Standing amid the neon lights of our town’s Memorial Day fair, I spotted a small towheaded figure in the distance, waving furiously to me with one hand while clutching something I could not quite make out in the other. As he approached, I spotted a small plastic bag held tightly in his fist and watched a swirl of gold darting to and fro, as if mimicking my son’s excitement. I struggled with mixed emotion. Annoyance at the thought of yet another pet to care for and nostalgia for this childhood rite of passage I too enjoyed so many years ago at my own hometown fair.
My husband, an animal lover, immediately began researching the care of goldfish. “You know the reason why so many die?” he advised. “Those small bowls do not allow enough oxygen. They need at least a 10 gallon tank.” And off they went to the pet store, father and son, in search of a home for “Patricia” our newly christened goldfish.
“I may have gotten a bit carried away” he admitted as he staggered into the bedroom toting an enormous box , “ but this pagoda temple was a steal and the color of the fauna is not to be believed!” The “extras” included not only the Zen temple but two-toned pink and blue gravel, a sunken treasure chest, filter, lighting and various sized stones. “Watching a fish swim lowers your blood pressure” he added with an air of authority, now the official fish whisperer.
I am not sure whose blood pressure decreased by watching Patricia. I only recall how mine skyrocketed over the next few months, as the fish doubled and then tripled in size and in doing so, became more aggressive, thrashing day and night in its tank. Clearly, the Zen temple was not working its magic.
The cleaning of the aquarium was without doubt the worst chore of all. To get the cleansing tube working you had to suck in air as if you were using a straw and then bob it around the tank to vacuum up all the debris. On my first attempt, I took in part of the fish water and let’s just say the experience will stay with me – always. It was at that moment while gargling a third time with the strongest mouthwash I could find, that I came to the realization…Patricia must go.
I researched releasing it in our backyard pond. No, the fish could become prey for birds due to the bright gold color. Donate it to a local classroom? You would have to increase the teacher’s salary just for the tank cleaning alone. I resigned myself to the fact that Patricia would be with our family for the duration of her life or, my own.
As I walked dejectedly around the fish department at Petco searching for yet another larger and more expensive tank, a tall ginger-headed clerk emerged. As we got to talking, I explained my dilemma. He listened compassionately and then calmly remarked “My friend Crystal adopts goldfish. She works here too.” I tried to keep the hysterical edge out of my voice as I queried: “Any chance she is in today?”
A month later I found myself once again in Petco this time to buy hamster food. As I stood watching an employee cleaning a fish tank, the memory of swallowing the dirty water emerged and I thanked a higher power those days were behind me. Lost in thought I almost didn’t hear the soft voice beside me. “Would you like to see a picture?” Turning, I saw Crystal, Patricia’s foster mother, holding her smart phone up before me. On the screen, was a photograph of Patricia in her new 100 gallon home, swimming serenely. “I did have a little problem with her attacking my other fish in the beginning” Crystal confided. I furiously scanned the store for the nearest exit wondering how long it would take me to reach it. “But, she eventually calmed down and gets along great with everyone!” Nodding and smiling in gratitude, I made a mental note to find another pet store just in case Patricia’s aggression returned.
So when things appear hopeless in life, I leave you with this bit of advice. Miracles do happen. And if you have children, have them avoid the ping pong toss at your local fair at all costs.