One of my goldfish is dying. “Minnow,” the name I affectionately gave the fish 14 years ago when I was a kid, has been lying on the gravel for over a week now and everyday it struggles harder and harder to eat the red and yellow flakes I drop in. The water is clean, I’ve tried the antibiotics, and I’ve even talked to a couple of fish store employees about what I could do for it. It turns out there is not much I can do for this goldfish. And to tell you the truth, it’s making me sick in my heart.
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Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s just a fish. Fish get eaten and flushed down the toilette all the time. Aren’t we being just a little dramatic? Well, I have to admit that is a reasonable reaction, regardless of accruing 14 years of sentimentality as a pet owner.
But, there is another reason I am cut deep with an invisible pain every time a look at this 10-gallon tank. The fish’s companion, “Goldie,” the other 19-cent goldfish I purchased with Minnow well over a decade ago, is still as healthy as it was the day I bought it. However, ever since minnow started to die, Goldie has been--different. Goldie now just sits most of the time, next to its dying neighbor, always in physical contact. Whenever I go to drop in food, Goldie will spring up like a hunting trap and eat just like it always had, except now it will periodically pause and give Minnow a nudge or two as if telling it “come on, the food is here, you need to eat!”
After the meal, Goldie will always resume its post next to Minnow. And now, every time I pass that damn tank I see the same thing, two fish huddled together on the gravel, one fish upright, the other on its side, always touching, scale to scale. They seem to have a certain sadness in their eyes that is impossible to describe. And the hardest part is that I can’t do anything to help them.
Is this just all my imagination? Are my emotions getting in the way of rational thinking? Maybe. Are fish even capable of personality and attachment? I don’t know. I’m merely telling you what I’m observing and the way I feel about it.
Maybe there’s something to learn in this small tragedy. Perhaps two living things, whether they are humans, goldfish, or even trees, can establish emotional bonds so strong that it is our moral duty respect those bonds even though we lack the ability to understand them.
On the other hand, maybe it is my own sentimental bond to my dying pet fish that is somehow manifesting itself through my interpretation of the other fish in the tank. Either way, as juvenile as it may seem, I will still give my fish a proper burial when it passes on. Perhaps the surviving fish will serve as a reminder for me, to consider the relationships and bonds I have now and will have in the future. And these bonds, like a 19-cent feeder fish, will not be there forever.