Circling Back Around

There’s a fish tank in my bathtub. It’s a pretty big fish tank – 35 gallons – and I’m so stinking excited about it, I’m almost literally beside myself. I’ve wanted a fish tank for a number of years, and I never could quite justify the expense to myself, especially since I already have a very spoiled cat. This fish tank was a gift from a new friend who is rapidly becoming a close friend, and I’m so thankful to have her in my life for a number of reasons. I don’t usually make friends easily (by now, I really hope no one is shocked or surprised by that – I’m long-winded, smart-alecky, socially awkward, socially anxious, shy, and introverted, just to name a few reasons, but I’m sure you all know that already), and she is the first real friend that I’ve made in the two and a half years that we’ve lived in Oklahoma City. So I was thankful even before she gave me this fish tank, just because I have a friend (but I am certainly super-thankful for the fish tank, too).

Neither the tank nor its stand is new, and I’ve put in quite a bit of elbow grease attempting to minimize the calcium deposits that had built up on the inside of the glass (Pro Tip, courtesy of numerous websites: white vinegar works amazingly well, and it’s fairly cheap – I dumped a gallon of hot water and a gallon of vinegar in the thing and went to town with an aquarium scrubber, then put it in the bathtub for a hot-water rinse with my handheld shower, and it looks fantastic and doesn’t smell like vinegar). I can’t wait to get everything set up and running, hopefully within the next few weeks. My hubby and I have already made several trips to our local pet store to look at decorations, and my amazing friend showed me what kind of supplies I’d need as well (fish aren’t a super-expensive proposition once everything is set up, but getting to that point requires far more than just a tank and a stand). Although I know which fish to get will be the last thing we need to decide on, we’ve been looking and thinking about that too.

I’ve had fish before – my brother and I did the obligatory goldfish bit when we were in preschool (aided and abetted, no doubt, by the fact that one of the games at this fundraiser they had was always a bunch of live goldfish in a kiddie pool, and the prize for that game was always one of the goldfish), and I had a love/hate relationship with a series of Betta fish while I was in college – but I’ve never had an actual Aquarium (with a capital A) like this before.

Except the time that I sort-of did. That’s a really long, really painful story, but the Cliff’s Notes version is this: in late 2005, a very close friend of mine and her husband invited me to come stay with them in the exurbs of Chicago. Since Chicago is my hometown, and I’ve been trying to get back pretty much ever since I left, this was a no-brainer for me, and I eagerly accepted. To make a long story short (and to try to remain as anonymous and neutral as I can, since this is, by definition, only one side of a very complicated story), things did not go well, and I was back in Oklahoma after only a few short months. The job I’d been promised fell through, and despite promises made by several people, I did not have much luck finding another that would pay me a reasonable wage (staying with my friends was supposed to be a stepping stone, not a permanent solution). Not to mention the fact that my friends begun a massive remodeling project soon after I moved in that made everything just that much more complicated and difficult. All I know is that nothing went as planned, and tensions were high on all sides. I don’t think there’s much point to trying to assign blame in this type of situation, but if I did, it would certainly be shared equally by all the adults in the situation, including me. The absolute crappiest part of the whole deal is that it cost me my oldest and closest friend, and I miss that friendship very much.

Hmmm. I seem to have drifted a bit from the topic at hand, which was supposed to be fish, not friendships (although in this case, the two are difficult to separate), but I told that story to give background for this part of it: when I first moved in with my friends, they had a big (I think it was a 55-gallon, but I’m not positive) aquarium in the living room. Easily, the happiest and most peaceful time I spent in that household was sitting and watching the fish swim around. I discovered that, for me, there isn’t much of anything more relaxing than sitting quietly in a room lit only by an aquarium light and watching the fish swim. Night after night we would gather as a household to watch the fish. Sometimes we would talk, and sometimes we wouldn’t, but it was always very peaceful and relaxing.

After a few weeks, the fish began dying – first a few, then more. We took the poor dead bodies back to the pet store – they had a guarantee, and we’d saved our receipts – but the replacements lasted only a few days, and sometimes, only a few hours. We brought in water samples for testing, but all the results were normal. To my knowledge, we never did figure out what was wrong with our fish. When the last fish died, we drained the tank and cleaned everything out – my friends had some remodeling in mind, and having the fish tank out of the way wasn’t essential, but it certainly would have helped. I know it’s just a coincidence, but in retrospect, it really seemed like things started to go downhill in our friendship right around the time the fish started dying, and once they were all gone, there was nothing holding us together as a household.

In a way, then, having an aquarium is partially a way to recapture one of the better times in my life. I know it won’t be the same, of course, and I don’t want it to be exactly the same – I hope that I’m not only a few years older, but also a few years wiser than I was then – but I do hope to recapture that peaceful, relaxed feeling and share it with my amazing husband. Maybe, just maybe, it will also help me to honor the memory of my friendship, and remind me that even though I have not spoken to my friend in many years, I wish things could have been different. At the same time, though, I know that although I can’t say anymore that I have a friendship that has lasted over twenty years, I can say that I have the most amazing friends in the entire world, including several “old friends whom I just haven’t known very long,” to quote Robert A. Heinlein in his novel Friday. My amazing friends, including my amazing husband, who is my friend too, make me one of the luckiest people in the whole world, and now I’m even luckier, because I’ve got wonderful friends and a fish tank. 😉

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