So I had that crazy week when my husband broke his elbow and went in for surgery, my kid started Kindergarten, and an international visitor landed on our doorstep for a two-week stay. And then our fish died.
The love affair with our betta fish started sweetly. I had been researching keeping bettas extensively, and had decided against bringing a fish into our home for the sheer factor of having one more mouth to feed and one more entity’s wellbeing to take responsibility for in my household. In the process, I got interested in aquatic plants and that is a gateway drug of its own. You have an anubia, then maybe an aquatic fern, and the next thing you know you’re driving to the other side of town to pick up a 60 gallon tank off of someone on Craig’s List. Well, I wasn’t that deep in yet when the kids and I walked past the betta display in the pet store.
Let me say that there is some cruel psychology at play in your local pet stores. A tiny bowl houses a fish that may or may not be alive. A bargain fishbowl can seem like a palace in comparison when in actuality a much larger set-up is healthier and more humane for the animal – cha-ching. I thought I was above that ploy, but I swear this little veil tail fish started looking at my kids and I as we walked by. He was tracking us, and I showed my emotional weakness at standing up to gross pet store atrocities. So we took him home and named him Perry.
The kids named him and helped me clean his tank on a weekly basis. It was fun to see him swim excitedly when we came close to his tank, and he seemed to recognize me. I was confused because at a base level I don’t really like the idea of keeping fish in tanks, but here I was feeding blood worms and sending smooches to my little tropical pal.
When I spent the couple of days in the hospital with my husband, I thought that I might return to find Perry floating belly up. He had been swimming erratically and I had added antibiotic drops to his tank to help him out. Wonder of all wonders, he was still trying to fight the infection off so I gave him a water change and added more drops. I fed him a special treat, definitely over-compensating for this one little fish when I had lost control of several other areas of my life. I woke up the next day to find one of his eyes bulging – “Popeye”.
I was mum about all of this around the kids. They knew Perry wasn’t completely healthy, but now this little creature was disfigured and I felt smaller-than-a-dust-speck small. Didn’t I ask my husband to join me at the park where he would end up breaking his elbow? Wasn’t I the mother who had failed to fold the three bins worth of clean laundry for a week straight? Had I even called my mother this month? Dude, I suck.
I called my sister-in-law and her husband to come over for back up because (remember) I suck, and wasn’t culinarily up to cooking my husband the sort of nourishing meal he needed. She would cook a meal for her injured brother while I picked my daughter up from her second day of Kindergarten. My daughter was over the moon to see her Auntie, and she pulled her into the play room immediately. Auntie was the one who noticed Perry’s fragile body, lifeless. “Ummm, Tasha….”
I decided to tell my daughter right away, and it was a quick lesson in prioritizing. She got ultra-giddy at the idea of burying her now-dead fish. She had liked the guy, but was now very ready to create an experience with her Auntie and Uncle. I carried the bowl and my daughter lead the big people down the trail to the tree house where we buried Perry at the footings. No eulogy. No apologies. Ashes to ashes, limp fins to soil.
I felt a lot of guilt for not taking better care of our little aquatic buddy, but I appreciate his brief stint in our fish bowl and in our family. There was an unfortunate swirl of overwhelming events, and Perry’s passing was to my daughter just one more thing to work through. It took some of the emphasis off of her new adventures in school – a terrifying transition for many youngsters – and gave her something she could control when she couldn’t help but see her father suffer before and after his surgery. Thank you, Perry. You were quite a fish.
“Rhino the Crowntail Betta” by Jenny Lee Silver, Flickr Creative Commons….because I sadly never took any photos of our sweet little swimmer.