I had a long post planned about the glory of Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks and the shock of Mine That Bird's win in the Derby.
Instead, I need to mention something else.
I'm sure you remember your childhood pets. I certainly remember all of mine.
The anoles that, when knocked out of their cage by one of our cats, would skitter over to the dollhouse my grandfather had made for me. I would find them hanging on the miniature curtains or perching on the just-right furniture, one slender reptile foot smothering the wooden face of a doll.
The mice and hamsters. The gerbils and their endless burrowing at the corners of the glass tank they lived in.
And the fish! I remember the 10-gallon aquarium my parents bought in 1989. The color scheme was orange, yellow, and brown and it held a pair of red and black swordtails. Before long I began helping my dad clean the aquarium. Not long after, I wanted my own aquarium.
First we bought a one-gallon betta bowl. I choose a pearly white betta but he unfortunately died not long after we brought him home. Then I picked a beautiful red betta and named him Fanner. I loved that fish! I spent hours watching him. I thought bettas were one of the most beautiful things on earth.
(I still do.)
A few months after the betta bowl, we bought a plastic terrarium to use as a fish tank. It was probably about four gallons in size. I added a chinese algae eater, a pink kissing fish and another betta to this tank.
Yet a few more months later, I got a five-gallon glass aquarium. To this tank I added yet another betta and a 3" common plecostomus. I named the pleco Peppered Pizza. Pizza didn't do all that much yet I instantly thought that, second to the betta, the pleco was the coolest fish ever.
Pizza grew. Fish came and went. I got a 29-gallon aquarium and complied all my fish into this one tank, save the bettas. The bettas eventually passed away but the 29-gallon aquarium prospered. Pizza continued to grow. By now, I knew that plecos could grow to be a foot long or more and wanted to get a larger aquarium.
But what else could I put in a larger aquarium? A little tired of community tanks, I wanted to graduate to jumbo fish. And so, one day in early 2000 I came home with a 75-gallon aquarium, an aquarium stand, and all the fixings.
Pizza moved into her new home. Two baby oscars followed not long after--but that's a story for another day.
Pizza grew rapidly. My interest in plecos blossomed to fever pitch. I was able to sex many plecos and confirmed that yes, Pizza is a girl. I also found out that her latin name is Liposarcus pardalis.
L. pardalis! She was an estimated ten years old and I finally knew what she was.
My pleco family began to grow but I held fast to a soft spot in my heart for Pizza. She was the one that started it all. And she was old! Or so I thought.
In the fall of 2005, Pizza was moved to a 180-gallon aquarium. She continued to grow and grow, eventually topping out at around 16 inches. She was a dwarf compared to my fat, 20+ inch Glyptoperichthys gibbiceps. Yet I still had a special spot in my heart for her.
Her spine was crooked. Superficial skin tumors developed. But her appetite and attitude remained. She was an old girl; she had seen it all. While she stayed away from the bullish G. gibbiceps, she didn't take any crap from the other plecos in the tank. Still, I watched her carefully. In 2007, I had a beloved oscar euthanized by a vet that specialized in fish and I was prepared to do the same for Pizza if necessary.
"I can't believe Pizza is 19 years old," I told my husband earlier this year. "That's older than Limerick." In fact, I suspected she was most likely even older than that--possibly 21-23 years old.
I remember seeing her in that aquarium full of tiny plecos at Jungleland Pet Shop in 1991. I remember her shoving other plecos away with her giant pectoral fins by snaking her body back and forth. I remember her coming up to the surface of the 75 gallon aquarium when I fed the oscars. She knew there were protein-rich pellets up there and, partially on her back, glided around sucking down the pellets. I remember all the moves she has been through--first from aquariums, then to different apartments. Four aquariums, three homes. Always with me.
Today she passed away peacefully. I was still at work when my husband told me. My sorrow was instant, and while I knew that it had been inevitable, I was also surprised by her death. When a animal is a part of your life for nearly 20 years, sometimes you feel as if they will live forever.
Then my husband told me something amazing. One of our other catfish--a lima shovelnose--was darting about the tank, up and down, up and down. The lima is not a laid-back fish but she is also not one to go bersek without rhyme or reason.
"Now she is hovering over Pizza's body," my husband said. He took a cell phone photograph for me. I was amazed and touched. I was not alone in my sorrow.
Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.
Rest in peace, Peppered Pizza, and thank you for the past 18+ years.