Wednesday night: My daughter's Siamese Fighting Fish, Sammy, is dead.
She's had the exotic fish with its curtain-like fins for nearly three years--bought it when she was ten. The fish has been rather lethargic for two weeks. Then again, yesterday, it zipped all over its little bowl, more than I've ever seen it move. "Hey, you're all right," I'd told it. "Won't Ellen be happy?"
By dinnertime, it was dead. Sammy is on his side, lifeless, eyes open and clouded over. I just told my wife.
"I don't want to tell Ellen now," she said. "She'll be devastated."
"She might notice him, though."
"Maybe we'll tell her after she does her homework."
This all brings up the time that my son, when he was five (now twenty-three), had a goldfish he'd won, and after a few weeks, he yelled from his room, "Goldie isn't moving. What's wrong with her?"
I'd taken one look at the floating fish and knew it was dead--but Zach looked so forlorn at that moment that I said, "Let's take it to the fish store to get it some medicine." He looked hopeful. He asked on the drive there many times if Goldie would be okay. I assured him yes.
You know what I did. In the store, I told Zach to look for some more fish food, and then I asked a clerk to get a new fish that looked like this one in the bag and to go along with me when I spoke to Zach. When Zach returned, I said, "This nice man is going to get Goldie some medicine, so we'll wait right here."
"Goldie will be okay?" Zach asked the nice man.
The clerk said, "Absolutely."
Zach nodded and looked hopeful. Minutes later the clerk came back with a lively goldfish in the same bag. Zach smiled. This parenting stuff--it's instinctive.
So now, eighteen years later, I'm confronted with the same situation. It's as if I'm Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day getting another chance to do things right.
Thursday morning: Last night we didn't get around to telling Ellen. We didn't want to deal with it. For years she's so lovingly changed Sammy's water and fed him regularly, and to what end? To a watery death?
This morning, I hummed to myself The Lion King's "The Circle of Life." (If you forgot the song or the animation, click here.) This was the moment that I must confront. Death is natural, even beautiful. I should say something like that.
I just looked in the bowl. The Siamese Fighting Fish isn't any better.
Later: When Ellen came for breakfast, dressed for school, I said, "Hey, Ellen. Sammy, over in his bowl, isn't moving."
She was curious. She peered over the edge. "That's because he's dead." She looked closer. "Yep, dead." Then she asked for a bowl of Cheerios.
I thought, "That's it?" And I said, "I thought he was doing better yesterday. He was zipping all around his bowl--more than I'd ever seen him."
"That's because death was coming, and he was probably freaked out."
"It wasn't a last moment of happiness and loving life?" I said, a fish tank half-full kind of guy.
"Probably not," she said. "Last moments aren't always great, maybe even terrible."
How does she know this stuff? "So," I started, "should we bury him or give him a burial at sea?"
"What do you mean?"
"We can put him in the garden or flush him away."
I decided on the flushing method--dust to dust, water to water.
She and I then stood around the toilet, and I turned the bowl sideways. Sammy slipped in and lay at the bottom, still dead.
"Bye, Sammy," said Ellen. She nodded. She looked fine.
And I flushed. Circle of life.
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