archives, smile

Unbearable Turbulence: My Betta Fish Existence.

The betta fish barely swims anymore. I know his tank is small. I didn’t buy it for him. So is it less sad because I didn’t buy his unfair home?

He is my foster fish, a throwaway from my friend who tried to mother one too many creatures. There were already two cats and two dogs shoved into her mini coup back to Philadelphia. The betta fish was shoved precariously on the floor of the front seat. I tried every configuration to make his potential journey survivable. I finally announced, “Now this is not going to work! It’s not happening!”

She had wanted me to take him a week before, I had said, “No!” Now he is sitting across the bedroom on my dresser. I bring him into my room with me at lights out to keep him warm by my heater. The thermostat is dialed down to 55 to save money, and my bedroom is the only cozy space in the house. So, it is two dogs, one betta fish and me, all huddled up in my tiny bedroom finding family together.

I feed him his measly five morsels of betta food. I think my friend said he is only supposed to get three. It just seems so cruel. Those two extra morsels are my way of assuaging the guilt of not buying him a bigger tank. In the morning, I walk him carefully back to my small dining room table where I hope he is at least enjoying the sunlight.

I love this fish and ponder my sanity of the sweet feelings in my heart for him. If I could squeeze him in a watery hug, I would. Instead, I caress the outside of that tiny tank of his and say, “Hey, fishy! Hey, fishy!” I tell my friend that he comes to bed with me now, and she laughs and laughs.

My boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, I could write this about 6 times, said that the fish reminds him of me. He swims around in his little tank like I swim and swirl around my tiny house in anxious doing. It is not safe for bettas to live with other fish. Do they kill each other? I can’t remember. I know it is a solitary fish.

I wonder if this betta fish fluctuates between wanting his aloneness and wanting others in the tank with him.

When another fish is introduced into my tank, my little house, that I have made safe with my me-ness, do I have the same instincts? I want to stake claim to my space, protect it, and stretch my wide amber fin in empowered rage if anyone tries to hurt me. This aloneness is all my betta has ever known, but I have known others in my tank and they always disrupt my water. It is unbearable turbulence.

Some loved me deeply with tsunami passion that almost flipped me out of my own tank. Even the depressed boyfriends rattled my nerves with their moroseness. They wanted my fins to fan them up towards the top of the tank, towards nurturance, towards life. It was exhausting.

With all of them, there were interactions that were playful. Chasing each other around the tiny plastic tree, laughing and teasing, there was always love, and then inevitably we would bite. It’s dangerous.

Should I get the betta fish a companion, a tiny tank next door? A lover with boundaries? They could see each other and play, but neither can truly hurt the other. This is what I crave some days. I long for this tank, with the man inside, pressed tightly next to mine. He would be my lover with boundaries, clear and impermeable.

We would be companions who can turn their backs to one another when need be, swim in our own circles, and make our water move or be still at will. My turbulence is plenty to bear.


Amy Rowling resides in Knoxville, Tennessee, and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters of Fine Arts degree. Presently, she works as a presenter/trainer speaking about intimate partner violence prevention and self-empowerment. She has lived in many places, and had many jobs and many dogs. She is creative, silly, observant, introspective, and loves to laugh. She has been spotted performing her comedy at local open mike venues in her city. She is a Certified Life Coach, and in 2003 she published a book called She, Creative Journey to Self- Discovery. Her greatest passion is helping women become more self-aware, self-assured, and self-loving.


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