Monday, August 11, 2008


Recently I came home from a trip to Denver, one of many this summer, and one of my goldfish had died. I immediately texted Shawn, the only person that would understand my huge attachment issues to a fish, and told him what had happened. He said he was sorry for my loss and commented that he was sorry he wasn't around anymore to keep up the fish population. At first I was confused and then I remembered Johnny. A few years ago, after Shawn and I had moved into together, I had relentlessly begged for a goldfish, realizing I would never get my seahorse with the red, felt top hat. One day I came home and Shawn had bought me a goldfish. I appropriately named him Johnny. He would be our first of many. His sisters were Jobeth and Mary Rose from one of my favorite children's books, "Help I'm a Prisoner in the Library". Jobeth and Mary Rose were cloud fish and enjoyed swimming around the huge tank Shawn had bought following Johnny. My one rule was that the tank must always be clean and that I was not to be the one to clean the tank. I loved the fish, but not the smell or the misery of messy fish life. He consented. After several years, I was watching TV one night when I noticed that Johnny was not swimming around much like his jovial self. I went to the tank and began tapping it and moving it, trying to get a response. Johnny would move a little bit, but tended to be swimming on his side. I tried to convince myself that he suffered from a sprained fin, but the look on Shawn's face foreshadowed the inevitable. He rose from the couch and got a smaller fish bowl, which became Johnny's hospital room for the night. I watched over that bowl intently, convinced by Shawn's telling me that maybe he just needed to be alone for awhile. The next night was my late night at work and as soon as I left and got into my car I called Shawn. "How's Johnny?" I asked, hoping for the best. But I was met with silence on the other end of the phone. I asked again. "Johnny didn't make it honey. I'm sorry." He said. I immediately burst into tears. "What did you do with him?" I asked, knowing that Johnny had met his maker in the toilet. "I took care of it." Shawn said. "Did you say anything to him before taking care of it?" I asked. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and I could hear Shawn sigh. "I said, you've been a good friend Johnny. We'll miss you." And even as I write this now, tears roll down my face. Not really for Johnny, though I do miss him and he was a good friend. But for that time in my life. When a simple thing such as a goldfish made me happy and that I found solace in believing, even at thirty, that a fish bowl could serve as a hospital room. I guess I'm a little embarrassed writing this, but I think it tells of the kind of person Shawn was. Is. Alot like my father actually. The funny thing is, after this latest goldfish died and I received the text, I was blindsided by the honestly that Shawn had been buying fish to replace the ones that had died. And I had never known. He had kept the mystery and the magic alive for me all those years. That is love. It truly is. Fish probably don't belong in tanks anyway. They belong in lakes and streams and oceans. But I'll probably always have one or two, and now I'm cleaning the tank. And maybe that's why they keep dying. Or maybe fish don't live that long anyway, I don't know. I guess I always thought that fish lived forever. Or maybe, until recently, I was under the misconception that everything did. I think as I continue on this journey, it's really about returning to that childhood innocence for me and remembering, well, just remembering what's really important. Such as catching lightening bugs in a glass jar in the summer, hot chocolate on snow days, putting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and good friends like Johnny. So the truth is, I do care, I just don't know how to make it all work out anymore. And just like Shawn, who as hard as he tried, could never keep up our fish population, eventually, I just have to let some things go. But I'm not entirely ready yet. And maybe I never will be.

1 comment:

Stargirl said...

Your experience with Johnny, Shawn, and all of the other “anonymous” goldfish seems to be a sign that all really is right with the world, even when it sometimes seems so wrong. So many things happen that we are not even aware of at the time, but that somehow make sense later. When I was at West Baden this summer, I was taking pictures at a tiny cemetery on a hill where Jesuit priests had been buried. I stayed there for a long time because cemeteries have always been peaceful and inspirational to me. I turned to leave, then decided to take one last glimpse at the huge cross that was at the top of the hill behind the gravestones. At that moment, a doe and two fawns were walking quietly behind the cross. I fumbled with my camera and finally did get a picture. At the time, I felt that it was symbolic…a sign. Yesterday when I was leaving my lake house, a lone doe walked in front of my car. I thought it was strange, because this was at 1:00 in the afternoon which is an unlikely time for deer to be wandering around, but I drove on with little thought about it. This morning when I was coming down Sargent Rd. on my way to work, a doe and fawn stopped in the road in front of me and looked right at me for several seconds before continuing on. A coincidence? I don’t think so. I prefer to think and I really do feel that deer, collectively, for me, are spirit guides…and specific spirits at that. When I was young I always had lots of animals. Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, fish, chickens, ducks, mice, chameleons, and a turkey that a friend gave me for my birthday. I always communicated better with animals than people. The turkey lived in our doghouse, and when it was allowed to roam, it followed me everywhere. It kept growing, and at one point my parents decided that it was just too big for us to keep. They insisted that we give it to a farmer. The next time I saw the farmer I asked him how my turkey was and he said “Oh it was really good!” They had eaten it. I was devastated. I once found a baby rabbit at the lake that had apparently been abandoned by its mother. I kept it for several months, but it started growing big, and since it was a wild rabbit…it wasn’t too tame. I decided it was time to let it go back to its natural environment. For weeks and maybe a month after that, when we would go to the lakehouse, the rabbit would appear and just “hang around” with me for awhile. One day we went to the lake and the rabbit didn’t show up. I never saw it again. I was sad, but continued to make new animal friends and they were a big part of my life growing up. There are lots of “Johnnies” in the world and I think our job is to love them and make them feel safe for the short time that we have with them as they pass through our lives. Sorry this is so long…love you, Peter.