The chronicles of Ponyo: A rebellious turtle and his frazzled owner


Art by Brett Corpuz

Once upon a time, I lived in an apartment with two fish.


Well, the fish aren’t really important here. They died not too long into their change of home, which is a story for another time. However, the exposition is what’s vital: I (a small kindergartener at the time) was traumatized by their passing. There were no more pets in the house, and there was a large empty tank my parents had no idea what to do with.


So, when a teenage girl came knocking on every apartment door, asking if anyone was interested in adopting a baby turtle, it was as if every puzzle piece had fit into place.


I named him Ponyo, after the fish protagonist in the Studio Ghibli film of the same name. He was no bigger than a 50-cent coin, his mossy green shell practically weightless in our hands. I couldn’t really play with him, as he was so small and, well, turtles don’t exactly do much in the first place. Perhaps fate had aligned for us to adopt this turtle - he was, after all, an animal we weren’t allergic to, and he quickly filled the hole in our hearts (and the empty tank) that my poor fish had left behind.


Little did we know that, years later, he would become a menace to our peaceful utopia of a household.


This is Ponyo’s world, and we’re all just living in it.


Photo by Velouria Perez

If you’re an Eagle Rock resident, you’ve likely heard one or two stories about Pancake, the escape-artist tortoise who has his owners’ phone numbers scribbled in Sharpie on the bottom of his shell. Maybe you’ve even encountered Pancake. An urban legend on the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group Facebook page, reports of Pancake’s disappearances are constant and always entertaining, especially when he’s found by neighbors roaming the streets.


Now imagine that, except a red-eared slider and confined to the Perez household. That’s Ponyo.


These incidents started perhaps a couple of years into living with us. He, to our surprise, learned how to position his tiny claws to perfectly launch himself out of the tank and onto the table. One time, we found him crawling towards the edge of the table, nearly making it to the floor before we returned him to his tank. The next time, he did make it to the floor. The next next time, he was halfway to the couch. There was no stopping him. And by then, it was too late to condition it out of him. Oh well, at least it made for good ice breakers: “Yeah, my turtle acts like he’s James Bond. What does your turtle do?”


Then Ponyo disappeared without a trace.


When we came home that day, we were greeted by an empty tank. Panicked, we all searched high and low for my now larger-than-a-50-cent-coin turtle. Nothing. We almost tore the whole apartment to shreds, even going so far as to look upstairs, despite our doubt that he’d somehow learned how to climb the stairs in one day. Nothing. Minutes, hours, a whole day passed. What had happened to my poor turtle? Would we ever see him again?

72 hours later, Ponyo was found lounging underneath the couch. Which we had, in fact, checked. At least three times.


Photo by Velouria Perez

Since then, Ponyo’s continued to refine his espionage skills for the forces of… not necessarily evil, but for his own selfish benefit. His escapes no longer send us into a panic; instead, discovering him nestled underneath my desk or journeying halfway down the hallway is simply met with an, “Oh, you!” Ponyo may deceive my friends and other onlookers with his typical docile behavior, but my parents and I know it’s simply an act. In reality, he’s a total brat.


Even so, I’m glad to have him in my life. He’s such an integral aspect of my routine, especially during quarantine, that I can’t imagine not having him there to blankly stare when I pass by his tank or splash furiously to demand food when I close the curtains next to his home. I can’t imagine not hearing the loud BONK of him crashing into the glass walls when he gets startled. I wouldn’t trade any of it for another pet.


So maybe my turtle’s a little strange. Aren’t we all?


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