They make me want to do the icky dance for minutes at a time. I will have full on panic attacks if I think one has brushed past me in open water. I stare at the carpet in the reception areas of Chinese restaurants because if they have a tank of giant, bloated scaly fish there’s a very good chance I’m not going to enjoy my General Tso’s Chicken. And if I were on Fear Factor that would be my challenge—to lay in one of those pet store tanks and let their creepy little bodies swim all over me. You get the point.
But the other day I was talking to David about childhood pets and remembered that I wasn’t always this way. I once felt genuine love for those slippery little guys. Particularly one named Glistener.
I generally consider fish to be heartbreak in the making. Fittingly, most of them have the life span of a goldfish—which is roughly equivalent to the time it takes for a small child to name and become attached to it. I was 7, and my sister Ally was 5, when the Great Goldfish Tragedies began.
Our first visit to the pet shop was magical. Ally chose a small, sensible gray fish that she named Madeline. I chose a flashy gold one named (uniquely) Goldie. Within 24 hours Ally and I were knocking excitedly on my parents’ bedroom door to tell them that we had taught Goldie his first trick—swimming on his back. Our parents drove us back to the store for me to pick out a new one. And this pattern continued for several months. Poor Madeline saw more death than an exterminator.
I was particularly attached to Sunshine, who lived almost 3 weeks. After so many fish I think my parents realized I had suffered a huge amount of heartache for a 7 year old. So instead of the usual toilet bowl ceremony my dad buried Sunshine under a large pine tree in the backyard. I made her a headstone out of some chipped up brick and brought her some flowers. Then I bowed my head and told her I would never forget her. And cried. 20 minutes later I found the strength to move on. And it was back to the pet store.
And that is when I first met Glistener. She was a flashy, bright orange with perfect black lips that said “O” over and over. She reminded me of a Vegas showgirl, which I had aspirations of becoming. I knew it was time to bring out the name I had been storing up—the most beautiful name I had ever thought up. Glistener. Adjective made noun. Poetry made Piscis.
My parents knew love when they saw it. While I kept my eye on Glistener they summoned the teenager spending a disgruntled summer working a job at the pet store and he got his obligatory little net. The fish knew what was coming and scattered like confetti in the wind. But finally Glistener, my Glistener, who truly glistened, was cornered and scooped into a little plastic bag full of water.
When I got home the next day after school the ever astute Ally pointed out something astonishing. Glistener’s lips weren’t very black anymore. We stood in front of the bowl in shock for a good 3 minutes. I was trying to be fair but I had a feeling that Madeline had something to do with it. Just before I began the accusation my mom poked her head into our bedroom and we told her the news. “Hmmm,” she said. “Sometimes fish change when they get to their homes. Glistener must be a very special fish.”
10 years later, after Glistener had been dead for 9 and 5/6 years, my parents felt I was ready to handle the truth. While I had been at school that first day they had found Glistener doing the back stroke while Madeline swam blithely beneath, probably with the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust” swimming through her head. They panicked. They knew I couldn’t handle one more loss. So they cruised back to the store and demanded Glistener’s exact replica. Apparently this took about 10 minutes of shouting and pointing at 1 out of 10,0000 fish. Finally they gave up and just caught one. Its lips weren’t quite as black, but they hoped it would do. They called it “Glistener II” whenever I wasn’t around and prayed its little lips would get blacker. And I never knew a thing.
So I guess this goldfish story is actually the story of two very good parents.