So after years of my vaguely musing that I would one day buy myself an aquarium, my wife bought me one last week for my birthday. She also bought my three-year old son, Xander, a red betta fish. He instantly named it “Lightning McQueen” which should suggest to the parents of young children among you that he has moved on from Thomas The Train to Cars.
My tank is a lovely “starter” tank at ten gallons. The day after my birthday I set it up and took my son with me to buy fish. I explained to him that soon Lightning would have friends. They wouldn’t get to hang out much since Lightning is in a half gallon tank in his room and bettas are aggressive and would probably kill any of the smaller fish that I planned to put in my tank but, hey, he seemed to like the idea.
At Petsmart, a patient young man explains to me the need to put “starter” fish in my starter tank. Basically, these cheap fish are meant to die. They start the process of making the water livable for fish that you might actually care about and that you’ll add later. I pointed out to the patient young man that I had added a variety of liquids and powders to the tap water I poured in my tank just that morning, and that the bottles assured me that they had been chock full of helpful bacteria that would make any fish feel at home. Further, I said, the bottles all made clear that I would not need to wait even a second before creating an entire ecosystem as diverse and viable as an undiscovered coral reef. The young man smiled, patiently.
He convinced me to at least wait until that evening to add a few hardy White Cloud Minnows–a pretty silver fish with red markings. That evening my boy and the fish to the tank. We were so excited! Two of the fish seemed happy, but one immediately had this look on his face like, “What the hell?”, and hid behind the water filter. Before bed, I turned off the little aquarium light and hoped for the best. That morning, they all looked fine.
That evening my son and I rushed into our darkened home to feed our new fish. I switched on the aquarium light and it cast an eerie glow around the room as we gazed in and saw what can only be described as Fishageddon. One fish was floating on the surface. Two more were suctioned to the water filter intake screen. Still another,…well, actually, there weren’t anymore, but since at least seventy-five percent of the fish in my house had died, it seemed like much more. I looked down at my little boy and tried to cover his little eyes. I was speechless. He said, “Daddy, your fish are broken.” I nodded mutely and we suddenly turned and looked at each other.
I tried to get to his bedroom before him, but I couldn’t leave him in a room full of dead fish. We rushed in and there floated Lightning, looking at us like, “Yeah, I know…” and he floated away.