It seemed fish would make a good pet for the kids. Fish are low maintenance, always stay in one place, and, as far as I can tell, are generally happy creatures. Not to mention the fact that their food is inexpensive, trips to the vet are not required, and there’s no need to get up in the middle of the night to let them out so they can do their business (my son: “Know what the best thing about being a fish is? You can poop ANYWHERE.”).
So when pet time came, yes. Fish.
I have no idea why my son christened his blue betta fish Henry, other than the fact that he said it looked like a Henry. But that’s another story for another time. What I want to talk about is Rainbow, my daughter’s fish.
Purple and flowery and somewhat aloof, Rainbow has spent her days fluttering around in her fishbowl and napping behind two tiny ceramic columns perched in the corner of the gravel. Rainbow doesn’t do much other than that, though that hasn’t stopped my daughter from being endlessly fascinated. It’s the way her fish glides through the water, she told me. The way her fins and tail splay out and wave. The way she will dive deep and rub herself against the gravel and then ease her way upward to scan for food on the surface. It’s all so pretty, she told me.
And I suppose it was, in a way. But in another way I also knew it wasn’t. I wouldn’t say I’ve been around a lot of fish in my life, but I’ve been around enough to know when one is nice and healthy and when one is…well, not so much.
Looking back, I probably should have broached that touchy subject. I didn’t. It’s a mark on my Daddy scorecard to be sure, but honestly I simply put Rainbow out of my mind. Really, how often do you think about a fish?
Rainbow died two days ago.
Worse, my daughter was first on the scene.
The preliminary (and very amateurish) investigation concluded that the cause of death could have come from either of two possibilities. The icky gooey white stuff oozing from Rainbow’s stomach suggested that whatever bomb was ticking inside of her finally went off. And a particularly cold and blustery March night had left my daughter’s room downright cold to the point that Rainbow’s water was a cool 58 degrees.
None of that mattered, of course. What mattered was that this fish, my daughter’s pet and the object of her fascination, was dead.
It was something my daughter had thankfully never had to face until then. All of her grandparents and aunts and uncles are still alive. All of her friends and acquaintances. All still here, still living and napping and floating in our own fishbowl world. She’d never had ponder the imponderable that is death.
My daughter did what we all do when faced with that bitterness—she cried, then she picked herself up and went on with the business of giving Rainbow a proper farewell. There was a private ceremony in the bathroom where she talked about how fish went to heaven just like people did, and how there wasn’t a beginning and an end to life but simply a beginning and then another beginning after. She thanked Rainbow for being her pet and God for sending Rainbow to her. There was a moment of silence that was followed by a long, somber flush.
My daughter’s better now. The spot where Rainbow’s bowl once stood is bare and will likely be so for a long while. Sometimes I’ll spot her staring at that emptiness, remembering. That’s okay. I think we all give such stares at the emptiness our loved ones leave behind in their passing. But she’ll pull through. She must. Life is ever forward.
This morning I found taped above the toilet that became Rainbow’s final resting place a small paper tombstone. Written on it in a little girl’s cursive scrawl were these words:
“Rest in peace, Rainbow the betta fish. May you float in water that’s the perfect temperature.”
And so may we all.