“Let’s get her a fish,” he said. “How hard can it be?” he said.
Famous last words. Why do I hear Cher’s voice in my head? “If I could turn back ti-ime…”
In all fairness, I can’t fully blame my husband for our latest catastrophe. I should start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
My sweet nine year old is obsessed with animals. Obsessed. Her favorite question, second only to, “How many days until my birthday?” has always been, “Can we get a pet? Please? Can we? Can we?” My answer has forever been a firm, “Heck, no” because I refuse to take responsibility for any more living things. Thank goodness our landlord has a no dogs or cats policy, but SK would still constantly remind us of all the other pet possibilities:
“Mice?” Ew. No.
“Guinea pigs?” Don’t you remember how we somehow killed two of those already? (RIP, Patches and Gracie.) No.
“Fish? HOW ‘BOUT A FISH?! A fish is so easy! All you do is feed it! No clean up, no noise, no mess—CAN I PLEASE HAVE A FIIIIIIISH?” She began a “Buy me a fish” campaign, complete with visual aids:
I stood my ground with an “Absolutely not,” but my
softie kindhearted husband started to waver.
(Brian) “I think we should get SK a fish.”
(Brian) “I’m going to get her a fish.”
(Me) “That’s a bad idea.”
(Brian) “I think we should, because I want to see my little girl smile. Besides, how hard can it be?”
(He actually said that last statement to a friend who had fish for years. She nodded politely and smiled knowingly, like you would smile at a toddler who says, “I do it myself!” when you know they can’t. “Sure, absolutely. Not hard at all. Mm-hmm.”)
Brian began the fish hunt, searching an online used items site daily. He finally found what he thought was The One.
“Look at this! This lady is a marine ecologist and is moving overseas. She’s selling the tank, the fish, and all the bells and whistles. She knows her stuff, and she says all we have to do is put a few flakes of food and a piece of cucumber in daily—that’s it. Let’s go with her.”
(Me, fingers in my ears.) “I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalala….”
Brian told the lady we’d take the fish and arranged to pick everything up the next morning. But a cruel twist of fate had him instead waking up to an email from this woman saying she had sold the fish to someone else, despite their agreement.
You guys. My husband does not get worked up very often. He is a steady and patient man. But he had been promised fish, and he had been denied. He typed a feisty email to the Fish Traitor and ended it with, “I feel sorry for my little girl, and I feel sorry for the fish.”
BOOM. Mic drop. Insert me in a heap of hysterical laughter. I’m DYING. Such drama! That’s usually my expertise! I’m so proud.
Brian dusted off his wounds and the fish search resumed, resulting in a suitable option. SK woke up on her birthday morning to her new fish, whom the family so lovingly named, “Angel and the Three Investigators.” And smile, she did. She had a pet, she could now stop asking for one, and we could all go on with our lives as Phillips Family of Six Plus Four Low-Maintenance Pets.
All good things must come to an end sometimes, my friends—oftentimes sooner than we’d like.
The first signs of trouble appeared when we introduced a few more friends to the tank—an orange fish, another angel fish, and an algae-sucking fish my son named Danny Ocean.
Let us all now bow our heads for a moment of silence for Danny Ocean. He sucked his last clump of algae approximately four hours after he landed in our tank, and then surrendered to the Great Ocean in the sky.
Sad. Unfortunate. But hey, that’s part of life, and we still have the other six fish! Carry on.
And then, the day we’ll never forget. I’m going to need a minute before I can speak of it.
(Awkward silence. You rubbing my back saying, “It’s okay, get it out. You’ll feel better when you do.” Me biting my lip, resolving to press on through the pain. I summon all my courage, and resume typing.)
Okay. It was a calm morning. I actually forwent my normal intense-ish workout routine for some low-key Pilates. I felt good. Centered. Oh so peaceful. I went upstairs into the kitchen where Joshua was eating breakfast. The fish tank is next to the table. Lucy was playing quietly, Brian was in the shower, the other two were still asleep. Josh and I were chit-chatting about the day—”Do you have band this morning? Have you done your homework? Isn’t it nice when the house is so quiet?”—when all of a sudden BOOM! WHAT WAS THAT? WHO IS SHOOTING AT US?! And then water started rushing out of the fish tank at the speed of an unrestrained fire hydrant.
OH MY GOSH! WHAT THE? WHAT IS GOING ON?! Joshua and I are dumbfounded, then yelling. The fish are flopping like their lives depend on it, because they do.
Now, you need to know something about me in a crisis. Jennifer + Crisis = Calm, but the opposite. I lose my bearings. I forget how to speak actual words. All I can do is run around in circles and pray for rescue in some kind of gibberish language, which is exactly what I did in this situation. I did not grab towels; I did not scoop the fish out of the rushing typhoon. I ran around in circles like a mad woman, then tore down the hall yelling, “BRIAN! BRIANNNNNNN! Come here NOW!”
