Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An open letter to my betta...

Dear Sir Tom,

In a way, you were just one of dozens of bettas I've had in my 20+ years of keeping fish. But the similarities end there.

You came into my life when I needed you most. You see, the day before we took you home, I lost my beloved oscar, a fish with a personality larger than the 180-gallon aquarium he resided in, a fish that was so special to me in so many ways. My husband took me to the fish store you were at and insisted that I pick out a new betta. Your little 4-gallon tank had been standing empty for months since the last betta I had (and at the time, my favorite betta of all time) passed away.

I watched the rows of small bowls, a betta in each. You stood out right away with your big red combtail fins and even bigger attitude. You know how you male bettas like to threaten each other through the glass. You took it a step further--I was convinced you were about to jump right out of your bowl and into your neighbors' bowl!

Of course, I picked you. After all, you reminded me of my oscar--an ornery little S.O.B. But my heart was still grieving for the loss of my oscar and I put you in your new home rather unceremoniously.

A couple days later, I noticed you were gasping for air at the surface of the tank. What was wrong? Was it the water? I had cleaned the tank before putting you in it, but maybe something had happened to the chemistry as it stood empty for months. Or, despite your attitude, had I picked out a sick fish? I looked closely at you and noticed a tiny bit of cat hair sticking out of your mouth. Having four cats, it was inevitable that a hair or two would end up in the aquariums.

I netted you in a white brine shrimp net and, with tweezers, carefully pulled the hair out of your mouth. You stayed still, as if you knew I was trying to help. The hair turned out to be from one of our Maine Coons and was over 4 inches long. How you managed to get almost all of that into your mouth, I have no idea.

But thanks to this bizarre and funny incident, I began to really like you. I named you Tom (ie, tomcat) then added "Sir" because you're too fancy for a simple name like Tom.

The betta before you had lived for just over two years and I didn't think I would ever have another betta live that long. But you surpassed that, and then some. You lived life with a vitality that I had never seen in any other betta in my life. As you moved through your little tank, you would open your fins wide with each pause, as if reminding everyone around you of your beauty. You killed almost all the algae eaters I put in your tank with you, except one. And that one was chased mercilessly on a daily basis until a couple weeks before your passing. You made me laugh every time you bit my husband and I when we fed you. It's a good thing you were so small! Your tank is next to our piranha's tank and when you would swim over to his side, he would come over and watch you. You are both members of our family and although Flipper probably just wanted to eat you, I found it very endearing.

You were there during some of the hardest times of my life. I remember feeding you during this time and being stricken with how normal it was. It was a sense of security in a surreal world. And last but not least, you really helped me get through a time of heavy grief due to the loss of my oscar, and for that I am eternally thankful. So thank you, Sir Tom. Enjoy the Big Pond, and try not to kill too many algae eaters in there.

Love, me