It’s painful for me, even now, to think about Chester. For over 6 months, he was my best friend. As a matter of fact, he was my only friend.
I was seven years old and in the second grade. My teacher was Miss Barnes. I don’t remember much about her except that she called on me a lot more than she called on the other kids. She had noted in my report card that I was somewhat withdrawn and my parents should encourage me to speak up more. At first my parents thought she had mixed me up with a different kid. The Darryl they knew was loud, loquacious and often rude. They had noticed that when I was with other kids, I was a little shy, and maybe the teacher saw this other side of their son. Dad said that what I needed was my own personal pet. We already had a dog; but it was mother’s dog. Mother would not tolerate another dog or even a cat. Dad calmed down the discussion by taking me on a father/son walk in a nearby woods. We had just started our walk when a turtle ambled across our path and stopped right in front of us. When dad picked it up, it hissed as it hid inside of its shell. Dad assured me the turtle was not dangerous and if I treated it well, it could be my personal pet. Dad flipped the enclosed turtle and carefully studied the markings on the exposed shell. “It looks like he is about your age, maybe a little older,” said dad as he handed the immobile animal to me. As we walked home I got a lecture on how to care for a pet turtle.
Chester’s shell flared out about a quarter inch beyond his body and it was in this outer rim that we drilled a small hole. We tied a string through the hole and that became a leash for Chester. The other end of the string was tied to a wooden stake in our tomato patch. In this way, Chester’s new home was defined. Chester could wander a few feet, but no more. Sometimes I found him under a patch of leaves, other times he was sleeping In the sun. At first, when I came to visit and feed him, he hid entirely within his shell. After a few days, he greeted me by poking his head out so we could talk. As the days went on we got used to each other. I could just give the string a tug and; there he was. I talked, he listened, and I liked it that way. I told him about my difficulties at school and my fights in the playground. He nodded as if he understood everything I said and in a little while, I felt better. Chester and I gradually became best friends: mutually responsible for each other
One day, I was feeling especially sad and went to talk to Chester. Chester was not there to greet me. I found the stake end of the leash; but the other end seemed stuck. When I pulled harder, the other end of the string appeared, attached to his shell; but the shell was not attached to Chester. Except for the tethered shell and signs of a struggle, Chester was gone.
What stayed were memories and guilt.