Sweet Melissa, we hardly knew ye. I had a weird feeling when we parted ways this morning – when I normally come to the table and put my hands anywhere near your Betta Bits, you always dance for them. You would think I don’t feed you ever based on this, even though I routinely gave you four pellets twice a day as the instructions suggest. However, for the first time today you feigned no interest when I approached your tank and I noticed your dinner from the night before was still soggily floating above you untouched. I’m not calling you fat, you maintained a very svelte figure in your short life despite your enthusiasm for caloric intake. You looked sad and sat at the bottom of the tank and when I said goodbye to you and all the animals, I half wondered if you were waving your tiny fin at me for the last time.
My good friend Heather bought you as a belated birthday gift for me. Jenn, my partner and I at the time, picked you out after some serious and heart-wrenching deliberation. We wanted a female fish, of course, as all of our other pets were ladies and as card carrying feminist/lesbians it also felt important. We basically wanted Ani DiFranco herself, manifested in a Siamese fighting fish. Male Beta fish are typically larger in size, and are more vibrant in color. There were far more of them boasting colorful tails and fins, but we wanted you. We even carried you around for a bit making sure you wanted to come home with us. We bought you a tank that was fit for the Queen you were – it had a LED light that rotated between all of the ROYGBIV colors, a figurine of a rainbow, and a unicorn we aptly named Barbara. Your Aunt Heather crowned you “Melissa Etheridge,” from the time she laid eyes on you and that was never a question – hence the very gay-themed accessories we fitted you with. It was never just Melissa, you were always addressed by your full name.
We also played you ‘Come To My Window’ and ‘I’m The Only One,’ your first night at home. You also fancied the likes of the Indigo Girls, Melissa Ferrick, and Lisa Loeb. You never made it to the Lilith Fair but I know you always wanted to go. If they made little Birkenstocks to wear on your fins, you better believe you’d own ten pairs. You often asked for tofu and seitan at mealtimes and fancied the idea of Kale. I’m sure you would have had a partner in this life but due to the fact you are a Beta Fish, and are conditioned to attack and eat any potential tank mate, you didn’t have one. You had us though, and your two Moms loved the shit out of you.
Then one of your Moms went away and I wondered if you noticed. You were the one thing that we had really gotten together, and I think this is one of the reasons it was even harder to say goodbye to you tonight. When we met she had a dog, and I had my dog and cat. They were ours and ours alone and when we chose to part ways; it wasn’t a question of who was going where. It wasn’t a question of where you were going either because she certainly wasn’t going to cart you to California in a ziploc bag. We had other stuff together too, but you were different from a blender and a TV stand, you were a living thing that breathed tiny bubbles, swam around, and just made us happy. You were a conversation piece, a part of our everyday routine, and a member of our weird little family.
I’m well aware that I am writing a blog mourning a fucking fish named after a lesbian songwriter that really peaked in the 1990’s. I’m well aware there is a debate around whether a fish is even a thing that can comprehend and feel life happening. Melissa moved, thrived, ate, grew, and responded to me – so as far as I was concerned she was a living being. She was a constant – I woke up and fed her, and then again when I came home from work to decompress. The sound of the bubbles coming out of her fish tank pump was somehow zen to me, and I felt so at peace watching her maneuver through her world. Whatever she meant to me, letting go of the littlest things can even be hard. I didn’t know what to do when my fears were confirmed and I realized she wasn’t just taking a belly-up nap at the top of her tank.
I didn’t want to flush her, throw her away like trash, or erect a headstone for my dead fish in my front yard. I didn’t know what to do so I cleaned up the scene of the crime like CSI so I didn’t have to look at it anymore and knew the answer for my feeling feelings would come to me organically. The answer was to write, in light, to poke in jest but also let myself be a little sad. She was the tinniest piece of me – legit that bitch was about a quarter of an inch long, but she was a part of me. So tonight we pour out a little Shiraz for Melissa Etheridge, the fish and not the folk singer. We drink a drink for her because I think she would have liked it but also I want to clarify that she never had a drink in her life because I don’t want you to think I let her have a little Chardonnay one night and that’s what killed her.
In the wise, wise words of Ellen Dengeneres moonlighting as a Blue Tang in ‘Finding Nemo’ – “just keep swimming,” Melissa, and we’ll all do the same. “Fin” doesn’t always mean “The End,” it just means we’ve swam on to another world. RIP friend.