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Nov 21 2013

We Just Said Kaddish For a Fish

By at 10:42 am

Fish (2) copy

You have to understand, this was no ordinary goldfish. My then 5-year-old son brought it home from his school’s Japan Day celebration. For the first week, I refused to feed the fish or take it out of its tiny container. I figured it was going to die any minute now, why bother?

The fish did not die. After a week, we bought it some fish food. After a month, we bought it a fish tank. After a year, we accepted it as a member of the family.

A few days ago, my now 14-year-old son discovered the fish lying on its side at the bottom of the tank, flopping listlessly. Its gills were still moving, it was clearly still alive. But, it was not well. We tried poking it with the aquarium net, hoping that maybe he’d just gotten caught in something. At that, he would right himself, swim energetically for a few moments, raise our hopes…then flop over again.

“The fish is dying,” I said to my husband. “We should just flush and get it over with.”

“No,” my husband said. “We shouldn’t be the ones to decide this.”

He told our son he’d have to be the one to decide this. It was his pet, after all. At which point my son burst into tears.

My husband then instructed our son to talk to the fish to see if that would help him settle on what to do.

I stepped out of the room in order to give them their privacy, but from what I did manage to overhear in bits and snatches, was an absolutely heartbreaking monologue, wherein my son tearfully recounted how he’d first met the fish, what a good fish he was, and how, whenever my son got stressed or upset, he could come and watch the fish swim and it would help clear his head. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 6 2012

Yahrzeit for a Dog

By at 6:13 am

yahrzeit for a dogIn Judaism, the anniversary of a person’s death is called their yahrzeit. On that day, the mourner lights a candle, says the mourner’s kaddish, and reflects on the meaning that the deceased person had in the mourner’s life.

These rituals are, generally, not done for a dog.

If they were, though, Captain’s yahrzeit would be sometime in the beginning of August. He died two years ago under somewhat sketchy circumstances. First things first: Captain wasn’t even my dog. And truth be told, there were plenty of moments when I really didn’t like him. But the fact of the matter is that Captain actually changed the course of my life. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 16 2011

Mourning the Pet Goldfish

By at 2:33 pm

Golder: In Memoriam

There are many ways to kill a pet fish, and Adam Gopnik killed ours from the pages of the New Yorker. With callous disregard to the feelings of Golder the goldfish (who was “golder” than her two friends, GottaGo and Elephant), Gopnik talked about his 10-year old daughter and how he had tried to “fob her off with fish.” We were away at the time, but our subscription obviously arrived and broke Golder’s little fobbed heart. She was dead when our neighbor arrived with the next day’s food.

Like all pets, fish mean what we project onto them. As a graduate student, my pet hedgehog was accused of being lonely, sleepy, or hungry depending on which of the roomies was tending her at any given moment. In the Costume Shop at the Williamstown Summer Theatre Festival one summer, the best gauge of the mental state of anyone entering the room was what they said to the goldfish bowl at the door. Quite obviously it wasn’t the goldfish who was feeling “sexy,” “tired,” “paranoid,” or “hungover,” but that didn’t stop actors, directors, and designers laying themselves bare by noting those moods in the fish.

But, however displaced, those projected feelings are real. When we got back from holiday, my older daughter was upset at the loss of her fish. As she observed, Golder had always been a good friend to the other two fish. She’d always swum in the middle of the aquarium and she’d never fought for the sinking tablet food. It wouldn’t be the same without her. A picture was drawn, in memoriam. Taking her cue, her younger sister repeated the sentiments with more bombast and tears. Once having worked out these feelings, though, the girls were able to move on from their initial mourning stage and replace Golder with Golder II, aka Goldie.

Concern about how easily Goldie would fit in with the others faded as she proved as easygoing as her predecessor. We marked the day of replacement so we could remember Goldie’s birthday. All seemed to be going well, but a chill shivered down my warm late summer spine as I projected my own fears onto the fish. One day my girls might return home to find me too all fobbed out, only this time it probably wouldn’t be Gopnik’s fault. In that case, would they be able to replace me with Dad II, aka Daddy?

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