I’m not much on writing prompts. I basically write whatever’s stuck in my head because writing is the only way to get it out. However, yesterday I got an email in response to a comment I made on someone’s blog, this was the email: Comment: OK, Jen, I am intrigued. You just left a comment on my blog telling me how you had to put down a fish. I must know more! So you all have Anne at Anne’s Funny Farm to thank for this post, because why I put my fish down, is a long story.
I grew up with pets, always something “living” in my house. Even when I lived on my own, I always had a pet. My last one (dog not fish) died one year before my son was born. That was sad, and I promised I would never own another dog again, ha! Fast forward 4 years, I really want my son, almost 4 to have a pet to grow up with, I mean it was the closest thing to a brother or sister, and he definitely wasn’t getting one of those. But it turned out my son was allergic to pets, all of them. So…. I decided a fish tank would be a great idea. I had this really fuzzy memory from my early 20’s of loving my 40 gallon fish-tank full of pretty tropical fish, I remember just laying on my bed for hours, listening to music and watching my fish tank. So I thought ahhhh….. how nice would that be to have a fish tank in our bedroom. (boy still sleeps there, story for another day) We could just hang out, stare at the fishies. So for his 4th birthday, we went for the “special” gift. We started with 20 fish, they were small, but we added slowly over a few months, and were very careful to pick compatible fish. (I had a second bout with fish zoning in my late 20’s early 30’s, learned a lot more, still slightly fuzzy life) I was so in to this! I was psyched! I had really loved having fish and this would be a great experience for
me Isaiah. We went to the fish store, we picked our individual fish out, and then would peruse who we might add in a few days to our fishy family. This was awesome, he was going to have fish and he’d be happy! We would get them home and he would name them: orangey orangey, yellowy yellowy, bluey bluey, sharky, sharky. Man I can’t remember the other names, they were all inane 4-year-old names, that I could never remember, but he could……till their dying day, almost. So, we had a beautiful fish tank, and beautiful fish. In the beginning it was really nice, we even sat in front of it together. Him for about 2 seconds, me for maybe 1 minute, then I needed to figure out why it was so quiet. I know, I know, you know where this is going. But it started so slowly.
Eventually I realized I needed to clean the tank, well the best way to do it was to syphon the water out through a tube, while using the bottom hard tube to rough up the gunk and suck it out. I obviously had not been thinking clearly about the consequences of having a fish-tank again. You might not know this, but to get the syphon started you have to put your mouth on the rubbery end while the hard end is in the tank, once the water comes shooting up the tube, you have to quickly put your thumb over the tube, maintaining suction and then feed it into a bucket on the floor. Well, my my, this was heaven! Of course I couldn’t get it right away, so I’m sucking, then losing suction, then sucking and being afraid to suck harder because I am so sure that if I suck any harder I would get a mouthful of disgusting fish tank water. So once you achieve this delicate balance, you need to clean the gunk out of the bottom, being careful not to make the bucket overflow with stinky fish water gunk all over your white carpet. Then carry the bucket to the utility sink, cause there is no frickin’ way that stuff is going anywhere near the kitchen sink. Dump it, ewwwww that stuff stinks. AND THEN DO IT AGAIN! Because you need to change at least half of the water, I only have 5 gallon buckets, and have you ever tried carrying 5 gallons of water without sloshing it??? Man that stuff is heavy! So I had to perform that ritual 4 TIMES every time I cleaned the tank, which means three of those times I put my mouth over a WET FISH WATER TUBE. Well, clearly after the first time I was thinking this pretty much sucks, (no pun intended) but the tank looked so nice after that , I thought OK, I won’t have to do this again for a while and I enjoyed the tank. Right, and did I mention that the “whisper quiet” water filter we had was not by any means “whisper quiet”? I have enough trouble sleeping with the air filter required for my son’s myriad of environmental allergies, but now a “whisper quiet” water filter too?? And then there was that constant smell of fish food. Man it must have been all of the incense back in the day, because I do not remember that smell.
But the thing is, the boy didn’t have a sibling, these fish were his siblings, and for all of his indifference when it came to vegging out in front of the fish-tank with his mom, he still talked to the fish everyday, and often checked to make sure he could see them all. They were his fish, they held his attention as much as anything that doesn’t blink, light up or talk could.
