When my daughter was almost 5, we bought her a starter pet: a pair of goldfish. She named them, so of course the plain orange one was Goldy. The white one with orange and black blotches was Poppy (I had some input on that name). Goldy was a bully who chased Poppy away from the food at the top of the tank. He chased her around the artificial plants and plaster pillars. It wasn’t a surprise that she didn’t live long.
We waited a while to see if Goldy was sick, but when he appeared to thrive, we bought him another tankmate. The bullying process picked up again. The third fish — Rainbow — did not last long, either. After that, Goldy remained a bachelor.
As he matured, he turned into a fantail lionhead. He tore his tail on the plaster columns, so the decoration had to be removed. He only had one fin, like Nemo, but he could swim like crazy, when he took a mind to. His colors changed, so he wasn’t plain orange any more. He took on a deeper orange, while his belly glowed like mother of pearl. He came to the surface to beg whenever he saw me come into the living room.
At one point, years ago, Goldy sucked a pebble up into his mouth. It got caught behind his lips and he couldn’t cough it out. He hung forlornly in the tank, head downward. I could see a flash of pink in his mouth when he turned his head. I read up on the internet, took a deep breath, and gently applied the Heimlich maneuver. My goldfish coughed once and spat out the pebble.
I felt like a super hero. I saved my fish’s life.
He outlived every other fish I’ve ever kept. Those earlier fish threw themselves out of the tank or were eaten by cats or developed ick or eventually floated to the top of the tank to swim no more. It seemed that Goldy would live forever.
Then, in the spring, Goldy started to fade. He spent long hours with his head against the wall of the tank. That progressed to floating head downward, as if his bulbous head was too heavy to hold up any longer. Eventually, he would flip himself right side up when he swam, but as soon as he relaxed, he ended belly up. I tried complete changes of his water. I tried antibacterial baths. I tried making him fast and feeding him mashed peas. All I did was postpone the inevitable.
Dying, once it was clear that was what my fish was doing, took a surprisingly long time. His scales, once so shimmery, began to look rough and jagged, standing away from his bloated abdomen. He developed bruises around the bases of his fins and tail. His gills looked bloody. I wondered if, instead of swim bladder disease, he had cancer.
I read up on the internet about euthanizing a fish. Experts suggested clove oil, to anesthetize him, then putting him in the freezer. I wasn’t clear if he went in the freezer in water. It seemed to me that he would suffocate, otherwise. Anesthetized or not, that seemed cruel. I couldn’t bring myself to put the poor thing out of his misery. I waited, keeping vigil through his suffering.
He died yesterday morning. I think he was 9.
He was a mute critter that I only held once. All the same, we took pleasure in each other’s company. He will be missed.