“I’d like to rent the house, and I’d really like the fish with it” The fish, un-named at the moment was a big orange goldfish looking fish who was very interested in me, looked hungry, and maybe a little pissed off. I was told by the landlord that the fish was about 9 years old, and that its owner would take off for a couple weeks at a time, leaving this little creature alone and unfed. I realized this neglected fish was trying to get my attention.
So she became mine, and I named her Francine.
I gave Francine’s tank a facelift. A new light, plants, new gravel, a big conch shell I got from a trip to Trinidad, some sand dollars from the Sea of Cortez at San Felipe and a little plastic smiling mermaid gave it a new life.
And of course food. She was always in the mood for food and seemed to always want to interact with me. I noticed she would bite at my finger if I held it to her but if I offered her kisses she would kiss me back, backing up if I backed up and swimming forward to give me kisses.
So we shared kisses many times a day. She loved interaction and attention, and if I sped on by without stopping to say hi she would splash loudly until I came back.
I had other critters too, a cat named Phantom and a dog named Berger. Berger didn’t care too much about her but the cat was fascinated. They would often play through the glass. At first the tank had only a partial cover and Phantom would sometimes reach her paw into the tank. Francine would startle her by racing after it. Luckily I was there when Phantom’s claw accidentally came out, hooking Francine and sending her flying out of the tank onto the floor. Everyone was startled. I put her safely back and made a safety lid out of plexiglass.
Often when I cleaned her tank and rearranged the plants, she would get busy rearranging it herself. First thing she would do was knock over the mermaid and spit rocks on top of her. Maybe she was saying “I don’t want this bitch in my tank” But the mermaid lasted because I kept putting her there and I would laugh every time I’d find her on her face, only to set her up again. It became a little game.
Francine would move gravel from one area to another, creating hills and valleys. She’d uproot plants and send them floating or relocate them. I even saw her pick up a scallop shell and swim it to the other side of the tank. I figured she had an opinion about how she wanted her tank to look and my ideas weren’t quite what she had in mind.
Little did I know that when she launched into her first major redesign, she was creating a safe nest to the best of her ability in the context of a tank. I’m sure hiding her eggs under a plant canopy was part of the plan to keep predators from seeing them from above, which would explain the floating plants..
There were no predators, however, as she was to be a lone fish, not a goldfish after all. I took her one day with questions about her breed and care to a knowledgeable aquarium shop owner who told me she was a Red Devil Cichlid, very aggressive, and in no circumstances should I introduce another fish into the tank. It would be war…
In the midst of her home/nest rearranging mode, she would also get a bit puffed up and short tempered. And if I dared to reach in to clean her tank she would come after my hand. I got bit once and that was enough. I’d save my cleaning for another time when she was her usual loving self. Fish PMS.
Girls who spend time together have a tendency to synch up in our “moon” cycles. Francine and I did the same thing. Odd as it sounds, I would wake up with cramps only to find her looking right at me, guarding a rock or conch shell full of eggs. This went on for years. She supported me through 2 miscarriages and a couple rounds of fertility treatment during my marriage. Neither one of us had babies but she continued her nesting until she was about 26 yrs old.
When traveling we would always enlist the help of a friend to come over and feed her once a day. But feeding ended up not being enough. We had turned into her parents and she missed us terribly. We came back to find her pale and at the bottom of the tank, staring blankly, swimming sadly. When I tried to say hi she didn’t see me. It was if she was in a depression. “They’ll never come back.” She must have been thinking. But I would keep trying to get her attention and finally when I did, she would become excited, happy, swimming fast around the tank, giving kisses, her color finally coming back to its usual bright orange. “They’re back! Happy days!”
From then on I asked whoever was feeding her to please say hi and spend a little time to keep her from feeling abandoned. My friends got to know her and did just that.
My dog Berger and cat Phantom passed, and we got a new puppy named Greta who was also not interested in Francine. My marriage ended and I was alone for awhile with my critters who were now my only family but surrounded me with constant unconditional love.
I met John 3 years ago and they both were crazy about him from the start, showering him with kisses, love, and much attention. Francine has been prominently located in the living room where she could often see us and also check out who would come to visit. She could see into the kitchen from the corner of her tank and we’d find her looking at us while cooking dinner, with Greta also on the lookout. She loved us.
Lately we noticed that Francine was getting paler and less active. She had turned 31, about 21 yrs older than their typical life expectancy. The man I had been married to passed away Feb 20, and Francine followed him a month later on March 25. I thought my heart would break. I was all so much loss. I was there for her last breath.
I am so grateful for all the love she gave me and the big life lessons I learned from her. I see and know that all living things respond to love, and if you pay attention you can learn many things from all creatures great and small.
I have heard that what is most important in life is not how much you own or how much you earn, but how well you love. I couldn’t agree more. We bought another fish. A tiny little electric yellow cichlid that is a bundle of energy, A tiny fish in Francine’s big tank. We named her Amanda. Love goes on…