We gathered in the bathroom for a few last words.
“Would you like to say anything about the fish?” I asked my 5-year-old daughter, Ellie.
She thought for a moment and then said, “It was a good fish because it was alive a lot. And then it died last time. Good bye, fish.”
My 8-year-old son, Grant, added: “I always saw him when I came home from school, and he felt like a family member.”
As I poured the betta fish and its water into the toilet, I thought about its relatively short history. Two years ago, my oldest son, Jackson, who is now 10, brought the fish home from a Cub Scouts activity, along with a baggie of tiny pellets. Jackson named the fish Redfin, and at first, everyone wanted a chance to drop in a few pellets to feed the fish. We would listen and giggle in delight at the crunching sound Redfin made as he ate the pellets with his extreme underbite.
Over the next several months, of course, the enthusiasm waned. The sunlight caused the water to turn green, so rather than have to change the water every day or two, we moved the bowl to the opposite side of the kitchen counter. But my wife, Hailey, didn’t like the fish in the kitchen, so we moved it to a bookshelf in the other room.
At one point, Jackson had had enough of the guilt from forgetting to feed the fish, so, after he got some sea monkeys that required less work, he gave Redfin to Grant.
I know for a fact that I was the only one who ever changed the water in the fish bowl, and for long stretches, I fed the fish myself rather than nag the kids to do it, although it was never an official assignment, so sometimes he would get fed twice a day, and other times it would be twice a week.
Then, a month or so ago, Redfin was discovered floating in a vertical position.
“I think we’ve lost him,” I announced to the family, although no one ever knew what gender the fish actually was.
I tapped on his plastic bowl, which had a large crack in it and was held together with a strip of packing tape. Redfin moved a fin, just barely. But when I dropped in a pellet, there was no response.
“He looks pale,” Grant said.
Miraculously, he made a temporary recovery and ate enough to survive another couple of week. But then, several days ago, we found him lying in the horizontal position, on the purple pebbles on the bottom of the bowl.
This time, it was officially time for the toilet-bowl ceremony.
At lunch the next day, I showed Ellie a photo I had taken on my phone of her feeding the fish from a couple of years ago and asked if she remembered that moment. She said she did, and for a second, I thought she was going to cry.
She said, “I miss Redfin.” Then her mood brightened, and she said with a laugh, “But it was funny when he went down the toilet.”
Apparently, I was more distraught at losing the fish than she was. But I also realized I was distraught at losing the 3-year-old girl in the photo. That little girl with short brown curls who stayed home with mom had been replaced with this 5-year-old girl standing in front of me, home from preschool, with long brown curls. The lifespan of a fish is also the lifespan of a certain little girl, now only a memory.
But there are many more memories to be had. And one that will stick with me for a long time is the moment when Grant and Ellie and I each put one finger on the handle and flushed on the count of three.