When I was younger I showed American Saddlebred horses (think of dressage horses, but wound a little tighter without as many fancy tricks.) One of the common practices when working with these horses was to put blinkers – or blinders – over their eyes to keep them from spooking or getting distracted by something off to the sides or behind them.
You see, horses vision in primarily peripheral – due to the fact that their eyes are located on the sides of their head. So when they had these blinkers on, they were putting all of their faith in their rider to not lead them astray – blissfully unaware of what was happening around them. (Or terrified, depending on the horse.)
Anyway, I sometimes feel like I’m walking through life with my own set of blinkers on…you know – tunnel vision, denial.
Call it what you will, but some days the only way I make it through is to pretend that the things around me just aren’t happening. That is, until reality reaches back and slaps me across the face, saying, “Hello! You can’t ignore this any longer!”
My girls have an aquarium in their nursery. It’s not like I had an aquarium on my baby registry or one of my eleven-month-olds specifically asked for fish in her room. No, they are leftover from when the nursery was my youngest son, Brennen’s room. (When we found out we were having twins, everyone had a bedroom switcheroo – except our goldfish.)
Now, I have never been a fish person. In fact, I was pretty perturbed when Chuck and Brennen brought that plastic bag from the fair in to my kitchen and tried to ‘sneak’ the fish into a Tupperware bowl. But what did I do the very next day – after I specifically made it clear that I wasn’t taking care of this fish? I got attached to the darn thing. And despite the fact that I knew this fair fish probably wouldn’t last a week, I accepted Chad as a member of our family.
Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years – and Chad was still here. Through trial and error we learned that goldfish need aquariums – with filters, water treatments, water cleanings (That was an interesting lesson learned while my mom was fish-setting and the glass bowl Chad was living in turned brown and cloudy. When I showed up at PetsMart, the man asked me, “Don’t you know you have to change the water in a fish bowl?” No, no I didn’t.) Through all of the algae blooms, dying friends, ammonia outbreaks…our little Chad-Man turned out to be the Fair Fish that Could. We even joked that Chad was one of those indestructible, un-killable fish.
So last week when I walked into the nursery and noticed Chad hanging out at the bottom of the aquarium instead of up top waiting for breakfast, I kept my blinkers on. I had to get the girls ready, drop B off at school, and get to work. I didn’t have time for fish woes. And besides, like I said above, Chad’s survived EVERYTHING! He’s fine – swimming down that river of denial.
The next day when I walked in and found Chad floating lifelessly, his body twisted sideways and his gills working painstakingly as he unknowingly bumped into his castle and the aquarium filter, I felt HORRIBLE! Life reached up, smacked me, and said this fish is really sick!
When I told Chuck, he had a normal person’s reaction – “He’s lived a good, long life. And he survived a lot longer than we ever thought he would.”
I, on the other hand, headed straight to my go-to for all things from parenting advice to medical diagnosis…Google. When I began typing ‘lethargic goldfish’ into the search bar, would you believe I wasn’t the first person to search for this? In fact, there are multiple websites devoted to the health and well being of goldfish. And they not only offered me advice, they gave me a feeling of hope.
According to the Internet, Chad either had a parasite or a bacterial infection. And there are medications for both, so I jumped straight in my car and headed to the fishy pharmacy. About sixty dollars, two cancelled work meetings and three hours later; I was home getting Chad set-up in his ‘sick tank’ – a tank where you house the sick fish so they don’t infect the others. I dropped the Tetracycline, which I’m pretty sure I took in high school to clear-up my complexion, into Chad’s tank…. and I waited.
And waited, and waited.
I’d find myself sneaking into the kitchen – as if seeing that he’s died slowly would be easier than if I quickly approached the kitchen counter where the aquarium was resting.
Sometimes I’d walk in to find him actually swimming and I’d get a glimmer of hope that he’d survive. I even leaned down by the plastic wall of the tank and told him, “Chad, if you can make it through the night I think we’ll be in the clear.”
Really? Now I’m a fish doctor?
At one point in the afternoon I became really alarmed when I walked in to check on my patient and found a yellow foam coating the top of the aquarium. I frantically rummaged through my plastic, PetsMart bag searching for the Tetracycline box to read about the side effects. I was relieved to learn that foam may form along the surface.
At another bed check, I found Chad suctioned to the bottom of the filter. I quickly unplugged the device, and to my relief Chad swam away.
When I finally went to bed that evening, I was pleasantly optimistic Chad might pull through.
