I had goldfish for nine days. What I learned about myself (and fish).
On September 25th, my husband and I attended our first Quinceanera. We were both really excited, having never been to one before. We got a ride with some of Dean's friends from work who were also attending (the party was for the daughter of his coworker) and we ended up arriving about five minutes early. A few things were still being set up, we pitched in where we could.
One of those things were the centerpieces, which were to be stocked with a live goldfish each.
The girl tasked with putting the goldfish in each bowl, was squeamish and afraid of them. She was trying to fish them out with a spoon. I grew up handling fish (fishing on the gulf coast) and offered to help her, dipping my hand in her container and carefully scooping each fish into it's bowl. At the end, there were some extra fish, she let me put an extra one in our bowl and offered to give me the last two in a cup to take home. I was so delighted. "I should warn you," she said, "they probably won't last until morning. The last ones died because we had them in the wrong water and I had to flush them down the toilet." She shuddered.
No. My fish were going to survive.
Throughout the night, I stirred up their water carefully to aerate it (that much I knew) and researched goldfish care on my phone. Fortunately, Dean's coworkers became as invested in fish survival as I was and drove us to the nearest Walmart to grab fish supplies. "I just want them to have a little life!" I said. I was so excited. Running through Walmart in my formal wear, grabbing a tank with a filtration system, fake plants for them to hid in, pretty rocks for the bottom of the tank, food, special water and water conditioner. I KNEW that they might not last very long, but I really really wanted to do my best for them. I even read that some goldfish could live for years! Imagine if mine were those long lived goldfish!
I learned a lot about goldfish that I didn't know. I learned that their water needs to be a certain temperature, that they need more space than you think they do, that they pee a lot more than normal fish and need to have their water changed out (not all of it! and do not take them out of the tank when you're changing the water!) much more frequently than other fish. I learned that when feeding them, less is more and smaller pieces please. I learned that they're much smarter than their mythology would have you believe and their memories are more like five months than five seconds. I learned that they can recognize other fish and people and can even learn their feeding times and possibly have emotional attachments to each other. My fish certainly seemed to recognize me when I came up. At least I thought so.
I named each one; Butch and Sundance (who came in the cup) and Doc and Morgan (who were in the bowl on the table). I could tell each of them apart and they did last the night. In fact, Doc lasted five days, Morgan eight, Butch nine and Sundance nine and a half.
As each one died, I dug a little grave in the windowbox flowerbed and buried him. I cried each time. I had no idea this was going to make me so sad. With each one I would think, "maybe the others will be okay..." Which got more difficult to think every time, but still coming home to a dead Sundance today was the worst. I was working at my desk with him still in the tank next to me and I got a little thrill when I saw that he was moving and swimming! I looked over and he was swimming quickly all around the tank... then he stopped... and allowed himself to float up to the top ... then swam back down to the bottom and sank. I figured this was probably pretty near the end, but allowed myself to think that maybe he was getting better as I went off to work. Not so.
I had never given fish much thought as pets. They seemed fine and were fun to watch, but I never seriously considered having any. I really liked clown fish (YEARS before "Finding Nemo" came out, thank you) but found out that they were saltwater fish and difficult and expensive to maintain, so I let that idea go. When I became enchanted in these little goldfish that so easily became mine I NEVER expected to become so attached to them.
So I've learned. I can't have idle pets. I guess I'm glad that Doc, Morgan, Butch and Sundance had a few days with me longer than the other fish at the party did. But knowing what I do now, I'm not sure that I would set myself up for the heartache of taking them home if it happened again. I took these fish in KNOWING that they may all die, but determined to do my best to keep them alive and well. I threw myself into it, failed, as may have been inevitable, but I was saddened regardless. So saddened. So many of the things I read said that learning to care for goldfish is a process and not to give up if you have a few failures. I can't do that. I can't just treat each fish as a 'mistake' or a 'learning experience' and keep on trying to make the next one work.
I also know that this is not something anyone could have told me. If someone at the party had said, "dude, don't take those fish home, they'll only make you cry." It would not have gone over well with me. I would not have listened either.
Another thing learned is that doing nothing is not something I do well. Other than cycling out the tank carefully, everything I could basically do to help my fish survive was do LESS. Feed them less, even skip a day so that they get less stressed, leave them alone. And finally with Sundance, I was trying to decide if I should just do one last water cycle to see if it helped and the overwhelming consensus (plus what I kind of knew in my gut) was just to let him be. I felt horrible just sitting there basically waiting out his death. But I guess sometimes the best thing you can do for something is to do nothing. Hard for me. With a dying mammal at least you can hold it or sit with it and offer it some compassion. You can't hold a fish. Ugh, that was terrible.
I did enjoy them. They were so delightful when they were swimming around and happy. I may try again with a less delicate type of fish. But I'm going to do some research first and have everything ready before I bring it home. If I bring one home.