The next time I had to clean the tank it was a little ickier, I forgot green crap grows all over the little figures inside the tank, and the fake seaweed. The thing is one of our favorite past times had developed into, “let’s by something to put in the fish-tank”, so this was going to be a chore. I sucked the water out, see above to reminisce about that wonderful time, and once I dumped the last bucket I removed all of the figures and seaweed and the glowing crystal formation (ok that was my contribution) and I brought them to the sink to soak in boiling hot bleach water, whatever it would take to make this job as least gross as possible. I am busily preparing the boiling bleach water, turn it off, and realize I don’t see Isaiah anywhere. Crap, did I mention at that age I could not let him out of my site for more than 55 seconds? However, I was so worried bleach would get all over everything in my pig-sty of a laundry room I kinda lost track of time. I went running for the bedroom, that mothers instinct kicking in, yelling “I-S-A-I-A-H!!!!!!”, it was like everything was in slow motion, I got to the bedroom, ran in, the boy is smiling brightly as he is standing over the tank on the step-ladder holding the empty, extra-large fish food container upside down and says “mommy I fed the fish!” Did I mention that the tank was only 1/3 full??!!! There was about 4 inches of water in the tank, the top of the water was coated in about 1/4 inch of fish food. I couldn’t even think, I went straight to the experts, I called the local aquarium store that was getting all of our money and told him the short version. It turns out the only way to deal with that situation is cleaning the tank. Of course that was if your tank was full of water, not practically empty. We spoke a little of the ramifications of severe shock (cause I was balking), we discussed that it was the lesser of two evils, clean it, someones gonna die, leave it someone’s gonna die. I frickin’ filled the tank back up and cleaned it, again.
Lest you think this is where the story ends, let me assure you it does not. We lost a couple of fish that day, I tricked him, as they died I would scoop them out and flush them, and then basically say? “Oh? I don’t know??? Where is pinky pinky?” I think after a while he began to suspect sharky sharky (who was in fact a giant sucker fish. (plecostomus, not a shark at all) This went on and off for 2 years, there was one more “feeding” event, “lucky” for me, the tank was full at the time, and it probably was time for a good cleaning. Admittedly after 2 years I had become lazy and apathetic and I basically hated that fish tank and rued the day I thought it would be a nice idea for the kid to have some siblings. However, I thought, maybe??? You know when I had my tanks in the past I always had neon tetras, those pretty little fish, quick as lightning. We had lost enough fish over our years of attrition, that there was room for 5! OH JOY! Do you know how pretty 5 neon tetras would be schooling across the tank like tiny darts of blue and red lightning?? Isaiah didn’t want them, he actually didn’t care about getting any fish, but if we were going to get more, those weren’t the ones he wanted. He actually wanted more toys to go in the tank, looking back, I should have gone with his plan.
I we choose 5 neon tetras, they had just come in the day before, I was sooo lucky! Cause you know, they fly out of the store when they first get there, everybody wants neon tetras.
So, I followed the explicit instructions, let the water acclimate by letting the bag float in the water, then untie the bag and let the two waters slowly blend together as the floating bag naturally begins to tilt over. Everything was going so well! I was happy….Isaiah was somewhere else. I watched as the final tetra left the bag and they all began to school like they had lived there their whole lives. It was beautiful, I sighed and went to find Isaiah so we could name our new fish.
He was building some sort of secret weapon, he wasn’t interested in naming them. He actually didn’t want to name them, when I asked if I should name them he said “No.” So the neons became part of the family, as “the neons”. I watched them a little every day. About day 4, I noticed they looked slightly speckled, like they had dust on them. I pushed my first thought down and went on with my day, later that night as I fed them there was no mistaking what was going on with these fish, it was Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis), yes the dreaded Ich, killer of fish since the beginning of time. By the time I got to the fish store the next day at least 8 fish that I could see were infected. I told the man at the store what was going on, he sold me some Ich medicine. The problem was this was like Chemo, the Ich medicine could kill the Ich or the fish. Apparently it could damage healthy fishies delicate scales. We had no choice….. after 2 days of treatment all of the original 8 were dead. Leaving 7 fish, of the 7, 4 had spots, one of the living fish was sharky who apparently cannot contract Ich, but can die from the medicine. By the end of the week we had one fish left. Yes sharky, the 4 inch long plecostomus succumbed to the evil effects of the meds. Our one fish left, orangey orangey (actually he wasn’t the original orangey orangey, when the first one died, we transferred the name to this fish, who’s name we didn’t remember after a while), anyway, beloved orangey orangey, all alone in a 40 gallon tank. He lived like that for months. In the beginning Isaiah wanted more fish. (like that would happen, he wouldn’t even name the neons) There was no way, ich lives in the gravel, and I was not spending tons of dough on a bunch of fish that were just gonna get spotty and die. After a while he gave up, and we went on as a one fish household. We talked to him (or her) we hoped he wasn’t lonely, we fed him, trying our best not to over feed our one fish in the 40 gallon tank. Then one day I noticed he wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sure at first, but the more I paid attention, the more I realized it was true. Our last fish, the last sibling, who was actually one of the original 20.
