Traditionally, a fish story entails an adventure with the teller at one end of a fishing line and a fish at the other, where the fish grows with the telling or some other outlandish factor comes into play. While I have told one of those, this isn’t that sort of story.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve nearly always had some sort of critter or critters to keep me company. Early on, it was parakeets. Later, after I acquired a house, it was cats, and as a reminder of my interest in the undersea world, a saltwater aquarium.
Some of that was to help ease loneliness. For the first half of my adulthood friends and family had pretty much given up on me as a confirmed bachelor. There were no steady girlfriends, and coming home would have been to an empty house or apartment were it not for these critters. They were my company, and I was theirs.
Time moves on. The parakeets followed me to the house and it was the whole kit and caboodle for a while – birds, cats, fish, and corals. But I’d tired of the mess that parakeets make, and the cats were more affectionate. When the birds went to the big nest in the sky, I didn’t replace them. An era had ended.
Time moves on. I finally found that special lady who came to be my wife. A new era began, and abating loneliness was no longer a primary reason to have critters about. But they were still nice to have around – perhaps they were our substitution for children. As we hooked up later in life we opted not to raise little human critters, although on occasion we wonder how such darlings would have turned out.
Time moves on. Age caught up with the cats. After the second one died we backed away from getting more, losing the ones we had was too painful for a while. Then, we couldn’t agree on one or two. As retirement approached we compromised on none, we wanted to travel and it would be easier to not have to find cat sitters. An era had ended – I now get my cat fix volunteering at the Humane Society.
Life is full of eras. Childhood, jobs, children, pets, family. An uncle recently passed – he was the last of my mothers family. I’d always associated him with a resort my grandfather built, and with airplanes. He liked to give rides to the nieces and nephews; although I didn’t know him well that small favor led to me acquiring a pilots license in the late 80’s. Odd how planting a small seed can grow in unexpected places.
The resort was a base for my mothers family and was the source for many a family gathering. It, along with that family aged and deteriorated, with the passing of my uncle another era has ended.
That leaves me with the fish story.
When folks think of running a saltwater tank, they think about the maintenance and expense, and there’s truth to that. What they might not consider is longevity – saltwater fish and coral can live for a long time. I’ve been running my tank for over 25 years, and I’ve had the two fish I have now for over 15.
You wouldn’t think fish would have personalities or you could get attached to them. “Cold fish” is not considered a compliment; rather, it’s an indication of a cold, unfeeling, indifferent attitude. I can’t use that to describe my critters.
The Maroon Clownfish is an ornery, territorial bugger. Sticking my hand in the tank to clean the glass can be an adventure when I get near his lair. While he doesn’t have much in the name of teeth, I’ve still ended up with crescent-shaped marks on my hand, and we take turns showing who’s the boss. Still, when it comes to feeding time, I’m his best buddy as he awaits, hovering near the surface, an eyeball or two peeking above.
The Powder Brown Tang is the expressive one. A nonchalant patrol for the day to day, zooming around and stopping on a dime when excited, coming by for a visit when we stick our noses close to the glass, nipping almost as if he’s trying to talk to us. He can even change his colors: from a middle gray body, shifting to yellow towards the tail, when he’s excited the greys and yellows deepen and become more distinct. This is the guy that zooms around when we come in the door, welcoming us home.
The corals were quite the battle in the early years. Finicky creatures, sensitive to water and lighting quality, I went through several varieties. Over the long run I surrendered, a particular variety that thrived took over the tank, accompanied by a species of anemone best described as a pest. A lessening enthusiasm for the maintenance contributed to this state.
And there’s one other problem: finding tank sitters when we want to travel. This has been an ongoing challenge, and one that I’ve opted to take the ultimate solution – I just gave the tank and its contents to an aquarium shop, with the proviso they at least attempt to sell the fish together. So endeth another era.
Eras come and eras go. Intellectually I know this, and the fact that when one era ends others often take their place – old seeds grow new interests. This is how growth happens, and it could be argued that this is the meaning of life.
But this does not change the fact that when we look at the open space where the tank spent all those years, knowing the last critter has left the house, we see the nest is empty and we are sad.