"Why didn't anybody tell me?" my anguished husband asked before angrily hissing, "Fish killer."
We'd had Violet for almost four years - an eternity when it comes to pet fish, as far as I'm concerned. Beta fish have to live alone because cohabitation doesn't bring out their best traits; like lobsters, they kill each other. This eliminated any guilt about only having one fish. We meanly chuckled as friends went through fish after fish, finally giving up on the species altogether; meanwhile, Violet not only survived, but thrived. Until the other day.
Since we had gotten back from a week on Cape Cod, our nine-year-old son had been begging for a hermit crab. His two friends had them, they were cool, blah blah blah. Our son isn't always the most helpful member of our household when it comes to pet care; in other words, I told him sternly, I was skeptical that he could take care of a hermit crab. He'd have to earn my trust by stepping up his fish care, from nothing to at least something. I suppose, then, that I'm to blame for what happened next:
He came home from school, and with the intention of following through on our conversation, fed the fish. "Uh, Mom?" I heard from the other room. The top of the tank was covered with food.
Our four-year-old daughter has been caring for this fish - feeding it judiciously, telling us if the water needs changing - since she was two. Maybe the boy had a heavy hand because he himself is a big eater and doesn't like to deprive anyone of a satisfying meal. Maybe he secretly wanted to off the fish, hoping that we'd feel sorry for him and get him his crab, but I don't think so.
Whatever the reason, I knew that overfeeding the fish wasn't good. "We'd better get that out," I said ominously. And then the "Mommy, will you"s and the "Mom, can I"s started, and by the time I remembered what needed to be done, the food had already dispersed so much that it would have been impossible to scoop it up. I shrugged, hoped for the best, and forgot about it.
I woke up the next morning to my daughter crying out in a high-pitched voice, "What are you doing, Daddy?" And then - the toilet.
My husband says that for a smart woman, I have some critical gaps. As he complained (rightly) to friends, "Nobody ever told me what happened. I'm the only one who takes care of any house pets." Of course, that's not strictly true – our four-year-old helps a lot - but I understood what he was saying. If I'd just told him about the situation, he would have changed Violet's water and she would still be with us today.
I lay awake that night, regretful and ashamed. Honestly, it hadn't even occurred to me that we could change the water. (That's the royal "we," meaning "my husband." I don't change fish water.) There was no way around it: Violet's death was my fault. It's not that we adored the fish, but she was always there, swimming peacefully in her tank. Quiet. Uncomplaining.
We'll miss her.