate 2012, it’s this:
1. Life is short and unpredictable, so use your time here wisely.
2. If your turtle buddy dares you to cross a long, busy driveway, make sure the coast is clear.