Let me make that perfectly clear.
I had always had a pet. From the time I was five years old, I had a puppy or a cat, or both....a bird, a fish, frogs, a hamster, a rabbit. I always had something to take care of. Other than my kids....or plants.
But these past few years, with my cat Lillie disappearing and then Goose's dog Harley passing away. Well, the kids are grown and no longer needing me. Not exactly in the same way they used to at least. I was starting to feel a bit lost. I mean, I can only water the plants so much.
So I decided I wanted to get a fish...or two.
He said no. Flat out. Too much work. Too dirty. Too smelly. No way.
Then I went to the pet store. An hour away.
The flash of color was what stopped me. Japanese fighting fish. Beautiful long flowing fins. I saw the little betta's sitting dully in their plastic drinking cups. And quite literally, that is what they were in. I asked the young man working the fish corner what a betta would need.
'Nothing really. They seem perfectly happy in anything around the size of these cups.'
My heart sank.
That's really what they're telling people?
I wanted to rescue them all at that point. But knew I couldn't. If I had more than one, they would fight to the bloody death. And that's not the type of color I want to be gazing at.
I believe I read that in a Dr. Suess book when I was a wee girl.
So I brought Blue home. Can you guess what color he was? I placed him in a fish-shaped bowl six times the size of his little plastic cup. *spat*
I promptly gave him a few miniscule pebbles of fish food. Something YoungHeartlessMan told me at the store was to only give him one or two pebbles a day. Well, Blue was famished. He jumped and leapt at the pebbles like they were going to self-destruct in two seconds. I read the container and it said to feed the fish all he could eat in two minutes and then to remove uneaten food.
Trust me, there was no uneaten food.
I watched him stretch out in his new digs. He watched me warily. Coming to the glass to get a better look at his new Mommy. He seemed so much more active and happy than in the store that I cried. I loved how he interacted with me through the sub surface glass.
When Papa Goose came home, he approached the fish tank with caution. Not to appear too interested, of course. Blue's head immediately grew to three times its normal size. He looked like a cobra holding it's breath.
My first thought?
'Oh no, he broke the fish...'
Then as Papa retreated, Blue's head shrunk back down as he circled the bowl a few times and came over to my side of the bowl.
'Awww...he's protecting his Mama! How cute is that?'
'Yeah...very cute,' as he put away his lunch box. (Goose, not Blue)
Once we realized Blue did this every time Goose pressed his face up to the glass, he was ecstatic!
'He knows it's ME!'
This turned into beelines to the fishbowl every time he came home from work.
'Hey Buddy...how's it goin'?'
'Buddy Blue...BluesBrother....Blue Light'
That turned into...'He needs more room.'
Blue was moved into my trifle dish and Papa added a 'cave' for him to swim through. Otherwise known as my terra cotta garlic holder. Broken, of course, to 'add authenticity'. He spent the first few hours just peering at me from inside the garlic holder. I felt bad at first, but then I realized that if I were that small and I was suddenly put into an entirely new environment...and I was born (or hatched) with an instinct to expect predators around every dark alley - I mean corner! I would probably be a bit hesitant at first as well.
He eventually came out and was curious as to what I was doing. I called him everything from 'Baby Blue' to 'Blue's Clues'. He got so excited every time one of us came up to his 'window'.
It didn't take long to realize that once summer faded, so did Blue's energy. So Papa Goose came home with a new heater for Blue's trifle dish.
Well, obviously the heater was too big for a trifle dish. *sigh* They simply don't make good heaters for trifle dishes anymore. Plus it sat on the dining room table and became increasingly awkward to properly enjoy a salmon dinner.
Papa went online and used our RBC points to order Blue another new home.
