From the first time I laid eyes on him, situated between the grasshoppers and the fake plants in Petco, I knew that Sparky was a very different kind of fish. It was June of 2006 and my first full summer with my parents in Washington. I had a job and zero friends due to the whole moving right after high school graduation thing. After a particularly pathetic day, I grabbed the car keys and told Mom that I'd be back in a few minutes. Alright, if I don't have any human friends, I thought as I drove to the town center, I'll buy an animal one. Pets make you live longer, right? I parked the car in between Michael's and Petco, avoided the dogs jumping on their owners to get to that new toy they knew was just purchased, and made my way to the fish aisle. A tower of beta fish stood before me, sequestered in their little jars, looking a bit more like a science experiment than a friendly pet. I moved closer to investigate one.
I looked at it.
It looked at me.
It dropped down to the bottom of its container. Too boring. My fish has to have some chutzpah.
I took a step to my left to see the next candidate. No sooner had I set eyes on it than it began to convulse in a fishy little seizure. Too exciting. My fish also shouldn't beat itself to death on its own tank walls.
Making my way across the tower of fish, now looking more like the Tower of Babel, I worried that my strike outs on the human friend front would extend to the animal world.
And then I saw Sparky. Whereas other fish had stared lazily or freaked out entirely at my presence, he swam over in a fishy sort of excitement, curious to see who this new visitor was. "Why, hello!" he seemed to say, "Are you going to take me home today?" At last! I had found the perfect beta! I picked him up and headed to the next aisle to procure some colored pebbles for his new tank, which may or may not be an old vase that my mom had lying around.
I roll-stepped my way over to the counter, my new friend carefully between my hands and the bag of pebbles squished between my elbow and my ribs. After I had made my purchase, ignoring the fact that I was actually paying for a companion, I walked Sparky out to the car, nestled him in the center console next to my water bottle, and drove home with the sensitivity of a new parent--every other car was a potential threat, every stop sign an occasion for the most gentle stop of my life, every pothole something to be avoided at all costs.
Soon we were an inseparable owner-pet pair. We were a regular Bonny and Clyde--he'd pick up the pebbles at the bottom of his tank and throw them against the side right when I was falling asleep at night for some extra attention, waking me up with a little tink! tink! and get so excited at the sight of his fish food that I had to sneak up behind him with it so he wouldn't be so excited at the thought of eating that he'd actually forget to nourish himself. After a few months, I bought Sparky a plant for his tank in celebration of him not dying (a feat for my previous fish). He was wary of it for days, until one afternoon he backed his tail to the edge of the tank, took what looked to me like a giant breath of anticipation, and shot through the middle of the plant with all the fishy courage he could muster. When he made it through and hit the other side of the tank, he backed up, shook his head as if to say, "I made it through? I MADE IT THROUGH!!!!" and swam lazily among the stems and fronds. Now he hides in it when he knows I'm trying to change the water.
Oh yes, it's been a great history Sparky and I have had. We've been inseparable, even taking road trips from Washington to New Hampshire to Chicago. But last week when I noticed he was sleeping a lot more than usual and had a funny looking white film hanging out of his mouth, I knew something was wrong. Sparky had taken ill. My life turned from casually ignoring him to watching his every move, making sure he didn't succumb to death by Mysterious White Film. It was Sparky Watch 2009.