My friends will tell you that I suffer from a severe case of fear of missing out, or FOMO. Last week, as my friends fell victim to the Vassar Plague, I begged them to cough on me, spit on me, inoculate me with their bacteria, anything to get me sick, because I resented the idea of my friends going through a common experience without me. Since three of my friends have a pet dog, cat and rabbit, and I had nothing, it only seemed right to get a fish in order to complete the pet food chain. My friends warned me against getting a pet and declared that I wasn’t “responsible” enough to begin a life as a fish owner. As someone who takes joy in proving people wrong, I did the appropriate research in order to acquiesce to my friends and make a “responsible” decision. However, I must admit, when I first got my pet fish, Oscar, I didn’t think he would be anything more than another one of my whimsical indulgences. He would merely exist as an amusing decoration in my room. I wasn’t expecting Oscar to dominate my life. Before you make any “The Shape of Water” jokes, let me stop you. There is nothing fishy about my relationship with Oscar. My feelings toward him can only be described as motherly. Something about his swishy tail and beady eyes has unleashed maternal instincts that I didn’t know I had, and boy, are they strong.
In order to be the best mother I could be, I asked my friends to submit their favorite poems so that I could read one to him every night before bed. It’s a tradition we’ve both come to love—I can practically see his ear holes open up in anticipation of hearing the words of Sylvia Plath, or whichever poet we are reading. The poems encompass a wide range of themes, including diaspora, colonization and queer identity, which are important topics for any growing fish to learn about. My goal in doing this activity with him is to improve his memory and cognition. I haven’t found any research articles to back up my hypothesis, but my training as a neuroscience major, as well as my gut instincts, tell me that I am on the verge of a huge scientific breakthrough.
Oscar has encouraged me to adopt healthier habits. One night, I was contemplating pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam. Then I realized that if I stayed up all night, my light wouldn’t allow Oscar to sleep! Just because I was willing to deprive myself of sleep didn’t mean that Oscar should be subjected to that punishment too, so I decided to sleep instead. Some days I forget to eat dinner, but I never forget to feed Oscar dinner. While I’m sprinkling fish pellets into his tank, I think to myself, “Hmm…maybe I should eat some human pellets, too,” and off I go to the Deece. Although we would both agree that our relationship is symbiotic, sometimes I feel like I am benefiting more than Oscar is.
Although betta fish have historically been bred for aggression, I firmly believe that Oscar has overcome his genes. He is a lover, not a fighter. I structure Oscar’s days in a way that allows him to lead a wholesome, fulfilling life. Sometimes I hold a mirror up to him so that he can see with his own eyes how beautiful he is, which probably boosts his self-esteem. Presumably, Oscar knows how to read, so sometimes I write motivational quotes on his tank with an Expo marker so that he remembers how much I appreciate his presence in my life.
Recently, I celebrated my one-month anniversary with Oscar, so naturally, I threw a party. I honestly didn’t expect him to live longer than a week or so, but I have never been more happy to be mistaken. His party featured activities like “Pin the Fin on Oscar,” DIY fish art and goldfish crackers galore. The winner of the Pin the Fin game got to feed Oscar one bloodworm, a betta fish delicacy. Oscar is the last thing I think about before I go to sleep and the first thing I think about when I wake up. It pains me to think that he will one day end up in the Big Toilet Bowl in the Sky. But, when his time comes, I believe flags will be flown at half-mast, people will cry at candlelit vigils, statutes will be erected in his honor and his memory will live on in our hearts forever.