Snags was three years old when he changed his name to “Eddie”. My sister-in-law had bought him a cute little pair of boxer shorts with a racecar on the front. Only, Snags refused to wear them until the day that he watched a Fisher Price Little People video that had a scene in it where one character, Eddie, was driving a race car. Then, like a typical three year old, Snags ran upstairs to his room, dug the boxer shorts out of his dresser drawer, and put them on, with the intent of keeping them on. For EVER. Snags could not be parted from those boxer shorts without considerable effort on my part. Months went by where Snags called the little boxer shorts his “Eddie Underwear” and he insisted on wearing them DAILY because, as he said, “They make me turn into Eddie.”
That is how I found myself washing the same pair of underwear out every. single. night. for months. so they would be clean for Snags to wear the next day. And that is also how I found myself buying a fish tank, Snags’ reward for no longer needing diapers.
But I wasn’t good with fish. Once, when I was a teenager, I had a goldfish that I’d gotten from somewhere. It lived in a bowl in my room. One summer as my family got ready to go on vacation I thought it ridiculous to pay a friend to feed one lousy goldfish, so I set about trying to kill it. I didn’t want to outright flush the thing, because that would have been fish murder. Instead, I poisoned its water with things like bleach and Seabreeze and vinegar. Anything clear that wouldn’t be noticeable to the untrained eye, but that might make the fish go belly up. Only, it didn’t work. The stupid fish lived, thrived in fact. And I ultimately had to pay a friend to feed it while we were on vacation.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before the fish in the tank that we bought Snags came down with ICH. My husband and I treated the tank but there was too much ICH and one afternoon, one of the fish, Dorothy, bought the proverbial fish farm. My husband scooped her out of the tank and flushed her off to fish heaven or wherever it is that dead goldfish go when flushed, and I was left to break the news to Snags.
I pulled Snags up onto my lap and said to him “Snags, I’m really sorry, but your fish Dorothy got really sick and she died.” I was worried that he might cry at the news but to my surprise he jumped up and asked to see her. I had to explain then that he couldn’t see her, how that wasn’t possible since his father had flushed her down the toilet.
“Why?” Snags asked.
“Well,” I stammered, “because that’s what you do with a fish when it dies. I am really sorry, Snags, are you upset?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I am not upset but when Emily Elizabeth dies I am going to flush her down the toilet! Even though there was a good chance that Emily Elizabeth would die, because the entire tank was infected with ICH, I couldn’t help think back to my days of trying to kill my own goldfish, and I worried that Snags had inherited my murderous fish genes.
The next morning we woke up to find that Emily Elizabeth had indeed died. I scooped her out and Snags flushed her down the toilet and asked, rather matter of factly, “Mom, what do they do with the fish when they get to the sewer plant?” So obviously, there was no fish heaven in Snags’ mind. Or if there was, you didn’t get there through the plumbing.
We gave up on fish for a while after that. Then, one day Snags won another goldfish at a carnival. We brought it home in a plastic bag and dug out the old fish tank again. We set the tank with the little goldfish up on Snags’ dresser. Just a fish, in a tank. No gravel, no nothing. Why bother? I thought. I figured the fish would be dead in a matter of days anyway.
Except it wasn’t. This fish, whom Snags named “Mr. Fish” grew, and grew, and grew and grew. He was the lone fish in a 10 gallon tank, and he didn’t seem to mind being alone.
Snags wasn’t satisfied, however. He wanted more fish. He wanted a pond in the backyard complete with koi and waterfalls. We settled instead for a barrel pond with a pump, a plant, and four largish pond goldfish. Not koi, but some of their smaller sized and less expensive cousins. This, it turned out, was a mistake. The pump kept clogging from the fish waste. The water got dirty. Then the barrel started leaking.
I was all for letting the fish flop around in the empty drained out barrel until they stopped flopping, but my husband thought that was cruel. And Snags, well HE wanted an “airline” tank. A fish tank with a treasure chest that could open and close, one where air bubbles came out and rose to the surface. So, in an effort to spare the pond fish an early death, I took Snags to the pet store and we bought a 30 gallon “airline” tank. We set it up, we moved the pond fish into their new home. And we moved Mr. Fish into the tank as well. And then we got four pretty little fantail goldfish. And then Snags won another teeny tiny goldfish at yet another carnival. We dumped them all into the big tank. And there they have lived happily ever after…
That is, until a few days ago, when my husband noticed that one of the fantail goldfish was missing. Gone. Disappeared. Not there. Vanished. Without a trace. Now tell me, how does that happen? Did the fish have a fight? Did the other fish gang up on this one particular fish and chew her up? She’s not floating at the top, she’s not lying on the bottom, she’s not stuck inside the clamshell that spits out bubbles of air. She’s gone!
Did she jump out one day after my husband fed the fish and accidentally left the hood open? Did she flop out onto the carpet and die there? I think if she had flopped out and died under the tank cabinet that we would have smelled something fishy. Don’t you? Besides, I looked all around, the fish is not on the carpet, not under the tank cabinet. Did she flop out of the tank and land on the floor and maybe our dog ate her up like a Scooby Snack? I suppose it’s possible, but like Snags says, “it’s unlikely.” So where did the fish go? I have no clue. The fish is just…gone. And Snags? He’s totally over the “I want an airline tank” phase. I pointed out the missing fish to him and he couldn’t care less. He simply shrugged his shoulders and went back to building a Star Wars battle scene with his LEGOs. But I am perplexed. I am counting fish in my head. Maybe the missing fish never existed. Maybe we only ever had three fantail goldfish. Or maybe my husband secretly scooped her up and flushed her down the toilet. Maybe the murderous fish genes are in him too.
And then I think back to the days when we battled ICH and lost all of our original fish. How I was so worried about Snags learning about death in this way, watching fish die, and flushing them down the toilet. After each fish passed I’d ask him again if he was upset and finally, one day, he’d had enough. He turned to me and with an exasperated sigh said, “Mom, I’m not upset. I didn’t even want this tank. I wanted a fish BOWL!” And I can’t help wonder now, if maybe I should have listened to him then.