As a child, I fondly recall fishing with my dad on Lake Erie for walleye or at one of our local ponds for perch. I also not-so-fondly recall helping him clean those same fish in the backyard. I even less fondly recall eating them for dinner, pulling the bones out of my mouth as I chewed (clearly, cleaning the fish was not my strong suit).
So you can imagine my dismay when we got a fish as a pet. A dog, I understand (although our dog has been flirting with the edge of the pet versus pest category), a cat is a maybe, but not a fish.
The story begins with my son trying to name a goldfish in a bag he had won at a local festival. He started with Abracadabra, an original and unique name, I thought. He quickly changed it to Dorothy, named after Elmo’s fish. I revolted and refused to acknowledge the new moniker. I decided it was Abracadabra. The rest of the family moved forward with Dorothy. I can only imagine the identity crisis the fish must have had.
Fast forward a couple years (yes, I said a “couple of years”) and he had inherited the new name “Fishie.” Really? Is that the best you can do, son? You started out so strong.
Unfortunately, the story goes downhill from there. My wife and I were in a late-night conversation when she looked over my shoulder and said, “Ah man, that fish doesn’t look too good. Maybe I should clean his tank.” When I looked to check him out, Abracadabra/Dorothy/Fishie was slowly bobbing at the bottom of a murky watered tank. I am not a vet, but the prognosis on this little guy was not good.
My wife immediately remembered a conversation earlier in the week with our son when he said, “Momma, you need to clean Fishie’s tank.”
Having ignored his recommendation, and now realizing it might be too late, my wife rushed to right this wrong and clean the tank as well as add some anti-fungus ‘stuff.’ However, his condition did not improve. He was sluggishly floating near the bottom of the bowl and showed little attention to the food floating on the top — which was strange since we had failed to feed him in a few days, possibly part of the problem.
His gills were fighting to pull water through his now contorted and fungus-covered body. As his life slipped away, he seemed to turn to my wife, locking eyes for a moment, and opened and closed his mouth as if to communicate his pain, “Why? Why?”
It is possible I am over-dramatizing the situation.
My wife then said, “Maybe that stuff I put in there will help him and he’ll live ... or he’ll die, either way.”
So much for compassion. Sorry, Abracadabra/Dorothy/Fishie. However, my wife was concerned about how our son would respond to this loss — especially since he had warned her of the dangerous murky water. We sat him down and broke the news. A few tears were shed, but overall he handled it well. Loss is a part of life.
A couple days later while in the car, my son said from the backseat, “Daddy, I need a new fish.”
“Okay son, but this time, I get to name him.”
(Editor’s Note: Matt has a family of five — a beautiful wife, two wonderful children and Tucker, the dog ... no fish currently reside in the Ryerson household. Matt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Cleveland Daily Banner.)