A 15 gallon upright aquarium with a hood, light and an Aqueon 20 Quiet Filter. If I thought it took a long time for Blue to feel comfortable in the trifle dish, I was in for a surprise. It was literally weeks before he ventured to the middle section of this aquarium. I mean, obviously it was the home that bettas dream of when they are cramped into the tight quarters of their red solo cup nightmare. But he had no idea what....or who? was hiding in the dark corners of this new world. Every time he ventured a bit further we cheered and celebrated for him.
When he came to the surface for Papa Goose to feed him, it became a ritual that Papa would pet him first. Right on the top of Blue's back. And he liked it! I never got that brave. Since if on occasion we did not come to feed him when he thought he should be fed he would bolt violently out of the water, spearing the pebble like marshmallow on a stick.
Nope, that's okay..I will refrain from the 'petting'...thank you very much.
I've seen pirahnas...on TV.
Once he was cautiously swimming out in front of the filter and it grabbed him and threw him forward. He sat still and shook his head at first. Then he caught in it again and seemed more prepared for it. Turns out our wee little Blue was quite the thrill seeker. He would hover on the outskirts of the waterfall and then jump in with big gust of....underwater....splash? (that's the best I can do) This became a daily thing for him. Whenever he was bored. He even tried to convince the snails to try. But they ignored him, as snails usually do.
When we finally couldn't find him one night, we panicked.
Had he been sucked up into the filter? Burned himself beyond recognition on the heater? Hit his head on the tunnel coming out of the water-slide?
It was a horrible three minutes.
Then his blue nose poked out of the belly of the pirate ship. We were SO excited! You would think we built that ship ourselves and hatched Blue from a wee egg long ago.
He was our baby.
But we still ate fish. And he still watched us... warily, nose pressed up against the side of the tank. Mentally shaking his head in disapproval.
YoungManWithoutAHeart had told us we should consider ourselves lucky if 'it' lived a year.
For the next three and a half years we lived with this little bundle of attitude and personality. He loved his Papa Goose. And Papa Goose loved him. Any time we couldn't find him, we would turn on his light and he reluctantly would come out from inside his pirate ship. That was his refuge. His 'man cave'.
One day about a month ago, we came home from town to find Blue lying on the bottom of the tank. My heart jumped into my throat and I dropped my bags. I touched the side of the tank and peered closer to see him. When he saw me he catapulted to the glass where I was. He was happy to see me. He even ate a tiny bit. But then went back down to rest.
On the second day, when he was still in the same condition we moved him to a smaller tank. His old trifle dish. He spun around in circles, lapping the perimeter...seemingly agitated. I did not see his spurt of energy as a good sign. Blue kept coming up to the surface gulping huge amounts of air.
When Goose said, 'He's drowning...', I broke down. We cried and held each other, stroking the tank and telling Blue how much we love him.
What could we do?
I had flushed fish before. But that was different. They were dead. They weren't 'mine'. They were one of many in a community of fish. I was younger. And I was not attached.
This was my Baby Blue. The reality that we could do nothing for him was heartbreaking. I felt like I could not breathe.
The next 24 hours were spent on the dreadful Death Watch. Every time we came over, we expected him to be gone. But Blue, being Blue...would drag himself up and come over just to see us. And I would cry all over again.
He spend most of his last day laid out on the top deck of his pirate ship.
When we came over to him...and he didn't get up to greet us, that was when we knew. At this point I was completely exhausted and cried out. I had no more. I collapsed on the couch and let sleep take over.
Later, I'm not sure how much....Goose tapped on my toes to wake me. I opened my eyes.
'Come with me', he was holding a small wooden box. He constructed it while I slept.
Blue's name was painted on top of the box. In blue paint.
God, I love this man.
All the emotions came flooding back, tears threatened. But I was too tired...and much too grateful to cry. I followed him around the shed to the big tree by the entrance of my greenhouse. There was a fresh hole dug. A very small grave. He placed the box gently into the ground and began to cover it while we talked about our favorite memories of Blue. We built him a proper Scottish cairn and he had a little wooden cross, courtesy of Papa Goose.
He was the best little fish that he never wanted.