Sure enough, that next morning when I stumbled into the kitchen – having half-forgotten about Chad in the sick tank – I was shocked when I found him floating on his side against the side of the aquarium. He was gone, and I was entirely too emotional. I mean this was an animal I had never even touched. We’d never gone on a walk, or played fetch in the front yard. Chad had never slept at my feet getting fish hair all over my bed. And Chad had never given me a big, slobbery kiss on the cheek. My mind immediately went to Homer, my 12-year-old Shar Pei-mutt. If I’m this upset about a fish, I don’t even want to be around myself when something happens to my dog.
Bianca was the first person I told about Chad’s unfortunate departure. She came bouncing into the kitchen, saw the aquarium and walked over to check on Chad. “How are you feeling this morning little, baby Chad?” she asked in the same voice she uses when she talks to her sisters.
“Honey, Chad’s in heaven,” I said gingerly.
“No he’s not, he’s right here,” she answered.
“Well, his little fish body is here, but his spirit’s gone to heaven,” I retracted – realizing the absurdity of this conversation.
Don’t most normal people just flush dead fish down the toilet and play dumb when their children ask where they went. “What fish? I don’t know what you’re talking about….”
Bianca and I – okay, I won’t hide behind my child – I decided to make a casket for Chad. I thought an earring box might do the trick, but quickly realized Chad had gotten bigger than I realized. I found Bianca’s Hello Kitty Band Aid box, perfect!
Bianca did help me in the decoration. We wrapped the box in white paper and drew a fish and water along one side. Bianca had just finished a worksheet at school with fish on it, so we cut that up and taped it on the other side. I wrote Chad’s name at the top and his birthday and date of death on the other end.
Bianca asked if we needed to put some water in the box for Chad – an honest question – so I decided we could use wet wipes to keep him moist without disintegrating his casket.
We waited for Chuck to get home to remove him from the tank, and as Chuck lifted the net out of the water, Bianca tried to sneak a kiss. “No, no!” I said. “He was sick, and you don’t want to touch him.”
We sat Chad, securely fastened in his Finding Nemo decorated, Hello Kitty Band Aid box on the counter to wait for Brennen to get home from his ball game. After all, Chad was his fish and we didn’t want to bury him without Brennen.
I recovered pretty quickly from my mourning, and was sitting on the couch with my computer in my lap when Bianca came towards me with what looked like tissue in her hands.
“I had to kiss Chad goodbye,” she said handing me what I quickly realized was our dead fish.
“Chuck!” I yelled down to the basement, “Bianca’s been kissing Chad!”
Chuck ran upstairs and got Chad put back in his box as I got Bianca into the bathroom to wash her hands –and arms – and brush her teeth. I’m usually not a germaphobe, but something about my daughter kissing and hugging on our parasite, bacteria-ridden dead fish just kind of grossed me out.
Bianca cried, I gagged a little, and Chuck rested Chad on the ledge of the microwave…we were still waiting on Brennen.
Well, I hate to admit this…but we forgot about Chad. (Blinkers again, I guess because I remember being a little concerned I might cook Chad while sticking something in the microwave. I remember resting my hand at the top of the microwave making sure it wasn’t getting hot.)
It wasn’t until the next afternoon when Brennen came upstairs and told us he found out Chad had died while checking Facebook on the computer. (Chuck and I handled that well. About as well as we handled telling our kids that we were having twins – by my brother blurting it out when we were all on our way home from dinner one night, assuming that the boys already knew. ‘What did you just say?’ I remember Blake asking my brother from the backseat of the car.)
I watched from the deck as Chuck and Bianca took Chad out to the tree in the back yard where Brennen wanted him buried. Chuck got a little embarrassed as I yelled a prayer from the deck as the neighbors worked out in their yards – I didn’t want to have to get myself and the babies dressed-up for a funeral, so we stayed at the house.
After Chad passed, I’d decided I wanted to get out of the fish business. “Do you think we could find somebody wanting an aquarium with one fish?” I asked Chuck about our lone-survivor.
But then I was listening to talk radio in my car later that afternoon, and I heard an interview with a family in India. They were talking about how most people in India have fish in their homes. These fish are symbols of protection against evil spirits that might try to enter the home. The little girl being interviewed said that if anything evil tries to enter the home and harm the family, the fish will take the evil spirit into their body and die to protect their family. I immediately thought of Chad – and I felt a little at ease thinking he died protecting us.
So, I think I might keep a few goldfish around. Because knock on wood, things have been going pretty good since Chad came into our lives, and if fish are a symbol of protection…then I’m all for bringing a Chad Jr. home soon.