I talked to Turtle today. Anthony, actually. We've known him for a few years now. He has the nickname because he kind of looks turtley. A bit stocky, hispanic, and he always wears a hat. Before I saw him with his hat off, I guessed him to be in his early thirties. One day I saw him without his hat, and I might have guessed mid-forties. He doesn't take his hat off often.
When you're talking to Anthony, you might think he's a bit slow, or a little off in someway, because of the way he talks. He talks a lot, ending a lot of his sentences with a “huh?” or a “right?” or even an “Am I right?” These aren't rhetorical, and he will wait for a “Yeah!” or an “uh-huh” from you before he moves on. If he starts talking to you, you should be prepared to sit tight and listen for quite a while. He moves through a lot of subjects pretty fast, and sometimes it's hard to keep up. But it's worth the ride, and it's often punctuated by a good laugh when he cracks himself up.
Turtle takes care of Crystal. Crystal is probably around 30, and she has a mental disability or perhaps a mental illness of some kind. She's tall for a girl, a little taller than Turtle, with wisps of brown hair that fall from the tangled upsweep of a bun. Turtle can be talking about something very seriously while Crystal randomly puts a bag on his head, or wipes something from his face, and gives herself a giggle. While Turtle stands and talks, not drinking his coffee, Crystal will stroll about, sipping and spilling the hot chocolate that Chris has made for her.
Turtle still talks a lot, but over the last few weeks his talks have gotten just a little more linear. About a month ago after an encounter with the police, he was ordered to begin a recovery program at the Stanislaus Recovery Center. He loves it. He's been faithfully attending his classes every day, and I've noticed a change in his conversation. It's still mostly him talking, but there is an aspect of clarity and self-revelation that wasn't there before. If you stick with him and really listen well, the seemingly tangential wanderings begin to weave themselves back around into something more coherent.
Today he looked a bit preoccupied, and ironically, I had to do a little prying to get him going. I asked him if he was alright. I asked him if there was anything I could be praying with him about. I asked him if there was anything we could do for him. He answered, “Just you're being here is enough,” and began to tell me what was on his mind. Come to think of it, thus far, that's really all I've ever done for Turtle. Marathon listening. Then again, I don't know who else in his life has the time to just let him talk, except maybe Crystal.
I didn't know how long I'd been listening to Anthony, but Chris told me it was at least an hour. Turtle told me all about his recovery program, about his concern for Crystal, about someone who stole from his family, about his adoptive grandmother, about the judge, about the counsellors, about his goal of getting his truck driving license, and a lot about Jesus.
“...and that's why you just need to do the next right thing, huh? Just do the next right thing, right?”
Sometimes an “uh-huh” or a “right” will do, and sometimes an “amen” is just perfect.