Life List: Successfully own a large fish tank (fresh and saltwater).

Growing up, I almost always had a fish tank. Well, rather, my mother always had a fish tank. It would be in my room, and I’d be the one who picked out and named the fish, but my mom would end up being the one to take care it; spending her Saturdays vacuuming it out with the tank siphon, getting stinky fish water all over herself and cursing her lazy daughter and her stupid fish.

I’ve also owned several fish tanks over the years as an adult.  And they’ve all had something in common.

The fish hated me, they stank and then they died.

Let’s start with Calliope.  Calliope was a betta that I bought while living with my friend Stacey on my internship in Arizona.  Arizona was filled with lots of firsts: our first time living out of state without our parents, our first time we’d ever bought liquor in tiny bottles in grocery stores and pharmacies, our first time in discovering the wonder that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And with this new-found freedom came the realization that I could actually own a pet on my own. So, giddy with the knowledge of my entrance into adulthood, I went to Wal-mart and promptly bought a betta in a clear glass cup, along with all the assorted accoutrements that is required for fish ownership. The tricky part was getting Calliope, named for the muse of epic poetry, home.  (YES, I know the pretty bettas are all males, piss off.) I ended up sticking her in the cup holder, bolstered with wads of tissue to make it fit without spilling over. At home, I was able to set up a nice little contained tank, complete with low-flow filter and a dome light to help heat the water. I was a responsible pet owner.

Calliope lived a lovely and healthy week until I noticed that she was swimming oddly and acting weirdly.  Thinking she had ick, the only fish disease I could think of but had no idea what it meant, I diligently searched the internet for hours trying to find the cause of my poor fishy’s illness.  I eventually came to the conclusion that she had dropsy, a bacterial disease that swells the abdomen, and promptly put her in a bowl so I could thoroughly scrub her tank and then buy the appropriate antibiotics at the store the next day.

Tragically, I found Calliope lying upside at the bottom of the bowl the next day.  I gently shook the bowl to see if she was just sleeping. (HUSH, I KNOW.)  Her partially curled body rose to the top and from her belly came a large air bubble that rose to the top of the water and popped with an audible “bloop.”

I was horrified.  And grossed out.

What was most horrifying was recounting this story the next day to my boss and Stacey, who had been gone during the time of crisis and had missed the whole episode.

Something you should know about Stacey is that she has an uncontrollable urge to laugh at inappropriate things. Oh, she laughs normally at the usual comedic fare, but if she is watching TV in the other room and you suddenly hear a loud and sharp cackle, that means that someone  has probably just ripped the arms off of a tiny helpless baby.

She’s terrible.

While I was recounting my tale of fish woe the next day, she was able to keep a straight face until I got to the word “ick.”  From there, it was a struggle of epic proportion until when I finally reached the part where Calliope’s bloated belly released a bloop bubble, and she just lost it.  I think she might have literally slid out of the arm-chair she was sitting in while laughing even harder every time I exclaimed, “STACEY! It’s not FUNNY….”

Told you she was terrible.

From there I was gun-shy about fish until I’d graduated college and got another betta.  I did a small poll on Livejournal and let my friends pick the name.


Stacey is not my only terrible friend.

Bait lived for a while, but eventually gave up the ghost after a move.  (But not after months of being generally pissed off at the world, trying to commit suicide every time I cleaned his tank and having an eating disorder in which he refused to eat and then would gobble food angrily and then spit it our repeatedly.)

After Bait came Miles, named after Miles Davis because he was kind of blue. (HA! I’m funny.) Miles also prompted me to get another tank in which I had two guppies, Fishy Fish Fish and Sgt. Neko Case.

There were more, but Fishy Fishy Fish eventually killed them all.  Including one that I didn’t discover until one particularly horrible day in which I was in a lot of pain after a procedure and my mother and friend J. were trying to cheer me up.  It was working until I said something about feeding the fish and J. looked at the tank and said, “Um, how many fish?” Let’s just say that when recovering from an endoscopy, the sight of yet another dead fish, this one hiding behind the filter and covered in white fur of some kind, can send you into a massive crying fit.  One in which your mother and friend J. try not to giggle at.

