Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I have a fish problem. I have owned up to six HUGE tanks at one time, spending every minute of every weekend, tending to them. Didn’t matter if I had a hurt kid; the tank had algae and needed a scrubbing. I loved my Oscar (Al) so much that he moved his tank into my bedroom. This fish really loved me. He was visibly excited every time I walked into his room. He could play ball with me against the tank, eat worms out of my hand, and play dead when I changed his water. He started out small, and then grew gargantuan. As he grew, he needed bigger tanks, so I filled the smaller tanks with more fish.
After 10 years of surviving teenagers filing his tank with grape Kool-Aid, cats trying to catch them with a fast paw and several suicide attempts on to the shag carpet, Al got sick. When I called my vet and asked him what he knew about fish, his smart reply was "They taste good with butter?” I knew mine and Al’s fate hung in the balance with acned boys at the aquarium store. He had a ruptured swim bladder, from eating bad fish (that has to be the world’s biggest cosmic joke).
Al died and my husband planned the burial for him to join all the other critters in the back-yard graveyard (where bizarrely, the flowers bloomed brighter). I declared that Al was going to stay with me. I was going to have him stuffed and put on the mantel. Fishermen did it all the time with fish they only spent 15 minutes with, so why couldn’t I? Husband didn’t even try to talk me out of it, he got the butcher paper out, wrapped Al like a filet, and set him in the back of the freezer, with his name Sharpied on the outside. Five years went by and every time I prepared Tator Tots, I suffered an emotional blow as I revisited the fish in the back.
When I moved to the beach, I took four tanks with me. As we emptied the freezer, Gary held up Al in his frozen grave. I decided it was best to leave him in our Reno Graveyard.
All of our belongings were shmushed into a 28 foot U-Haul. The fish were the last thing loaded on the truck, all separated in big plastic bags with a battery-powered air pumps trying to keep them alive, I had 6 hours before they started to die. I also had a parrot, 2 cats, 12 finches, 2 lizards, and our new puppy. Gary drove the car with the Siberian Husky and the Malamute. The brakes on the Truck went out over the Sierra’s, after an extreme nervous breakdown, I found a brick wall to park the truck against. It took the portable repairman 3 hours to fix it, and then 200 miles later, they went out again. I was worried for the animals, but could not check on them or open the back of the truck as a hose had jammed it shut. It took me 13 hours to get to the new front door and my nerves were rattled. We unstuck the door, ushered the big tanks up our new winding staircase and filled it with Pismo water. Only three fish had not made it. We didn’t have the strength to bring the mattresses in, so we slept in the warm glow of the fish tanks on our new carpet.
I slowly began to resent the fish as every weekend was spent tending them. Plus the tadpoles, which were supposed to be small African frogs, grew into toads, and would croak so loud in the middle of the night, it would sit us straight up in bed. So I found them new homes and started writing about them. My first published story was about my fish.
When my daughter got her own house, she set up a tank. I was called over to meet my “Grand fish.” She now has four tanks, seems the problem is generic. I get to visit and not have to worry about the cleaning, maintenance or health, and I can spoil the Grand fish with expensive shrimp. She called her first Oscar, Al in my honor. I was so touched.