When I was little, there was nothing I wanted more than a dog. Actually, that’s a total lie. I think there was nothing I wanted more than a pony, but, within reason, there was nothing I wanted more than a dog. It was always my understanding that dogs were friendly, cute and made you a better person. These are the things you learn when you’re raised by a TV. I remember begging for a puppy, especially a cocker spaniel, because they were the cutest creatures I’d ever seen.
Instead, I was told dogs were messy and a lot of work. Knowing that, my parents would ask, wouldn’t I be better off with my swing set?
I was better off with my swing set, but this is not something you’re willing to admit when you don’t receive what has been at the top of your letter to Santa every year since you can remember.
We’d had cats before, both of which ran away around the time my brother was born, forever instilling in me the idea that cats were psychic. But no dogs. We bought fish and stuck them all in a giant fish tank and let one of the cats (that was, I suppose, less psychic than the other) sit there and watch them circle around the tank endlessly, imagining herself a little goldfish lunch. Now, that cat never actually killed those fish.
She just sat there, licked her lips and dreamed of the day she could have the lunch she desired. I don’t blame her. It’s like sticking a freshly made, home-cooked meal in front of a college kid, then putting a lid on it and swatting them every time they try to reach for it. (I’m sure half of you now have an extraordinary amount of sympathy for my cat.)
What actually ended up killing my fish was the rocks at the bottom of the tank, which each fish, one by one, decided to try swallowing. You’d think, after watching the fish before them die swallowing said rocks, they would steer clear. But I guess fish, which I’d already determined were not as psychic or self-controlled as cats, were not too bright. So, one by one, we watched each fish go the exact same way.
I should’ve taken it as a sign.
I’d never thought of myself as being particularly bad with animals. I mean, they are — for the most part — cute, cuddly and easy to care for. You feed, you bathe, you pet, you take outside. And the reward? A giant, real-life stuffed animal you will never be teased at for snuggling with while watching old Julia Roberts movies late at night. Fish are slightly different. They are less cuddly and not terribly fond of being pet (so I’ve learned), but require less maintenance. They are also the only pets permitted in the dorms. Therefore, my roommate and I bought ourselves a betta fish.
Mind you, I’m the kind of person who likes to give everything names, from my childhood teddy bear (astutely named Teddy) to my GPS (Emily). I do not forget these names. I use them often. So, at the point I find myself writing this column and not remembering that fish’s name, you know it must have been a disaster.
The girls across the hall managed to keep their betta fish alive for a few days — three, I believe. I remember their fish’s name. Master-Betta. We have clever neighbors. Our fish survived less than 24 hours and had a name that will escape me for the entirety of this piece, I’m sure. It’s not that he wasn’t taken care of. My roommate had bought a fishbowl, decorations, rocks for the bottom and a whole tin of fish food. All for a 22-hour fish.
We never did figure out how he died. We only know he came into our lives one late afternoon and by the time class ended the next day, had entered the realm of toilet bowls and porcelain heaven.
Although he wasn’t in our lives for long, He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named-Because-We-Forgot made a lasting impression on us. Together we laughed, we cried and we learned about life; primarily that I should be thankful my parents never let me have a dog. Because if I can kill a fish in 22 hours, there’s no telling the horror that might occur should I have the opportunity to care for a dog.
Thank you for the life lesson, dear fish, and may you rest peacefully in your toilet bowl in the sky (or in the men’s restroom on the second story).