Everyone I know is a terrible person.

I eventually gave away my last tank of fish to my mother because Jethro hated them and they smelled.  Which is true.  I kind of hated them too after a while.

My mom doesn’t want you to know this, but she eventually killed the fish I gave her.  One of them even died on the ride home and then she had the nerve to get a filet o’ fish at McDonald’s afterward.


So why is this on my Life List?  Because I do eventually want to be a responsible fish owner. I love the peaceful nature of a well-kept fish tank and watching the fish lazily swim around and just be fish.  Even the hum of the filter can be calming and peaceful.   Unless it’s one of those waterfall ones.  Those just make me have to pee.

I also have always wanted to own a saltwater tank. But considering I have trouble with a 5 gallon freshwater one, I’ll start small.

And not let any of those terrible people near me and my beautiful fishes.

How about you, lovelies?  How do you feel about fish tanks?  (I know at least one of you is scared of them and I still find that meanly hilarious.) Any other pet aspirations out there?

Photo credits: Guppy, Betta

11 comments on “Life List: Successfully own a large fish tank (fresh and saltwater).

  1. irisira
    March 7, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    When I was 4, my mother got me three goldfish, so I could learn how to be a “responsible pet owner.” You know, the basics – feeding the fish. She got them with a large fishbowl, and we got fish food and everything.

    One day, I came home from preschool and decided I wanted to play with my fish. I brought the fist over to the coffee table, and, one by one, I took them out of the fishbowl. I was fascinated about how they were dancing. Then, I plopped them back in, and watched them swim around in circles. I took this to mean they liked this game, and I stepped it up a notch. There was this ugly white milk-glass bowl on the coffee table. I cleared it out and poured the contents of the fishbowl in there. Ahah! Better for grabbing little goldfish with!

    I remember Tory, the springer spaniel, coming over to check out what exactly it was I was doing.

    Then, my mother came home. Please note, I wasn’t home alone – we lived with my grandparents. However, God only knows where my grandmother was … probably off in another room watching soap operas or Oprah or something. Anyway, so my mother comes into the room and sees me with my dancing fish game, and runs over to me in horror.

    “WHAT are you DOING?”
    “I’m playing with my fish,” I said. I was a bit confused, though I was thinking she was probably upset that I poured the fishbowl water into the milk glass. YUP, that had to be it. But I hadn’t spilled any water! Or, at least, not a lot! It wasn’t like I made a big mess or anything!
    “You can’t play with them, honey. You’re going to kill them. They can’t breathe without water.”

    I plopped them back in the milk glass and burst into tears. KILL them??? I didn’t want to KILL them, I just wanted to play!

    Less than 24 hours later, the smallest fish died. A few days after that, another one died. The third one actually lived for some time after that, but I really couldn’t tell you how long, because at 4 you don’t have a very good concept of time.

  2. ddayporter
    March 7, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    I have a long history of killing fish. one of the stories I can’t even tell you (too traumatic) but it was an awful lot like Allie Brosh’s fish story (tell me you’ve seen that one omg), pretty sure your friend Stacey would laugh really hard at it. So I never ever want to own fish again, not looking forward to future children wanting their first pet. Those waterfall tanks make me have to pee also! But I enjoy seeing them in other peoples homes, as long as they never ask me to fish sit for them.

    I used to reallyyyyy want to own a bird, specifically a macaw. When i was like 13 my mom let me get a dove – not the same. A dove is basically a pretty pigeon, let’s be real. It drove me insane, and cured me of my desire to own any bird ever again.

