The only thing my middle daughter wanted for Christmas was a pooping turtle. The ads for the Little Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle promise “an interactive, toilet-trained turtle who loves to sing, dance, chat back, eat, and poop – on the toilet!” To a 5 year old, that’s a persuasive pitch. For weeks, all we heard was:
A visit to a hard-of-hearing Santa resulted in some confusion, since my daughter’s residual babyspeak screamed through the filter of a cloth mask made her persistent request sound like “POOPOO TWODDLE,” which, unlike “pooping turtle,” is a silly thing to ask for. To make extra sure, she dictated a letter to the North Pole which, in her mother’s pristine handwriting, unmistakably listed “Pooping Turtle” as the first of only five total items. And so we were obligated to buy her a pooping turtle.
She doesn’t like it all that much. At first, Shelbert (or Lena, as our daughter has renamed her) (the renaming plus the inherent difficulty in sexing testudines forces me to guess at proper pronouns) (Lena: please forgive me if I have misgendered you) was of great interest to the whole house. It was not merely scatological curiosity driving Lena’s early popularity. She repeated whatever the kids screamed at her, she made delightfully weird digestive noises, her giant prehistoric neck shimmied and wriggled like a fuzzy purple tube man, and the pièce de résistance: When the time came to move whatever analog turtles have to bowels, Lena erupted into song.
Uh-oh! Gotta go!
Uh-oh gotta go!
What better song for our troubled times? Yes, Lena, there is cause for alarm. Yes, we do gotta go. The “going” itself seemed a miracle of innovation. Pink sand is scooped into Lena’s beak and emerges from the other end only when she is placed on a tiny plastic toilet. The sand mingles with a half-cup of toilet water and becomes a congealed mass of droppings, but returns to sand form as soon as it is pulled out of the water, allowing it to be fed back to the turtle. Incredible!
But a miracle oft repeated is no miracle at all, and we soon recognized Lena’s limitations. Her limbs don’t move, so she is perpetually in a squat. She just sits on the pot waiting to be fed, and then waiting to poop, and then waiting to be fed again. The “chat back” feature adds a bit of novelty, but all she can do is repeat, repeat, repeat. The Furby was a more adept conversationalist, and that toy is — brace yourself Xers — nearly a quarter-century old. Even the “gotta go” song, catchy and poignant though it may be, is the same four words over and over. After a day or two, the pooping turtle was left silent and untouched on the kitchen table, abandoned in favor of more pliable, non-defecating toys.
This New Year, my sole resolution is to ask, at regular intervals, whether I am doing any better than a Live Pets Gotta Go Turdle. Lena’s rut is surely unique to plastic, sand-crapping reptiles, but a close human equivalent might be dysthymia, a mild-but-chronic cousin of clinical depression. The condition, sometimes referred to as persistent depressive disorder, doesn’t involve episodes requiring hospitalization or anything quite so dramatic. It’s subtle. It manifests itself as a hazy distaste for life; a stagnant, swampy air that burdens the lungs, leaving you with enough energy to carry out your daily obligations but little else. So you plod through the mud, aspiring to nothing other than getting through the day, because why bother with more? When you look at the grand design of the universe, all you can see is turtles, toilets and excrement all the way down, with nothing more to offer, no better songs to sing, and no reason to move from where you are.
Persistent depressive disorder can be effectively treated (antidepressants work surprisingly well) but is devilishly difficult to diagnose. Mental health professionals generally agree that you must have experienced symptoms for at least two years to be considered dysthymic. As such, most cases go untreated. Once you’ve lived more-or-less successfully with low-grade depression for a period of years, you aren’t likely to spend a couple hundred bucks to trade your familiar couch for an uncomfortable Freudian model. And who could look at these last two years and say that a simmering revulsion for existence is abnormal? How can you even call that a “disorder?” Most folks I know are stuck right here with me, our knees forcibly bent, eating the same shit we ate yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
Listen, reader: I want to confide something in you. For all the bleak cynicism I squeeze out onto these pages every couple of weeks, I still believe that the year to come holds bright, beautiful things worth getting off the pot for. There will be new toys to play with, new friends to make and new pills to take. At the very least, there will be new extended metaphors that don’t involve pooping turtles. I hope you’ll explore all of that with me. And when next Christmas comes around, I hope we get all the gifts we ask for, even the stuff we don’t know about yet.
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