I didn’t know if I should mention it to Isaiah. However, about a week or so later I noticed that one side of his stomach seemed distended, like he had a large lump on one side. He still wasn’t eating that I could see, and he was starting to swim kinda wonky. I figured it was time. I told Isaiah that orangey orangey wasn’t feeling well. My boy is nothing if not compassionate. He exhibited real concern, and began checking on him regularly and asking if I thought he was eating. It didn’t look good, but he was a fish. I started to research whether fish could feel pain or not. As if I was going to find a report that stated “the fish have told us they experience no pain and life is fine and dandy up until the end, no matter how it comes, because that was painless as well.” Really, that was the only thing that would satisfy me at that point. And then the unthinkable happened. I woke up, went to feed orangey and saw a spot of blood on his size, it looked like a splatter from the inside of his translucent skin, I was horrified, and almost in tears as I called the guy at the aquarium store, once again giving him the short version. Clearly our very sick fish had had something burst inside him and WAS STILL SWIMMING. I begged the guy to tell me he wasn’t in any pain, I am sure he was thinking “lady, it’s just a fish, get over it and flush the thing.” I couldn’t bare it. I couldn’t bare that the fish was in pain, and I couldn’t think of flushing him while he was still alive, even if barely. We went over our options, flush, freeze, soda. Yes soda! Something like sprite or 7up, apparently the bubbles kill them in a humane way? WHAT? BUBBLES KILLING HUMANELY??????? I think not, it appeared my only option was death by freezer. Believe me I researched the heck out of it, OK I admit it, I was way overly empathizing with this fish, but I was about to be the one to end the life of a creature I had lived with and cared for for 2 years. I mean they weren’t the best years, and I admit I wished they would all die many times, I often dreamt of the day the fish tank would be gone forever. But I never imagined it like this. Fish are supposed to die mysteriously in the night to be found belly up in the morning. They are not supposed to hang on by a thread, for days, while clearly irrevocably ill and injured! And so, the decision was made. Once I accepted it, I then had to share it with Isaiah. He had many of the same questions I had, my sweet compassionate 6-year-old. It had been a year since he had almost tried to kill the fish, he had grown so much, and so together, admittedly he was more excited than I was, we scooped orangey orangey, put him in a clean, Tupperware, with more than enough water so he wouldn’t panic (I made that part up in my mind to make me feel better) and we placed him in the downstairs freezer. Isaiah wanted to change his mind a couple of times, I held him back, but understood. He wasn’t sad, just confused. And so he decided to create a beautiful tombstone and taped it to the door of the freezer. The next day he really wanted to take him out and see the frozen fish, I was scared, so we waited one more day. I was still scared, I don’t know what I expected maybe his face frozen for all time in horror as he died a terrible freezing death? Well, he looked fine, he was orangey only frozen in a block of ice. We decided to bury him. Although I was afraid an animal would smell a rotting fish and dig it up, I figured I’d make his dad dig it up later when Isaiah was asleep. So while I went to go get the supplies for the burial I noticed Isaiah wasn’t around. There was a reason, when I came back Isaiah had removed orangey, with a properly wielded garden spade. There he was laying on the driveway all floppy and shiny. And dead. Lucky for me, this turn of events prompted me to triple bag him and through him in the garbage. He was clearly a dead fish, and in that moment I had no remorse. Plus ADD husband would never have remembered to dig him up.