Dead Fish

Error message

  • Notice: Undefined index: taxonomy_term in similarterms_taxonomy_node_get_terms() (line 518 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
  • Notice: Undefined offset: 0 in similarterms_list() (line 221 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
  • Notice: Undefined offset: 1 in similarterms_list() (line 222 of /home/middleton/www/www/sites/all/modules/similarterms/similarterms.module).
MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger

“Daddy, can I get another pet?”

“Maybe,” I replied. 

“And this time can I get one that won’t die?”

“Well, I’ll do a Google search for ‘immortal pets,’ but I can’t promise anything,” I said, unsure, as always, if I was doing permanent psychological harm with my words. 

When the fish we won at a summer carnival a couple weeks ago perished, some friends were kind (read: cruel) enough to bring us a replacement fish. That fish also died. I’d like to make it clear, and I didn’t ever expect to need to make it clear, that we are not running an aquatic hospice at our suburban home. 

“I think maybe a few days is just the life expectancy of a goldfish,” I told my little girl, hoping it was true. “I think I heard they live about three seconds? Or maybe that’s their memories? Maybe that’s not true, though.”

I quickly added my boiler plate final statement to everything: “I’m not sure. We should look it up.”

I vaguely recall a tortoise named Harriet, who died at the age of 176, back in 2006. She was thought to have been found in the wild by Charles Darwin, and spent her later years living with Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, the reality TV star. Not exactly immortal, but pretty close. I went online and, after wading through some self-righteous political bickering and every-day, run-of-the-mill narcissism, I found a list of animals that live incredibly long lives. I read about the Greenland Shark, which lives to be about 200, but I’d like to be able to reuse the tank in which our two recent goldfish expired, so I don’t think that would work. There was allegedly a “Ming clam” that reached the age of 507. That’s so old it might as well be immortal. A clam would probably fit in the tank, but I think my daughter likes her pets to have faces, and I’m fairly sure clams are jerks.

It seems there are no available pets that won’t die. I set out in search of my daughter to inform her of this fact, but she had already moved on to other things, and her mind was miles from where the conservation had begun. So I went back to my computer, where I read about more ancient creatures. Some really can live for hundreds of years. Sea urchins, bowhead whales, and goldfish (you have got to be kidding me!) all made the list of most long-lived creatures. 

There is even something called Turritopsis dohrnii, the “immortal jellyfish,” which lives in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s what scientists call “biologically immortal,” which means it regenerates really well and doesn’t die of old age. But the problem, and this is a big one, is that it does die. All the time. It gets eaten by others, or chopped up by a boat propeller, or washes ashore. So even though it’s technically immortal, it doesn’t live forever. Like a family of vampires that keep meeting their demise by being impaled by stakes or burned up under the August sun. 

It seems the most ancient creatures on our planet live in the sea, that dark, salty, primordial vichyssoise from which we and all the mysteries of the Earth rose. I grew up near it, tasting it on my lips on windy days and feeling it in my hair and on my skin, a big, lethal mass of dark blue on the other side of which were the British Isles. Years later, while visiting Ireland, I found myself on the other side of the Atlantic, thinking that only a few feet of land, and several thousand nautical miles of water, separated me from the place of my birth. 

We were getting on a boat to leave the Aran Islands when a girl started crying. She was so scared, her eyes like those of a cornered animal while a predator plays with it and salivates. Her family tried to sooth her, tried to shoo away her fears with an onslaught of words about the brevity of the ride and the relative smoothness of the sea. 

Tears tumbled down her face, leaving behind their saline residue. She was probably 15, and she’d gotten sea sick on the way over. While we ambled about our island, ducking into a crumbling stone tower and gulping down a Guinness, she had been worrying about the return trip. The Aran Islands are a string of three stony outcroppings that protect the Bay of Galway off of Ireland’s western coast. While the rest of the world moved on, they remained in the 19thcentury, and it was by horse carriage that we got around. On the steep hills, they made me and the other large men get out and walk beside the horse, rather than riding in the cart behind it. 

On the island, we met a woman who owned a little coffee shop, and she told us she was from the same part of Wisconsin as us. On the beach below, we sat in the sand next to a rainbow of overturned boats. Someone showed us the place where the opening shot to the BBC comedy “Father Ted” had been filmed. 

And that girl had spent the entire time petrified. She had big, clunky hearing aids behind her ears, and perhaps it was my own hearing loss that made her fear bother me so much. Maybe I wondered: “My partially deaf–am I going to puke, too?!” with alarm. Or maybe I’m a halfway decent person. Or perhaps it’s a combination of the two. 

But it’s bothered me for years, the memory of that girl and her fear, which was so real yet so impossible to grab and throttle to death or throw to the side. That fear, which seemed immortal. 

Yet I wonder if she even remembers that day. Was it just one among many days spent as an Irish teenager, which seemed so significant at the time, and then faded and congealed into a foggy, amalgamated mess of vague memories that seem completely out of reach? I never learned her name, and I never actually spoke with her– only an idiot thinks “don’t be scared” is an effective thing to say. But I did see the monster that she faced, just for a moment, like something cold and dripping and ancient, which climbed by fang and claw up out of the frigid, dark sea, where things live for hundreds of years, or are immortal, but all die in the end, anyway. 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet