Right now I'm having a cup of coffee while it rains softly outside. In anticipation of my day of thrusting B into A sections and getting newspaper ink all over my hands, and if I'm lucky, dusting up my t-shirt just where my boobs make their modest, but notable appearance, I'm wearing comfortable clothes. I don't care what I look like. This is nice. And then there is the empty fish bowl reminding me of death. My mom loves to tell this story about one time when I was little and visiting the pet store for the 70 or 80 millionth time to get a goldfish. "I don't know why they keep dying!" naive little Cara apparently said. My mother also loves to tell the story about the time when my little brother came home to witness his parakeet on its back in the cage, legs sticking in the air, just like a cartoon dead thing - not the way you'd imagine an animal would actually die. "I just gave it water yesterday!" said my little brother, according to mom. She laughs, and said, no, he probably didn't give it water just yesterday. Because it was dead. You think? Both of these stories are unspeakably sad to me but perhaps when you grow up and have kids your priorities change and dead pets are just part of life and not a neverending reminder that something died and it was your fault. Someday I'll get over the frog we unfairly took from the wild, brought home, put in a cage and gave food from the pet store which it didn't eat, became horrifically emaciated and then, one day, was bobbing about in the water but not in a good way. "But we fed it every day!" Yes you did, children, but it died anyway.
In college my roommate Erin and I had two bouts with living creatures of the pet variety. The first were sea monkeys that were doing alright until my arch enemy (I didn't know that she was my arch enemy at the time but this and consequent actions led me to the conclusion that she was) dropped them on the cold, hard, tile floor when she was watching them for us one weekend. Ironic tragedy! They were sea monkeys! They didn't need to be watched! Especially, it turned out, by a clumsy and or vicious pet sitter who stood by as the perished in our freshmen dorm.
Next we tried our luck with goldfish which, in retrospect, wasn't a good idea because we, as college students, were very prone to pouring beer, our new favorite illegal substance, places. Like in the hallway, or carelessly spilling all over our shirts after we were drunk, you know, after like one and a half Miller Lites (to be fair Erin and I used to share a nip of Jack Daniels before hitting the streets of Boston which, to this day, is evidence that we were badasses and way cooler than those prissy girls getting tipsy off vodka and juice). I'm not saying we put any beer in the fish tank, just that knowing ourselves...the fish...maybe they would have been better off with a family. People who didn't sleep all day and whatnot. We named one Sushi, which was cruel, and the other name I don't remember. That might be because they lasted all of, oh, 18 hours or so. Dead. It was funny. And awful.
So when we were coming back from Raleigh the other day and I was feeling pretty easygoing after the two glasses of wine I'd downed after a day spent learning about Jesus and cervical mucus at Catholic marriage prep and J said, hey, let's do something we've never done and then suggested getting fish I thought, "Awesome." That was until we had them in their bag, their precious lives suddenly our responsibility, and we were waiting at the checkout and I had to explain to J, "Listen, if they die, I'm going to be incredibly sad." He asked me why. They were only about two dollars each he said, and had very tiny brains. Trust me, I told him, I just want you to know that I am going to be sad.
Tony and Carmella - I remember these names because the empty fish bowl is still sitting on the bookshelf. That is how fresh this latest hurt is. Carmella was never going to make it. She hung around the bottom and looked depressed right off the bat. But Tony, our little calico colored champion swam about cheerfully even after his mate had left him. For a full day, even, he existed like living things should. He ate and gave me loving looks when I peered at him every five seconds or so to look for signs of poor health. They came, of course. After a glorious couple of days Tony started to slow down. I'm not going to go into the details - how he stopped trying. How he took deep, labored breaths and there was nothing we could do but watch. J was there when the end came. I called home. "Did he die?" "Yeah, he died." J told me that he'd gone to be with Carmella and we could be happy about that. He didn't say that the fish were only two dollars. My mourning period was brief and I suppose it is time to get rid of that empty bowl, move on and rejoice in the memory of those fish, that frog, the parakeet, who left us, yes, but who we also, if only for a little while, kept alive.