The Convict Fish

By all standards of normality I could have been considered an animal hoarders.  Of course, as all insane people, I thought it was perfectly normal to have five dogs, six cats, four small birds, a parrot, a turtle, a frog and two iguanas who grew so big and strong they pushed the lid of the tank and lived in our pipes for six months! After all, the kids loved it, and that’s all I cared. one I even allowed our cat, Olga, to have the experience of motherhood and she had a litter in the mist of a thunder storm, in my bed. Her howl made an impression on the kids, and after all this was the purpose, my children will have all that I desired as i child and was not allowed to have.  The effect of the Olga’s howl on Natalie was so great, that the following day, when the teacher, as part of a routine lesson asked her: “What sound do cats make,? expecting the standard meow, Natalie answered: “Cats haul.” Her answer triggered a special meeting between me and the teacher who was concerned about my child’s distorted sounds perception. At that age, the teacher told me, Natalie should have known the basic sounds common pets make. I tried to explain my strategy of exposing the kids to “real life situations,” and how she the birth of the kittens, but I am not sure the teacher thought my method was ideal. Oh… well!

So, if we already had so many pets why did Natalie get a Convict Fish of her own on top of everything else?

The truth was, one day we met a wise man

 from Burma.  As we lunched together, we asked him why he wasn’t married. He answered wisely (I guess all people from that part of the world seem wiser than most of the people I know who were born in other parts of the world),:

“First I have to prove I can keep a plant alive. So far, I killed all plants! Once I keep the plant alive I have to keep a pet alive for at least a year, and only then I could think of marriage!”

So, Natalie, a pre-teen at the time, was so impressed by the words of the wise man from Burma, that asked for a pet just of her own, not like the other twenty pets who were everyone’s responsibility, but somehow I was ending up keeping them alive. So, how could a responsible parent refuse her daughter her desire for growth and responsibility?

We bought a Convict Fish and placed it in a large, round glass bowl in her room. She loved this fish. He even got a name which I could make up but frankly I don’t remember.

Two weeks went by and she stopped changing the water every other day. Then, she changed it every other week, and after about a month the fish was lucky if the water was cleaned once in a while. He was being fed however, we were not starving the fish!

When the bowl started to smell, one day, when the girls were at school, I took the bowl to the kitchen  and placed the fish in a different bowl, with a little water of the same temperature. I cleaned the big bowl and was trying to get it to the right temperature, when the fish jumped so high, it ended on the floor. Oh, thank God I was there and rescued him, and put him back in the cleaned environment. Natalie thanked me and another month went by, and now the Convict fish looked dead…

So, I took the bowl with the fish in it in the kitchen and as I poured the water in the sink’s drain, the dead fish suddenly jumped all the way to the ceiling and ended on the floor. He was alive! Quickly I put him in water and repeated the routine of cleaning the big bowl, getting the right temperature and placing everything in Natalie’s room. 

I asked Natalie if she still felt she could care for the Convict fish and she wasn’t that sure anymore, it was hard, harder than it seemed at the beginning. Saying and doing were definitely two different things. We decided to care for him jointly and I saved the Convict Fish off of the kitchen floors many times.  He always jumped out of the bowl, out of his familiar environment and somehow I was always there to save him, to see him the moment he  and be quick enough to save him over and over again, until one day, he jump and I wasn’t there, I wasn’t fast enough and he died…I cried, but to be honest, it wasn’t just his death a mourned but a whole metaphor which had seeds in my mind. I had come to believe I, like the Convict Fish, was saved so many times, out of so many situations, but I feared, some day, when I’d need help the most, the savior would look elsewhere just when I needed help most, and I’d die…

Yes, I was crying the death of hope that one could be saved forever… unless I learned how to save myself and not rely on others!

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