After a very long and attitude-filled life, my fish, Sparky Fishnik Lambert Cheshire, died yesterday. He was three and a half.
Well, we assume it was yesterday. It could have been sometime Wednesday night. All I do know was that I tried to feed Sparky on Wednesday--a task becoming more and more impossible due to the fact that, by all indications, he was quickly becoming blind and therefore couldn't find his food no matter what I did--and then placed his glass tank on top of the washing machine so he would stay warm. (He was, after all, a tropical fish, and therefore did not jive with his new Alaskan climate.) Yesterday, when Kip opened the door to the laundry room, he came out and stared at me.
"What?" I asked.
"I think Sparky met his Maker," he replied.
I stared at him.
He stared at me.
Tillamook whined in protest that he wasn't being petted.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, he's just kind of floating around the bottom, not moving."
"Well, he always does that, he sleeps down there. Go poke him or something."
Ting, ting, Kip tapped on the glass. "Uh, not like this," he glanced toward the washing machine, "Do you want to see the body or do you just want me to get rid of him?"
I looked at the ground, trying not to: a) get upset, b) feel ridiculous for getting upset over the loss of an invertebrate, and c) get upset for feeling ridiculous for getting upset over the loss of an invertebrate. "Well, can you put him in a Tupperware container or something and we can put him in the Channel?" I said quietly.
And that is how Sparky got a full burial at sea.
To some, this would seem absolutely ridiculous. But, as anyone who's been reading this blog for awhile knows, Sparky was no ordinary fish. I bought him the summer after my freshman year of college while I stayed at my parents' new house in Maryland and didn't have any friends since we had lived in New Hampshire for the past seven years and all my friends were therefore there. No friends? I thought at the time, No problem! I'll buy one! So I went to the pet store and bought a companion. And quite the companion he was--Sparky had an attitude! When he was feeling neglected, he would pick up the pebbles at the bottom of his tank and spit them on the side, making little ping! ping! noises until I came to make sure he wouldn't accidentally break his habitat. He jumped out of his tank to get his food when he saw it coming, and I have literally seen him throw a bad look at a TSA officer who frisked him when I took him on the plane with me from Chicago to Alaska. He was better travelled than a majority of the human population, having visited or lived in Maryland, New Hampshire, Chicago, Seattle, and Alaska, where we laid him to rest in the rapidly advancing tides of the Gastineau Channel.
After walking about a half a mile to the water since the tide was out, Kip and I placed Sparky's Tupperware coffin on the sand and each said a few words. "Although I didn't know him for as long as you, I knew he was a good fish," said Kip. I nodded meaningfully. "He was always willing to lend a pebble to a friend in need...." I tried to stifle a giggle by making it sound like a sniffle, for Sparky's sake, "...and his heart was too big for his tank." Kip finished his brief eulogy and looked at me, to which I responded by reading the liturgy for burial at sea while Kip opened the container and commended Sparky to the depths. We both tried (unsuccessfully) not to snicker as we realized that the tide had advanced roughly a foot during our little funeral, thereby soaking our shoes. And trapping our funeral procession. Instantly regretting my choice of wearing clogs, I jumped back toward (semi-) dry land, and we made our way back to the car.
"You know," said Kip as we walked on the beach, "we should have put his body on a little plank and floated it out into the water before lighting it on fire."
"Like the Vikings!" I replied, "And it could have been a cedar plank, since he was a fish!" I snickered, feeling just a little sheepish for having performed such a meaningful service for a fish. But I also felt better having taken a moment to acknowledge the life of a being who survived with me through two boyfriends, five roommates, three years of college, a pastoral internship, two road trips, and about two-thirds of the container of Beta Bites I bought along with him (Really, do they need to make the bottles so big? The fish only eat four a day!!!). I held Kip's hand as we drove home to our one surviving pet, whom I lectured about the benefits of living for at least the next decade. And somewhere in the vast sea of eternity, Sparky is throwing pebbles to get attention.