I am a vegetarian. One thing I’ve noticed about being a vegetarian is that when people find out, they often feel a need to defend their dietary choices to me. (As though I sit around judging all the world’s meat eaters all the time.) The strangest one I ever heard was a girl who said, “I’m mostly vegetarian, but I eat fish. Eating fish is ok because fish don’t feel pain.” Ok, seriously? What? Says who? If you want to eat fish, go ahead, but don’t go around making up crap like that to justify it to yourself.
Anyway, I bring this up because as much as I laughed at that girl all those years ago, I think I may have been guilty of the same type of fish prejudice. I have some fish, and to be perfectly honest, I never really thought they had much in the way of complicated inner mental workings or emotional lives. It would seem I was wrong. Did you know that fish could be suicidal? Apparently they are much more complex and inclined to moods than I had supposed.
Until recently, I had three fish. (Does that make me a crazy fish lady? Perhaps. Then again, maybe you need more fish for that kind of stigma.) For the longest time, I had only one: Antoine. Antoine is a pretty blue fish. He has always been well-behaved and loyal, and I have never had complaints. But Antoine is getting old. He’s four and a half now, which is kind of a senior citizen for a beta (or “Siamese Fighting Fish,” if you will.) In recent months, he has been slowing down. Basically he just sits at the bottom of the bowl and struggles to get his food (which floats at the top of the water.) He used to come check you out when you visited or waved your fingers at him, but that old joie de vivre appears to have left him.
Being a person who frets about solutions for such things, I eventually decided that he might like some fishy company, so I went to the pet store and asked the guy what kind of fish I could put with him. (Betas are aggressive and attack most other fish, so you have to be careful.) Pet store guy – who I will call Murray – said my only real choice was a female beta.
Enter Stella. She was a third of Antoine’s size and much friskier. On introduction, they were quite cute together. She kept visiting him and he’d do rotations watching her swimming around above him. Unfortunately, being much faster, she was eating all his food, which was good for neither of them. So we had to separate them. We put them in bowls next to each other as a compromise.
All was well for a week or two, but then I noticed that Stella seemed a bit lonely. She was, after all, meant to be a companion fish, and we had just taken away her purpose in life. I can see how this would be distressing. So after much consideration (that went something like, “Hey! Pet store!”), I bought another male beta to put with her. I named him Django. He is red and frilly and — quite frankly — beautiful. (I think he knows it too.)
Well. That was a bad idea. Within 30 seconds Stella and Django were attacking each other. It was horrible. But the pet store guy had said it would be ok, dammit. Maybe they just needed time to get used to each other? Time did not seem to be helping. I needed a second opinion and fast. Luckily my good friend Wikipedia is something of a beta expert. Turns out Murray was grievously misinformed. You can’t put betas with anything. Period.
So. Three fish, three bowls… ah, life. Was this too much change for my fish? Too many adjustments in too short a time? Did I inadvertently create a tortured love triangle? I will probably never know. What I do know is that my little Stella threw herself from her bowl and onto the carpet one night while we slept.
I will never know why. Unfortunately, she did not leave a note. But I like to think I’ve learned an important lesson from this experience… I’m not sure what exactly, but something about considering consequences and not underestimating anyone’s ability to feel or be hurt. What can I say? Aesop I’m not.