Journal entry: February 26, 1982 (age 12): Beware the Aquarium of Doom
“What makes one animal a pet, and another one food?” I wondered this afternoon as I sat in the St. Patrick’s Middle School cafeteria. For me, it is knowing and loving my cat, Ruby, my dog, Amber, and the tropical fish in my aquarium that makes the difference. “But I suppose there really is no difference, except that we name our pets,” I thought. I quickly set down my Lenten fish stick sandwich, suddenly repulsed by the notion that it might have one day been known as “Trish-Fish,” or “Tod the Cod.”
The well-being of fish has been a sore spot for me lately. For several years, I have kept a 10-gallon freshwater aquarium in my bedroom. I loved the first trips I made with my mom to the J&J Tropical Fish store in Johnson City. It was so exciting to pick out the mollies, platies, guppies, and tetras, and then to ride home with them arranged on the car seat next to me in small, water-filled plastic bags. The best moment of all took place up in my room, when I cut open the bags, and released the beautiful little creatures into their new aquatic home.
Since then, however, calamities and plagues of almost biblical proportions have decimated successive populations of my tropical fish. Diseases with trite and silly names like “ick” and “dropsy” ravaged many of them. Others were done in by their tankmates. I learned that some of the most beautiful fish, like the graceful, flowy angelfish, could, with no provocation, turn into mean, fin-nipping punks. Despite my entreaties from the gaseous side of the glass – “Raphael, you leave Peanut alone!” – the violence continued.
The worst incidents were, to my horror, of my own doing. A few nights after I brought home my first group of fish, I looked at the multi-colored thermometer stuck to the front of the tank and noticed that the water temperature had dropped a bit. Hating to think of my little friends being cold while I snuggled into my warm bed, I turned the dial up on the tank’s water heater before turning out the lights and falling asleep. In the morning, I awoke to the horrible sound of bubbling water. Another 10 gallons poured out of my eyes in short order.
On another occasion, Mom took me to the fish store to buy medicine that would treat the latest contagion in the tank. A few days later, I opened the lid of the tank to put in the prescribed three drops of bluish liquid. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the cap had been loosened, and the entire container dumped into the tank. Realizing that I was responsible for what could be the first documented case of a fish medicine overdose, I completely freaked out. Mom spent a good hour wiping my nose and telling me that I was not a monster.
I’m thinking of switching to a rock garden. Erosion is easier to take.