Friday, August 6, 2010

Fish, Resurrected

About six weeks ago Dan came home from an excursion with the kids. I thought they were going to the local hobby store, but they showed up proudly hauling in a fish tank, fish supplies, and of course, a Betta fish. Anna named her Juliet and secretly my heart sank. We'd never owned a pet besides Zeke the cat. We'd never owned, I should say, an animal that could likely die in less than a few months and break my little girl's heart.

From the beginning I fretted. Were we feeding her enough or too much? Was she really sleeping or was she somehow already dead when I checked her late at night before heading to bed? Juliet was a happy little thing for about a month, until the incident that involved Anna overfeeding her and then leaving the top off the fish food and Ethan dumping half the container of food in her tank, which led to me frantically putting Juliet in a new bowl of water and then the next day putting her back in the tank with another gallon of new water. After that Juliet stopped swimming so much and started hanging out near the top of the water all of the time. According to the person at the pet store, and people online, Bettas can shock easily if you change all of their water at once. They can even die.

This Tuesday morning came -- Dan was flying to Tennessee and his mom happened to be flying at the same time down to Bethesda in Maryland for a scan to make sure cancer hasn't tried to flare up again in her body. The radio was blaring horrific news about a shooting not much more than five miles down the road, another episode of workplace violence, with multiple victims. And Juliet wouldn't eat. I was frantically getting the kids ready so we could drop off Anna at VBS, and Juliet appeared to be barely moving. I thought, "Do I tell Anna and upset her right before VBS? But what if she comes home and Juliet has died already?" I decided I had to tell her. So we had a little talk that involved tears on both ends. My heart was breaking. I hated just dropping her off after that.

Driving home, I kept fighting the tears. I tried choking them down because Juliet is just a fish, after all, but then realized I wasn't crying just for Juliet. I was crying because people had left their homes for work that morning like any other day but weren't ever coming home. I was crying because Anna didn't know what cancer was and I didn't ever want to have to tell her her grammy was dying from it. I was crying because I didn't want anything to cause my daughter pain, I didn't want her to know how fragile life is, but at the same time knew an inevitable part of her growing up would be realizing these things, bit by bit, one little painful revelation at the time.

And so I cried, and I peeked at Juliet, who amazingly had began to perk up and even started swimming around a little bit. She wasn't her old self, but she wasn't dead. After I got past my emotional moment, I began to feel a little foolish, as far as the fish was concerned. What was it that Mark Twain once said? "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." By the time Anna got home, I felt sorry for upsetting her needlessly.

"She wiggled at me!" yelled Anna, watching her. "Maybe she's feeling better."

"She might be," I said cautiously. "She just might be."

That was three days ago, and Juliet is still with us. I have no idea if she will make it past the week or even the next few days. She's still not eating much. But, we'll get to that when we get to that. Whenever that is.

Dan's mom came back from Maryland with a clean bill of health. She's done this for two years and will need to return next year. I've wanted to ask her but never would because it's just too personal, but I wonder, how do you live with the waiting? Or maybe the question is, how do you LIVE, instead of waiting?

That's what I realized, over these past few days. I worried for six weeks the that little thing would die. I've wondered for years how I would ever talk about anyone's death or illness with my daughter. I've dreaded the inevitable loss of innocence. These things will happen, but I've spent a lot of time living everywhere but now. What good does it do anyone to live anywhere else?

"Look at how beautiful she is," I said to Anna the other day as we sat, just watching her. We giggled at her little O-shaped fish mouth and beady eyes. "Let's just enjoy her," I urged. "No matter how long she ends up living with us, let's just enjoy her now."

And so we did. So we are.

1 comment:

Bradley said...

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