Why I can’t have fish.

Once upon a time, in a land two hours away, I was a young 23-year-old loading up a U-Haul to move to the big city. My possessions included:

  • The World’s Most Uncomfortable Futon
  • A bed I’d bought for $75 (which included pillows and a set of sheets!)
  • The kitchen table my grandparents got when they were first married (My grandpa couldn’t remember how much it cost in dollars, but he knew how many bushels of wheat it worked out to. #depressionmath)

My sweet friend who helped load the truck was very excited about a going-away gift she had for me. And that gift was … a betta. A fish to keep me company as I moved to a big city where I knew no one.

A fish I had to keep alive in a plastic bag of water in a U-Haul.

But the fish survived our cross-country journey and we settled into a one-bedroom apartment wherein everything was beige. I named him Barry the Betta after The Grand Triumvirate of Barrys: Gibb, Manilow, and White. Because that’s a concert I want to see.

And he was a showman. Obviously. And let’s pretend this isn’t a stock photo.

Barry lived in a little container on the kitchen counter, brightening up the joint with his bright blue hue. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but the really gorgeous seldom are. They haven’t been forced to develop that skill.

We lived not happily, but ok-ishly for a few months. Then, there was drama.

One Saturday morning, I realized Barry was overdue for his routine tank cleaning. So, I scooped him up and left him in a glass of water while I proceeded to clean his little plastic home. Part of the deal was you had to let the new water sit for a bit before you put the fish back in. No biggie.

Except I got hungry. So I made myself a sandwich. A tuna-salad sandwich. I went in the other room to eat.

And when I returned, Barry the Betta was not in his little glass. He had flipped out of the glass, onto the counter, off the counter into the sink, out of the sink into the sink drain. His little blue body was still.

Panic filled my body and a quick mental scan of the apartment showed me to be the only adult-like person around. I alone would have to deal with the emergency at hand.

I picked Barry up and tossed his body into his little tank. And he started swimming around! Crisis averted!

I then spent approximately four hours apologizing for making a tuna-fish sandwich in front of my fish roommate. Could I have been any more callous and cruel?

It seemed like Barry and I made amends.

A few days later, I arrived home from work to find the apartment quieter than usual, if that was even possible. A glance in the kitchen showed that Barry was lounging in the middle of the kitchen floor. As fish do.

I walked towards him and took a deep breath to calm the adrenaline surge. Then I picked up Barry and tossed him back in his tank. It had worked before – surely it would work again, just like magic!

But Barry didn’t instantly start swimming. Barry just sort of bobbed along crookedly. It was then I realized that half of Barry was dried and stuck on the linoleum floor.

Listen. Mistakes were made. I was young and not accustomed to the care of aquatic animals. But I share this tale of woe so that others may learn from my mistakes.

Do not make your roommate think that you might eat him. And dead fish stick to linoleum.

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  • Reply Kari Wagner September 8, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    Oh man, I wish I could tell you the story of Lucy our fish. Maybe I need to write about it.
    You have my condolences.

  • Reply Ernie September 8, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Oh my. What a memory! That is so sad, but of course you put a great comedic spin on it. My friend once cleaned out the fish tank with her daughter (fish owner) watching. Fish flipped into the drain. Friend panicked and fumbled for the light switch to be able to see him. You know where this is going, right? Yep. She flipped on the disposal switch by mistake. Ouch.

  • Reply Andrea September 9, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for providing this comfort and closure to a previous fellow owner of jumping fish!

  • Reply Jenny Hart Boren September 10, 2018 at 4:36 am

    My son got a goldfish at some Halloween event. He named him Shithead. Shithead lived in a little fishbowl on the kitchen counter until Sam went to college later the next fall, and Shithead traveled the length of California in a Big Gulp cup in the beverage holder in the car. Then he lived in his [seldom cleaned] fishbowl for another two years, and finally he came back home, in a cup, in the beverage holder. He lived ANOTHER year in the now-frequently-cleaned fishbowl on the kitchen counter until Sam weren't away to a different college in Chicago. Shithead died, perhaps of grief.

    Thinking that goldfish were sturdier than they actually are, we set up a big ceramic urn on our porch (with a filter and pump) and put some fish in it. One by one, they committed suicide by leaping out onto the concrete (One survived after lying there for hours, only to try again another day). The last goldfish fell victim to some marauding fish-catching creature, mayber a cat or a raccoon. We poured out the water and planted flowers in the urn.

  • Reply Green Girl in Wisconsin September 20, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    I've never been keen on getting fish for myself, though I do admire aquariums when in office buildings and waiting rooms. The cost of a table in bushels of wheat, however? That charms me. As does the reason why you named the fish Barry.

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