One of the churches in our area had a festival one year, and one of the booths was a goldfish toss in which you could throw ping pong balls into goldfish bowls and win real goldfish. I, with my young, ever-precise underhand (just kidding, I couldn’t throw a ball into a lake if I tried), scored a fine total of four shimmering goldfish to take home.
Oh, if only it was that easy.
As it was our first experience with any kind of animal, we (foolishly) assumed it would be as easy as tossing them into a bowl with water and watching it swim. None of us were aware that you had to add a special solution to the tap water before placing the fish in it—goldfish apparently can’t survive in pure tap water. I wish I knew that before I woke up to four dead fish.
However, two angels in the form of my best friend’s parents gave us four more goldfish (at first I thought it was an act of pity and kindness, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure the parents just wanted some reason to get those blasted goldfish out of their house). And, refusing to let history repeat itself, we went out to Petco and bought a tank and that special water treatment that same day.
Life was fantastic—for approximately three days.
Have you ever owned a goldfish? Do you know how painstakingly boring they are? The novelty of owning live animals wore off after a bit, and the fun task of tossing food into the tank and watching them bob to the surface and open their mouths got boring once we realized the true powerful stench of fish food.
The next few months were a trial. Apparently goldfish are incredibly hardy animals, and even without cleaning the tank on a regular basis or “forgetting” to feed them, they survive. Our auras of disgust and contempt only seemed to make them stronger. But eventually, thankfully (for both us and them), they passed on to a better place (aka: anywhere but the tank in our living room).
And it was over.
Just kidding, it wasn’t.
A few months later, I somehow finagled my way into getting a pet hamster. “It’s for a Girl Scout badge,” I pleaded. Soon after, we took a family trip to Petco, picked out a delightful cage and furry yellow hamster, christened Honey. Score. It was the talk of my friend group, and my friends came over to my house quite often to watch her scurry around the floor.
But, as it is with kids, fads don’t stop that easily. I learned to dream big and set high goals. And so, with a little bit of rhetoric, a little bit of whining, and a little bit of “but Mommm”, I managed to cajole my way into getting a guinea pig.
The next several days with my new guinea pig, Jasmine, were pure bliss. Here I was, with this brand new pet, bigger and more interesting than my hamster. It was her and I against the world; I’d grow up, get married, introduce her to my kids, and sit on my rocking chair as a wizened 80-year-old with Jasmine by my side—until she died after just two weeks.
I don’t think anyone expected it, really. No one knew the cause. No one saw the signs. But, because it was within the two-week return window at Petco, we took the now stiff-as-a-board Jasmine back to Petco, and they replaced her with a new, live guinea pig.
This kid was great. He was fairly docile, more receptive to being forcefully dragged out of his cage by little children, and had no problem being petted by five and seven-year-olds. Life was good, and I had almost forgotten about Jasmine.
One weekend, nearly two weeks after we got Snowy, I left to stay at my cousin’s house for a couple days. When I came back, my parents hit me with life-altering news:
Snowy was dead.
Snowy, the guinea pig I had built up my life with for the past ten days, was gone. I was hopeless. Shattered. Demoralized. My insides were crumbling, and this loss of a loved one made me truly realize how fragile life was. And so, with a heavy heart, we returned to Petco and did the same thing we did before: exchange him for a new guinea pig.
The third time must really be the charm, because Nibbles the guinea pig was one of the true loves of my young life. She was obnoxiously cute, with a coat shinier than a newly-polished bald head and softer than a shampooed sheep. She was energetic, loved to eat, and best of all, she lived longer than two weeks. My prayers had been answered: I had found true happiness.
Life after that was a roller coaster of emotion: we got another guinea pig, Cinnamon, but she got sick twice, had surgery twice, eventually died, Honey ran away, we got a new hamster, he was lazy and did nothing, lived for several months but then also died, we moved, and gave away Nibbles.
After all that, I swore to myself that I’d never get another pet again. Being a pet in the Lopez household is one of the true horrors of life—right up there with having your internet search history being made public and having to talk to people on the phone.
In closing, here’s a poem that I wrote several years ago to mourn Cinnamon the guinea pig’s death. Please, don’t be too critical—I was 11, heartbroken, and grieving.
Rest in peace my dear,
You have nothing to fear.
Thou has found a better place,
Thy life was not of disgrace,
Great hardships you have endured,
How much you have matured.
I miss and thought you’d never be gone,
Or that I would be left all alone.
Escaped this grief-filled life,
No longer filled with strife.
Oh Cinnamon, we love you too,
Nibbles and I both miss you.