Friday, October 11, 2013

Sandy Cheeks, we barely knew ye

My family has experienced a loss. Allow me to share this sad tale.

Two years ago, my little girl got a goldfish at the Bureau County Fair because her cousin threw a ping-pong ball into a small goldfish bowl filled with colored water. As I carried the plastic bag of water around the fairgrounds that night, I remember thinking that this fish will be belly-up before we leave the parking lot. I was wrong. Mr. Fishy is still with us.

A year ago another ping-pong ball landed in another bowl of water, and she was in possession of another fish. This one looked in bad shape from the very beginning due to the fact that it had lost a gill flap in a confrontation with another goldfish. There was no way that this fish was going to survive I thought. I was wrong. I am happy to report that Gilly Junior is alive and well.

Fast forward to this year’s fair, and my family was sure that we would be bringing home another sickly-looking goldfish that refused to die. But due to some shifty rule changes by the fish bowl/ping pong ball game operators, my daughter could not complete the three-peat, and we came home fishless. My daughter was pretty distraught, so my wife and I promised her that we would stop by a store sometime and pick up another fish.

As it turns out, that day happened to be last Saturday. We were at one of the big box stores that also happens to sell a few fish. We were walking by the aquarium showcase when my daughter remembered our deal. When she looked up at us with those big eyes, we relented and told her to go pick one out. We also had to invest in a bigger tank because with Mr. Fishy, Gilly Junior and this new fish, there was no way that the old tank would do. By the way, due to size increases, this is about the fourth aquarium we’ve purchased to house these “free” fish.

The particular fish that she selected had kind of a calico coloring to it and had these big puffy, transparent cheeks. She named it Sandy Cheeks. It looked a little like Dizzy Gillespie to me (which, by the way, I think would have made a much better name). After some research, I believe the fish was what is referred to as a Bubble Eye Goldfish. At first I thought that the puffy cheeks were kind of interesting and cool, but as I look back, they might have been a portent of doom.

We were concerned with what the other two fish would do when Sandy Cheeks was added into the mix. They seemed to get along well. They all seemed to enjoy the new and much more spacious aquarium. Everything was good within the watery depths of our living room.

However, on Tuesday night, just before going to bed, I happened to notice that one of Sandy’s eyes looked kind of funny. Not the “ha-ha” kind of funny but more like the “Oh my gosh! What’s wrong with your eye?!” kind of funny. I hoped that maybe it was just something I hadn’t noticed before.

On Wednesday morning, when my daughter and I were leaving the house to walk down to her school, we stopped by the new tank to give the fish a pinch of food like we always do. At that time we both noticed that Sandy didn’t look the best. Her big puffy cheeks weren’t anymore. They were flat as pancakes. Upon further inspection, that one eye looked worse than it did the night before. As my daughter stood there, staring through the aquarium glass at her new pet, I knew that it was up to me, the responsible and sensitive parent, to ease her into the distinct possibility that Sandy might not be long for this world. I looked deep into her bright, blue eyes and said in my most eloquent, consoling “Father Knows Best” voice, “Uh-oh. This doesn’t look good.”

I went through my normal workday trying to take my mind off of Sandy’s condition. Actually, I had completely forgotten about it when at 4:08 p.m., my wife sent me an urgent text message. It read, “I think Sandy Cheeks is on her last leg,” which I thought was strange since fish don’t have legs.

At 4:11 p.m., she texted “Cheeks are down. Both eyes are gone. Tail is bad. But still swimming around some.” This was one of those rare times that I was sooooooo glad that I was at work.

At 5:01 p.m., on Wednesday, October 9, 2013, I got the text that I had been dreading for the previous 50 minutes. It simply said, “Sandy Cheeks just got flushed to fish heaven.” And so it was over.

On the drive home that night, I shuddered to think what was waiting for me at the house. I don’t deal well with personal tragedy, and I was afraid of how my daughter was handling the loss of a pet. As I creaked open the front door, I peeked in and saw her sitting in a chair with her head down. This was going to be bad.

As I entered the room, she looked up, our eyes met and she smiled at me and asked if I wanted to see the new “American Girl Doll” video that she was watching on her iPod. I told you it was going to be bad.

Apparently my daughter is growing up faster than I thought. She has handled this tragedy rather well. When I asked her if she was sad about Sandy’s passing, she said “Yeah. But it’s OK. The store has more.”

As for me, I can’t help but be concerned that my wife might have pulled the trigger a little too quick on the whole flushing thing. For the rest of my life, every time that I go to the bathroom in our house, I won’t be able to help but think that there’s an angry, calico-colored, puffy-cheeked goldfish growing larger everyday just waiting to jump out of our toilet and get me.

I’m double-flushing from now on.


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