On My Fish

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I have a fish.

This is a secret I’ve been keeping for almost two months. Well, it’s kind of a secret, and I think it’s almost been two months. It must make me a terrible mother if I don’t remember my fish’s ‘birthday.’ I’m putting ‘birthday’ in quotes because my fish obviously was not born the day I got him.

When I came home from college for the first time, I walked into my dining room and saw eight – I kid you not, eight – separate fish bowls, each with its own beta fish inside. Some people’s parents replace them with a dog, or a fun apartment in the city, or a new book club and social life. Maybe even with a new flat screen TV. My parents replaced me with eight beta fish.

Aside from my two dogs, fish and hermit crabs are the only pets I grew up with. For some reason, my brothers’ hermit crabs always lived like normal hermit crabs do and mine died after a week, MAX. I eventually became too frustrated with whatever opposite of a green thumb for tending hermit crabs I had and told my parents they no longer had to get me replacements for the goners.

The fish, on the other hand, were always taken care of by my parents. While I was encouraged to walk the dog and face my fear of its shit, I was never asked to feed the fish nor was I bothered to clean its bowl. At Thanksgiving, I was telling my twelve-year-old cousin about my fish and how it’s a whole new responsibility for me. She told me that she feeds and cleans her own fish, and my uncle insisted that I was privileged and spoiled.

Two months ago, I stumbled across a guy selling bonsai, cactus, and beta fish (all twenty-something-proof responsibilities) under a little tent. This is not as strange as it sounds. I was having a rough week, maybe a rough month – who can even keep track anymore – and decided it would be really great for me to have a fish. I felt like it was the kind of thing that I would have done if I were a character on a TV show. Even if the fish didn’t solve my problems, it would be funny if I had a glimmer of hope that it would. And to tell you the truth, I think I kind of did.

I chose the fish that I felt spoke to me the most. He is blue, I’ve used gender stereotypes to declare that he is a boy, and he has beautiful bright magenta rocks in his little glass bowl. The blue and the magenta complement each other really well. I named him Ziggy (Ziggy Stardust in full, because he looks so darn jazzy) and put him on my desk because I was instructed not to keep him in sunlight.

I really like Ziggy. I talk to him when I come home and he dances when I play fun music. And that detail is not one I’ve added just to suit the plot of my mental TV show.

I had Ziggy for about a week when my best friend came over and realized I had a fish, to which she asked, “When did you get a fish…?” and to which I said, “Um, last week I think?” This is when I realized I hadn’t told a soul about Ziggy.

This is strange, because I tell everyone everything. I’m the kind of girl who goes to her mom for boy advice, yet I unintentionally withheld the milestone moment in which I had my very own fish for the very first time. And then I realized things were even weirder than I’d imagined: I hadn’t Instagrammed Ziggy a birth announcement, I didn’t Snapchat or Snapstory him, I didn’t mupload him to Facebook, and while my roommate and I spoke about a family photo, I never was aggressive enough to make it happen. It wasn’t that I had kept Ziggy a secret, but it was that for the first time in a long time, I hadn’t indulgently overshared something that had oversharing potential.

When my friends asked me why I didn’t tell them I got a fish, I told them I simply didn’t think of it. I didn’t consciously keep Ziggy to myself in protest of my digital identity. I really just kind of forgot.

Let’s be real – getting a fish is a great posting opportunity. Ziggy’s sapphire scales in contrast with the rocks in his bowl have infinite VSCOcam possiblities. Part of the incentive to get a fish today could justifiably be ‘for the story.’ You’re much more inclined to do something, like order a 2,000-calorie brunch, if you imagine the end goal not as a food coma, but as 200 likes.

My natural inclination is to say that we exploit the little things. But then I reconsider the fact that your digital you is really you, and is not another you or a different you, so ‘exploit’ might not be the perfect word. If I get a fish, and no one likes my pic of it, did I really get a fish at all? It depends how you classify ‘getting a fish.’ If you got a fish, but it bothers you that no one else knows or cares, then you probably feel fishless. You probably have a fishy feeling about your fish.

At the end of the day, I believe that this is why Ziggy likes me so much. I think Ziggy really feels loved, and it is partially because we have a special bond that stays in the bedroom (as opposed to being on an iPhone screen) and partially because I overfeed him. Ziggy and I get along so well because we’d both choose the food coma over the likes any day.

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