    My only pet aspiration, now that I have fulfilled my general “own a dog,” would be to own a gigantic dog. I have always loved mastiffs. I don’t know if you follow Hart + Sol/Maddie on twitter but the pictures of her dog just killl meeeee. Anyway when I’m rich and famous and live in something bigger than a 1-bedroom apartment, I hope to have a gigantic dog, that will hopefully not eat Brady.

    • kindofamess
      March 7, 2011 at 9:48 am #

      Awww. Poor Rachel. (And I totally just linked to that story for irisira above…)

      My dad promised me love birds when I was little and we lived in Hawaii. I’m still waiting…and I’m still pissed.

      And I want a Newfoundland more than anything. I know they’re slobbery, but any dog that rescues people and is good with children is the best dog ever.
      Other than Maggie-dog, of course.

      Said Newfie will have to be gotten after we have a house AND Maggie has gone to heaven. She runs from the chihuahua in a skirt that occassionally pees the same time as her, I can’t imagine her around a giant goofy dog like a Newife.

  3. Jo
    March 7, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I’m a horrible person too.

    In college my roommate got a betta named Fiasco because he tried to kill himself all of the time. That fish went through four different owners because the owner would graduate and move away. We eventually learned that we should’ve named him Indestructo. People tried to get him high, poured vodka into his bowl, put him inside of a condom with water for an “inventive-uses-for-condoms” demo, carried him to the top of a mountain in a Nalgene, drove him to CT from MT, kept him in a bowl made of alcoholic jello, etc.

    He’s still alive.

    C really wants fish and I think they’re pretty, but they’re too much work for something that doesn’t cuddle.

  4. Becky
    March 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    I had a couple of bettas in college, though honestly I can’t even remember either of their names right now, which probably makes me a horrible pet owner right there. I remember being so proud of myself for being a responsible pet owner and buying a big tank with a filter, etc. and reading all about betta care on the internet. And then in both cases, they ended up getting sick despite all of my good efforts. I read all about fish diseases online and made multiple trips to PetSmart to buy another medicine for whatever I was convinced was the illness of the day. (I was living on campus and didn’t have a car, so the trip to the pet store required an hour on a bus each way!) And one of the damn fish was so picky that of the flake food I gave him (he wouldn’t eat pellets, which I think were the recommendation for bettas), he would only eat the RED flakes and then let the rest fall to the bottom of the tank. Oh well, if nothing else, the insanity of both the fish and me provided some comic relief for my roommates!

  5. Meg Mooney
    March 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    I’m not ashamed of my fear. They’re gross and spiny. And some day they’ll come after all of us.

  6. lizzie
    March 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    oh man…i have never been into fish….they’re a little creepy. i think they’re beautiful, don’t get me wrong…but it’s kind of like looking at a squirrel…and thinking “awww! they’re so cute!” and then it scurries toward you and you’re all, “KILL IT!” immediately? Yeah….fish are like that for me.

  7. Caitlin
    March 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    I had a relatively constant stream of goldfish/guppies as a kid. (Such a stream, in fact, that when– several years later– my sister’s bird died, I wondered why my dad didn’t just flush it down the toilet, as was the fate of all the poor fish.) Did you ever have those ones that were neon? Those were my faves– lucky for my parents, since they cost about a dollar for ten.

    Here’s my best fish story: It was Christmas. I was four. We got this amazing fish tank shaped like a globe (with continents and everything) that lit up from the bottom and had those fake pink rocks and plants in it, and two goldfish– one for each of us. We actually woke up to it set up in our bedroom, and it pretty much blew my little four-year-old mind. So, later that day when we were about to get in the car for our 3 hour drive to visit grandparents, my mom says “you can each pick out one present to bring with and show to gram”… And then she turns around to find me navigating the stairs with the entire fish tank in my little toddler arms. Needless to say, I was NOT allowed to bring the fish tank on the road trip. But I also didn’t spill.

  8. Trisha
    March 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I used to like fish tanks until high school. Now I kind of hate them. At least the idea of owning one anyway. We’ll chalk it up to trauma induced by creative punishment which involved sorting fish gravel.

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