Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dear Zu,

I've had fish for a really long time, about 25 years. I remember once when I was about 15, walking through the fish store looking for the next fish I wanted to add to my tank and I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. It was the coolest fish I had ever seen. At first, all I could do was stand open-mouthed in front of the tank in awe and watch it swim. When I regained my senses and could ask about it, the guy told me it was an arowana, but beware, they were kind of hard to raise and they got big. (what?! They’re beautiful and they get big, how can I lose?!) I didn’t take the fish home that day, but went home and prepared a tank for him so that I could give him a happy home. Since then, I’ve had many arowanas. I’ve learned through the years how to best take care of them and give them an environment in which they can be happy. And they do get big, which is really cool.

I didn’t have an arowana when I moved to Portland, but got one shortly after I got here. I did bring with me a Ropefish and a Jurapari. After a couple years, the Jurapari started to get territorial and it was a sad realization when I knew I had to take him to the fish store and trade him. While I was in the fish store looking around I had my second experience of a fish stopping me in my tracks. It was an Australian Arowana (aka Jardini). I had only seen the Australian kind once before and that fish was $90 (ouch, I couldn’t do it). This one was $50, but with my $11 credit and a lucky feeling, I took you home. That was 9 years ago, on Mothers Day.

You were as big as my pinkie finger and when we got home, I set up the 20 gallon nursery for you to live in and crossed my fingers that you’d make it through the ever crucial first night. I cautiously looked into the tank the next morning and there you were, patrolling that tank like you’d built it. The next step was teaching you to eat. You had just used up your yolk sack and sometimes fish never make that next step to understanding how to sustain themselves. I got out the frozen worms and thawed some for you and you were all about it. You began cautiously, but soon were chomping every worm I put in the tank. You were a voracious little minnow, and often when I looked over, you were snapping at bubbles from the air stone or battling the “Reflecto-wana” (your reflection in the glass). I just loved you to pieces and you knew I was your mom from the beginning. We did have one close call in your minnow days. You got some kind of fungus on the fins and after some research, I decided to give you a salt dip to try to get rid of it. I dunked you into the salt water and you instantly turned into a cotton ball. I immediately pulled you out and dipped you in fresh water and then put you back in your tank. You were a little stunned for a few minutes but pretty soon you were swimming around as normal, looking for something to chomp, all signs of the cotton and the original fungus long gone. You soon graduated to crickets and shrimp and to a larger tank. You’ve lived in 3 houses and 4 or 5 different tanks. One of my favorite things is that you hated our cat, Lenny. Whenever that cat was near the tank, you’d rush to the side of the tank and chase him and snap at him from behind the glass. It was hilarious. It also inspired me to teach you a “trick.” I would take a towel and bring it up to the tank and move it around as you’d chase and snap at it. We were very entertaining to our guests. As you got older, you mellowed out and were content to swim around your big tank and eat crickets and just watch what was going on in the house. Most arowanas (especially jardinis) thrash and splash a lot but you’ve never been that way, you’ve always been happy and calm. You've just been a delight; a wonderful fish. In the last 6 months though, I noticed that you had slowed down a lot and in the last two months, it’s been apparent that your time was coming to an end.

That end was today.

My heart is broken. John has teased me about being an old lady with a purse full of water so that I could carry you around with me. I guess I kind of always wanted that to be true. We’ve been together for a long time and we’re a team. You’re my baby. If I live to be 90, you'll have been with me for a tenth of my life.

Ever since that first arowana when I was 15, I’ve done everything I can to gather every piece of information on arowanas that I could get. I have a book called “Jurassic Fishes” because your kind has been around since the dinosaurs. How cool is that? Also, old Asian lore believed that arowanas were the reincarnation of the dragon. That’s where your name comes from, it’s a dragon name. Also, I found old lore the believed that burying a dragon skull outside of one’s front door would protect their house from evil spirits. I just buried you under a rose bush that lives over some other arowanas before you. I put a rock with your name on it and will plant some forget-me-not seeds. Now you will join those fishes, and I totally believe this, swimming around my room at night and protecting me as I sleep.

I’m sad. I knew that this day was coming, but your 24 inch presence will be noticed every time I walk past your tank. I’m going to MISS you, big fish. I love you, you took up a chunk of my heart for a long time. I’m going to miss that big frowny face and the fact that I know that you loved me too. I’m very lucky and super grateful that I got to be your fish mom.

Good bye, big fish.

Us: 2003.

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