I killed him. He was a member of our little family for three years, and we took him out just like that. What am I going to tell Baby Boots?
Oscar was an oscar cichlid, a tiger oscar to be precise, and he was one mean, ugly moody, tough, beautiful fish. He used to jump up out of the tank to snatch cichlid pellets from my fingers (when I was brave enough to wait until the last possible second). Oscar would gobble up live feeder goldfish as a treat every month or so, gorging on the first half dozen then taking his time picking the rest off one by one over a period of weeks. I like to think he enjoyed the company.
A friend gave him to us with the idea that we would be able to take better care of the fish than he could, and we were happy to welcome him into our lives. He was an almost alien presence, a fish that had grown from six to thirteen inches under our care, and for a year in Minneapolis he had an entire entryway to himself. Visitors to our home would often love or hate him on sight. Oscar was that kind of fish.
Here in Moorhead, Baby Boots learned to make fish lips and point to Oscar. Boots had recently been reaching up with both hands, grabbing the top edges of the fish tank, and attempting to do pull-ups, so I would rush across the room to save him from the snapping jaws of our ferocious pet. Saying “bye-bye” to Oscar was a consistent part of our bedtime routine of carrying Baby around and saying goodnight to things. What will I tell him when he asks?
Oscar had been sick for some time, and our attempts at treatment had failed. Oscar’s fate was sealed one night when he flipped out as Nelly and I watched in horror, ramming himself violently into his tank decorations. His left eye had been bulging grotesquely from his head as part of his overall malaise, and he had taken it upon himself to relieve the pressure in his now-blind eye. Oscar ripped the eye open and it bled into the tank.
Soon, he stopped eating altogether, and we began to discuss what the fish would want. We decided on the process, said the necessary words, and killed him. The tears came as soon as the methods of culling and disposal had been decided, and they have not yet left me. Nelly and I have discarded all of Oscar’s earthly possessions, and do not intend to buy another fish in the near future. There is a large empty place in our living room, and Baby Boots will wake up soon.
My wife mentioned before Oscar was gone that we weren’t really crying for him, we were crying for us. Although one year olds have limited experience with the concept of death, they understand “bye-bye” very well. “Oscar went bye-bye”, I’ll say. “Bye-bye?” Boots will wonder. He will think about it for a moment, accept the news, and deal with it as simply as possible.
“Bye-bye fish. Bye-bye.”
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