Some people measure events in their life by moves or birthdays or the weddings of friends. I measure mine through fish.
My family can vouch for the fact I am not the best fish owner in the world. It isn't that I'm cruel or forgetful. On the contrary. I view my fish as legitimate pets and worry about their well-being and whether or not they're happy in their habitat. I've spent far too much money on aquariums and gravel and something called a "leaf hammock" that betta fish are supposed to positively adore (I'm not sure I've ever seen mine use it). It's just that they keep winding up dead and yet, I still manage to find myself with one.
My failure with fish is such a joke, my mother got me a battery powered one for Christmas last year. It has it's own aquarium with little plastic plants, and when I'm in the mood all I have to do is hit a little button and lights come on and this tiny blue fish (whom I have lovingly started to call Volt) moves around in frantic patterns.
I do, however, find myself in the recent possession of a real fish once again. I got him by chance, as an acquaintance and former roommate was just going to flush him, as she was moving away by plane and couldn't bring him with her. I saved him. As I was getting him ready in his new home, I was beginning to start the early stages of packing mine. Finally being able to move into "the District" and no longer having to be on the outside looking in (aka Arlington), with an awful commute.
Perhaps it was the fish (who I have named Newton... after Cam Newton -- go Panthers!) or maybe it just goes with the territory of moving, but I found myself reminiscing on past big events and the bettas who went along with them.
First there was Hughie. I got Hughie my freshman year in college. As someone who had had pets her entire life, I desperately wanted some sort of living creature in my room to make it feel like home. Hughie was resilient (and probably high most of the time, as my roommate didn't go to class and smoked a lot of pot). As I dealt with the difficulties of being away from home for the first time, and having a terrible roommate, he gave me something to take care of and talk to, as silly as that may be. Hughie lasted until the summer before my senior year, a good long life for a betta, and one that probably would have been longer if I weren't so clumsy.
I was cleaning out Hughie's fishbowl and fond myself without a net. I figured I could just pour him into a soup bowl or something and let him wait it out there. I decided to try this over the sink. You probably see where this is going. Hughie fell right down the drain. I didn't even have a moment to think he could've made it out to sea like Nemo -- as my mother pointed out we had a septic tank. Poor Hughie, that has to be a heck of a way to go.
Hughie's timing wasn't terribly bad though. Several days later I got the call that I would be the next news editor of my college paper. Something I had desperately wanted, and something that left me with little time to do much else. I wouldn't have been a very good owner, even to a fish, and decided to give up on pets for a while.
The next fish I ventured to get was years later, after a failed "big girl job" and a relatively embarrassing move back home. Sushi reminded me of Hughie, the same smallish size and beautiful red color, and it was nice to be responsible for something as I picked up the pieces of my life. Unfortunately, Sushi didn't last more than a handful of months and died after he ate himself to death with a time-released food bomb I had put in his bowl before a vacation. I came home to a stinky room and a dead fish.
With Sushi's death came a job offer to be a campaign manager for a political campaign. A dream job for a political wonk like me, and another step toward getting the career I really wanted. The campaign didn't go nearly as planned (though I guess for at least 50 percent of people working on them, they don't), but it served as a stepping stone to get to D.C., where I knew I needed and wanted to be.
That day did happen several months later, and with it came a new fish, aptly named Jefferson. Jefferson was with me while I settled into a new place with new roommates and a new job. He was there as I learned how to make friends outside of school and sports. He was there when I learned my position might be cut from my company and was there when I realized my landlord and living situation left much to be desired.
I came home one day last fall after a particularly stressful day at work. By this point I was tiptoeing on eggshells, hoping I could find something else. Not because I didn't love who I was working for, but knowing that they were basically keeping me on for courtesy as I looked for new employment and not because they had the money to sustain me long term. I walked in and there was Jefferson, belly up.
I cried and cried and cried then called my mother and cried some more. Not so much because of the fish I had only had for a few months, but because of all he had represented when I got him. The new city, the new life, the new start. Here he was now dead. Just like I was sure my job was going to be. Just like I was sure all the plans I had made for myself were going to be.
I mourned his death and what I assumed would be my career death for several days. But, as I had done with the fish before him, I picked up the pieces and forged ahead to hopefully brighter days.
I found those when several months later I was offered a position at a larger, national nonprofit. A move that would be much more financially secure for me, and let's be honest, a good resume builder. I found it again as I became even closer with the wonderful woman who befriended me here. And again, as I was asked to move in with one of those women, in my one of my favorite neighborhoods in D.C.
I wasn't planning on ever getting a fish again. Jefferson sure did do a number of me. But here I sit, with Newton swimming happily (at least I think he's happy) in his little aquarium, in and out of the orange and green plastic leaves, and I can't help but think about what's next. Will I write that book I've been procrastinating on? Will I actually start dating again? Is D.C. where I'm going to live forever? When am I going to get to hike that mountain out west? Am I going to have enough money to travel the way I dream about? Who invented liquid soap and why?
I sure as heck don't know, but I do know even with all the bad and all the dead fish, I am where I'm supposed to be. So for now I think Newton and I will just sit back (or swim back) and enjoy the ride.
P.S. That last question isn't mine, but from one of my favorite movies. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
For more by Jamison Doran, click here.
For more on GPS for the Soul, click here.
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