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Blog: Goodbye To Angie The Fish

(originally written 6/4/14)

It all started two summers ago, when my daughter Josie, friend Alex and Alex' daughter Jadyn attended the Santa Clara County Fair. We went for the rides, the games, the fresh air and the laughter. We came away with much more.


Historically, I've been about as successful at carnival games as I've been at keeping my weight down. In other words, not very.

On this day the competition gods smiled upon my crew, as both Jadyn and I were each able to toss ping-pong balls into one of those impossible fishbowls that have roughly a centimeter of circumference to spare—each "ploop" signaling a won goldfish.


(Before scoffing at this accomplishment, note that a totally normal couple noticed our gains and felt compelled to legitimately ask for tips as we exited. All I could offer was a shrug, "...just toss the ball in the bowl.")


Young Jadyn already boasted a sizable collection of goldfish, so she generously offered hers to Josie and I. They were named Oscar and Lola, and they instantly became official family members.


In the coming weeks I would provide Oscar and Lola with two more siblings, Angie and Lenny. Sadly, whether by nature's hand or due to inferior care by an owner some 20 years out of practice, Oscar was the lone survivor by month's end.


Being only two-and-a-half, I didn't feel Josie would understand why this was, so I pulled the ol' swaperoo move parents are known to do with deceased pets...except I only replaced Lola and Angie. She was suspicious, but a child's suspicions are no match for a parent's convincing reassurances. (We did win another fish at a later fair, naming him Bart and bringing the family back up to four.)


Angie was the greediest of the bunch, which is really saying something. She quickly doubled in size and regularly beat her brothers and sister to the "breakfast table". She was covered in black spots that eventually faded, leaving her bright orange like two of her siblings.


And like all goldfish, she was an idiot, regularly freaking out over nothing and staring at people for no reason.


But we loved her all the same.


In Angie's tank sat a replica dojo, one of those Japanese structures. Two round holes were carved out for active fish to use as a hiding spot or a tube.


One April afternoon as I gorged myself with Foster Farms bourbon chicken (a.k.a. my latest crack cocaine), Josie and I heard a loud thrashing—Angie had managed to get herself stuck in the dojo hole.


I immediately went into rescue mode, all the while kicking myself for not noticing our fish were twice the size they were when this dojo was purchased. It took a lot of time to safely maneuver Angie's massive body out of the hole—obviously I could not simply pluck the dojo out of the tank nor could I just smash it open.


Only after Angie was freed did I notice the sharp corner jutting out from the opening she was stuck in—which left her with a small wound I quickly procured medicine for. The dojo was discarded and by day's end Angie seemed a-ok.


Then came Sunday, May 25.


Angie was breathing rapidly and not as active as we'd grown accustomed to. I tried not to worry, an effort made easier when she yet again beat her siblings to breakfast the next morning.


By evening, she'd taken a 180° turn for the worse and totally failed to signal. All the symptoms pointed to constipation, which can be treated but will kill a fish if untreated. I did all I could, from replacing the water and raising its temperature, to even dashing out at almost midnight for Epsom salt (and a loaf of bread I'd forgotten to grab earlier. I could feel the cashier wanting to tell me this kind of salt doesn't go on a sandwich but ultimately opting against it.)


Despite everything, Angie never regained any spunk and never passed any stool. Around 2am, she took her last gulp.


Though we'll never know for sure, I'll go to my own grave (hopefully not through the toilet) believing that damn dojo had something to do with her death. Which meant I indirectly had something to do with her death by not junking it long ago, or even being aware of the dangerous nook.


It's not on the level as, say, taking out a family of four while driving drunk but if you have a soul at all, being responsible for a loss of any life weighs on you. Just ask my mom, who accidentally ran over a possum over 15 years ago and still feels bad about it. But I'm not here to talk about the past.


I still peer into the tank expecting to see four fish...and there's only three. Without Angie, the tank seems a lot more spacious.


And empty.


If any good came of this, Josie was with the ex when this all went down—I had two days to figure out what to tell her. When the inevitable time came I simply explained that Angie had gotten so sick that she had to go to fishie heaven. Josie seemed to understand as well as a four-year-old could be expected to, though she did ask when Angie would be back a couple of times. Heartbreaking.


Angie's passing won't change my day-to-day life in any way. She wasn't like a dog I had to walk and vaccinate and bathe and play with—there won't be a void. And yet there will be a void.


It's ironic how someone like me—a cold-hearted jerk who's never understood how pet owners can actually be driven to devastation by a pet's death—is spending even a minute mourning over a goldfish. A four-inch-long confinee who never communicated with me, never played with me, never did anything cute, never showed any emotion toward me in any way whatsoever.


And yet, here we are.

If by chance that couple from the fair is reading this, here's a great tossing tip: toss out anything your fish can get stuck in. NOW.

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