Saturday, September 12, 2009

On life and death and betta fish.

My boy's betta fish died Saturday morning.

May he rest in peace.

The fish was a gift from my sister. She is my son's godmother, and her Christmas gift to him last year was a fish. He actually didn't get the fish until a snowy Valentine's Day afternoon, when he went with my sister and her husband on a special little field trip to choose him.

My son named him Golfie. Was the fish actually a "him"? Who knows? But to my boy, Golfie was his dude.

Here is Golfie on the day he came into our home, swimming in a wine glass, before we set up his little green plastic tank.

Betta fish are much hardier than goldfish and have been known to survive for years. This was a major plus, because it meant it would hopefully be awhile before we had to deal with the messy little matter of death. And flushing.

Golfie swam happily in our home for the last 7 months. The little orangey-red fish was a great self-esteem booster for my son, who, as a middle child, never gets to be the "first" to do anything. Golfie allowed him to be the first of his siblings to be a pet owner, and this was a title he carried with pride. He relished the responsibilities.

"It's time to clean the tank, Dad!"

"We gotta feed Golfie, Mom!"

Golfie became quite the roadie as well, traveling with us many times, his little green tank placed into a plastic bin from our toy shelf, and stuffed with newspapers to keep him steady on long drives.

I never thought I'd get so attached to the little guy.

My son's thoughtfulness about his little friend touched my heart, and maybe that's why I started to worry a few weeks ago when I noticed that Golfie was looking a little sick. His orangey-red scales were turning a dull orangey-gray.

"Give him some medicine Mom," my son pleaded. "Let's take him to the doctor."

This past week, Golfie was more active than usual. I noticed a few times that he would hang out by the plastic seaweed barely moving, and then suddenly he would frantically dart around the tank like his gills were on fire.

In retrospect, I realize now that he was losing it. Dementia had set in to his little fishy brain.

Or maybe he was swimming toward the fishy light.

Yesterday morning I went to his tank to feed him a few flakes of food, and I soon realized it wouldn't be necessary. Golfie was floating straight up, bloated like a fatty, and breathing no more.

Moment of silence.

Of course I had to grab my camera, to record it for the sake of posterity.

I called the kids together and I said, "I have bad news, guys."

Ever my dramatic self, I let that sink in for a second.

Then I continued, "Golfie is dead."

My son's lip quivered as he processed this information. His two older brothers were asking all sorts of questions, most of them involving the word, "flush," but we I waited for my son, Golfie's owner, to speak.

"Well, can I get a new fish?" he asked. "Sure," I responded.

"What do we do with Golfie? Do we bury him in the dirt?" he inquired.

"No way! We get to flush him down the toilet!" my oldest son said, a little too excitedly. And I swear he and my second son might have done a chest bump and clapped with glee.

Boys. Niiiiiiiice brotherly compassion.

My daughter heard the word, "flush," and immediately started wailing. (She must take after her mother with the dramatics.) "LET ME SEE GOLFIE!! NO FLUSH!!!" she cried as she took a swipe at her big brother. It was actually very sweet, because she and this brother, the one nearest to her age, are so close that they often act like an old married couple, and in her mind, she was just protecting her man and his fish.

My oldest changed his demeanor a bit and tried explaining to his sister that Golfie was dead and dead meant that you were gone forever. My second son, in typical fashion for his personality, questioned if Golfie would be swimming with Grandpa in heaven later. However, his logical side kicked in. "But if he can't swim now, Mom, how will his body suddenly start working in heaven? Hmmm...?"

Everyone be quiet. Too many questions. Too much for me to process and think about at 8:30 a.m. The fish is dead and he must be flushed. But we must do this delicately. I want to get it right. Is caffeine too much to ask for?

The whole thing started to remind me of the episode of "the Cosby Show" when Rudy's fish dies and the family has a funeral in the bathroom. We didn't exactly get dressed up, but we scooped the dead Golfie into a plastic Applebees cup and we all trudged off to the powder room for the ceremonial flushing.

My second son solemnly reminded us that "...all drains go the ocean..." a la "Finding Nemo", and then we said a little prayer.

Well...he'll probably just end up in some sewage plant here in the midwest, but I guess there's always hope that he'll find his way to the Atlantic. So who am I to kill that beautiful thought?

My son, the caretaker of Golfie in his short time on this earth, got to do the official flush. See?

First of all, how sick are you of pictures of the toilet in my powder room? This makes blog #17? #32? about my bathroom? I'm officially toilet-obsessed.

Bye bye Golfie, or as we affectionately used to call you, "the Golfster". You will be missed.

My boy was very tough up until the point that Golfie made his final swirl around the bowl and disappeared into the hole in the bottom. My three other children returned to watch their Saturday morning cartoons because the excitement was over. Nothing more to see. But Bill and I looked over at our son and he was staring at the toilet bowl and his little lip started quivering. He was trying to smile and trying not to cry at the same time. The little Mr. Tough act broke my heart, and it made for one adorable moment. I hugged my boy as I pulled him into my lap on the floor right next to the toilet, and we shared a good cry together.

Hey, it's not the first time I cried on the floor next to a toilet, believe you me.

"I miss him," his voice squeaked.

So yesterday afternoon, the whole family went to the pet store to pick out a new fish. It was going to be all his decision of course, a fact he reminded his older brothers of repeatedly. He had decided that he wanted a blue fish this time. We went over to the betta section, and they had about two dozen fish swimming in their individual bowls. There were some beautiful bettas, many of them a bright cobalt blue in color, big and fluffy, with fins and tails like feathers.

Immediately, my son pointed to the one he wanted. There was no indecisiveness on his part. "That's the one, Dad," he said firmly. We looked, and it was the sorriest looking fish of the bunch. His tail and fins were kind of gimpy and short, his blue was more of a dull turquoisey-gray, and he had mottled splotches of white all over his scales.

This fish was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of fishes. The reject.

Bill picked up the bowl of the best looking fish of the bunch, showed it to our son and said, "Wow! Look at this guy! His tail is so feathery and his color is so blue!" But my son was all, "whatevs" as he said, "Yeah, that's nice, but my fish is right there."

And here he is.

He said he picked him because he loved his color. According to him, this fish is perfect.

And what do we adults know about perfect? Apparently, not much.

Ever original in the fish-naming department, my son named him, "Swimmer".

Welcome to our home, Swimmer. We hope you are around for a long time.

1 comment:

  1. "Those who come from the sea, shall return to the sea..." FLuuuuuush! That's how we roll at the Gmeiners. Sorry for your little man. A rite of passage......
    Deborah Gmeiner


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