“I’m in the shower!”
“I DO NOT CARE! GRAB A TOWEL AND GET IN HERE!”
By the time he reaches the kitchen, the tank is completely empty, the fish are gasping and flopping, and our kitchen floor is officially Lake Tankwater.
“SAVE THE FISH, BRIAN! SAVE. THE. FISH!!!!”
(Brian): “The fish are the least of our worries!” (In other words, “We have bigger fish to fry,” pun intended.)
He grabs a net anyway and starts scooping the victims into a waiting bucket. One flops onto the floor, sending me back into my circle-running and nonsense-yelling. I cannot even handle that fish flopping on my kitchen floor.
“GET HIM, BRIAN!!!”
The fish is heroically retrieved and joins his traumatized buddies in the life-bucket.
Andrew, who had been asleep until all the stomping and yelling, runs up the stairs. “Is it a snake? IS THERE A SNAKE IN THE HOUSE?!” A bleary-eyed SK runs out of her room, post-fish-flopping-on-the-floor incident, THANK HEAVENS. She’s distressed by the empty tank, but thankful to see her precious fish safe and sound in their luxurious blue bucket.
Joshua runs downstairs to get some towels and we hear an, “Oh no!!!”
Hold me, friends. Water is pouring into his room which is directly below the kitchen—onto his bed, everywhere. Can we please talk about the status of this water? This is not sparkling fresh water from the faucet. This is not Evian. It is algae-ridden, slimy fish water, and it is everywhere. Please, someone wake me up. Now, not only are we mopping up a lake in our kitchen and contemplating how to keep our daughter’s dressed-like-a-daydream nightmare pets alive, but we are dealing with a potentially flooded basement, water damage to walls, and ruined furniture too.
After two hours of cleaning everything up the best we can, Brian says, “I think Joshua’s room is drying out—check it in an hour to make sure.” We arrange to pick up another tank to save the God-forsaken fish who are trying to ruin our lives, and then Brian announces he is leaving to—wait for it—smoke a pig for a campus event. An entire pig—snout, hooves, and all—that has been chilling out in our spare fridge. Don’t even get me started—I can’t. That’s another blog for another day.
Lucy and I try to go about our business like it’s any other day, even though it is not. In between visiting Joshua’s room every half hour or so to mop up the water that is still dripping, we paint. We read. We jump on the trampoline. Four hours post monsoon, I see that water is now streaming down Josh’s wall. That can’t be good, right? I call Brian, he says there’s not much we can do—just do my best to dry it as it comes. It will be fine. Of course it will be fine.
Two hours later—six hours post-flood—I’m about to put Lucy down for a nap when I hear a sound similar to that of a giant oak tree falling in the forest.
At first, I tried denial. Perhaps it actually was a giant oak tree. Maybe someone accidentally drove into the side of our house. Maybe I just imagined the extremely loud crash, my mind playing tricks on me because of Post Fish Typhoon Trauma. All of these would be better options than what my heart was telling me was true.
“Lucy, wait right here. Mommy will be right back.”
I start down the stairs, feeling like each step is one step closer to my doom. I round the corner. I peer inside my son’s bedroom, needing to look, but not wanting to look. I see this:
Sweet, innocent Reader. The entire ceiling has collapsed. Boom. Done. That’s all she wrote. BECAUSE OF FISH.
I. CAN’T. I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t.
Why God? WHY?!
I need you to know that nine days ago I was a happy person. I was the content, fulfilled, delighted renter of a house with all bedroom ceilings intact. I had no hole in my heart that needed filling by a scaly creature. I was fine, you know?
And then, the fish. Lord help me, the fish. The easy-peasy, all-you-have-to-do-is-throw-a-few-flakes-in, ever-loving, dumb-as-bricks fish who are constantly convinced their reflections are creatures other than themselves. You’ll be happy to know they are alive and well and are loving their new digs, courtesy of some friends who came to the rescue. I think they even like this tank better. Good. Good for them. And my daughter is smiling. Fantastic.
At least someone’s happy.
I tried to comfort my now-evicted son with a, “Hey, at least you still have a roof over your hea—oh wait, no. No you don’t.” And then I comforted myself the only way I possibly could—with Reese’s peanut butter cups. Because chocolate. It worked.
By the way, if you happen to see future social media posts about our fish regrettably and unexpectedly meeting their Maker, I need you to not ask questions, mkay? After all, these things happen every day. Fish tanks explode, flood houses, and collapse ceilings every day, and fish cross over to the Everlasting Reef every day. It’s the circle of life, and it’s fine.
In the meantime, we will all just keep swimming and never, ever buy another pet again. Ever.