“I think he likes it,” I said to my daughter.
“I told you!” she replied with a smirk.
Why is it that I am crazy about this tiny creature? He greets me warmly every time I enter the room with flared gills at the edge of the glass as if to flirt with me. I call him my little love, blow kisses and speak sweet nothings to him. It’s really kind of shameless on both our parts; my family finds the ostentatious displays of affection exchanged on either side of the glass mildly embarrassing. Ren races around the tank in a dramatic display of grace and beauty. I gush. Buckwheat, my dog, whines and scratches my leg, as if to say, “Remember me? I am still here! Look at me, you love me too, right?” His big beautiful brown eyes look up at my melting my heart and I have to leave Ren to fetch Buckwheat a cookie and reassure him of my undying affection.
I am convinced Ren fancies me. I am his chosen one. No other person inspires quite the same response when they visit him. When I have to leave for a few days, I worry about him and repeatedly remind my family to give him attention so he does not become despondent. When I return, he is hiding and slow so make his presence known as if sulking, but within a day or two, he has “forgiven” me or, more likely, “remembered” me and returns to his previous behavior. Ren shows off his jumping skills at feeding time and enjoys a game of hide and seek with me – we take turns hiding. Every once in a while, he will honor me with a bubble nest – a mating ritual performed by the male fish to make ready for the coming eggs of the female fish.
In order to keep Ren closely by my side, I moved his tank to be closer to my desk where I could interact with him more throughout the day. The new space had a little more sunlight and a little more family activity than his previous location. He was not happy. Ren began to hide more and did not greet me as he had in the past. I blocked 2 sides of his tank to decrease stimulation, but still he was not happy. He stopped eating, stopped interacting, stopped swimming and his fins were growing shorter. Quickly I began beta fish first aid for sick fish, but nothing seemed to help. I sat vigil by his tank and talked to him with no response. For the first week, I ate, worked and watched movies in a little chair beside his tank but he grew weaker and less responsive. I attempted to get more information by posting on beta discussion boards, but got no response. Many times I thought he was dead as his still body lay across the smooth stones in the corner of the tank; his gills did not visibly move, but when I touched him, he would race wildly around the tank banging him head against the glass only to settle back in the same position after a lap or two around the tank.
Doubt and guilt moved in. What did I do to cause this? I never should have moved him. I should have done more and faster. Then came anger. How dare he die! It was an act of betrayal. I did not deserve this, how could he leave me after I poured my heart into him? Fine! Go ahead and die then. What are you waiting for?
I sat waiting day after day for him to die. My family gave me their sympathies about my dead fish, who was, in fact, not yet dead which added to my angst. It was surprising to step back and observe my emotions about this tiny creature I had known for only 15 months. It occurred to me I had been struggling with feelings about death with the breast cancer scare and my husband’s dangerous blood clot over the past 6 months, but it took Ren to help me see hidden emotions I held about myself and my spouse. A gift of awareness to see and contemplate yet another layer of myself and appreciate the tenderness of my heart. I am happy to see its softness under the façade of guilt and anger.
10 days after Ren had stopped eating, I went to search his tank and he was not in the corner he had laid in for the prior two weeks. I gently tapped on the glass and my tired friend swam slowing to the glass looking at me. All of his fins were a fraction of the length they had been; he looked tired, but when I offered him food, he ate. He swam gently around the tank and came back to me. His tiny front fins fluttering gleefully as health began to be restored in his delicate body. Tears came to my eyes while I called to my family to share with them the surprising news. We gathered around the tank with happiness and gratitude for the life of our companion. Three weeks later his fins are nearly grown back and he is happy and so am I.