I’m afraid of fish. I believe the clinical term is ichthyophobia. For the longest time fish have just given me the heebie-jeebies. Their scaley skin and bulging eyes are terrifying- the literal stuff of my nightmares. It’s not easy to explain to your new roommates why they may have heard you screaming in the night, that you woke up in a cold sweat because you were having the dream again. The dream where you are locked in a room with the most terrifying creature on this earth. That you’d rather it be anything else– a tiger, a bear– but no matter how much you yell, beg, and contest, no one is going to let you out of this room with this goldfish. Please…excuse me while I shudder.
My fear of fish is definitely linked to the fact that they are so easy to kill. When we were still in elementary school, my brothers would often come home with goldfish from school carnivals. There he was, this little guy in a plastic bag sitting on the counter– his whole life just about to begin. You’ve got his whole world in your hands, but somehow something always goes wrong:
-You never forget to feed him, but actually you feed him too much. And now those cute little fish flakes are like a bacon wrapped cheeseburger– the fishy equivalent of a heart-attack. And now he’s eaten his way out of this world and into the third circle of hell… and the poor little guy never even knew what was happening.
-Or everything with the feeding goes fine with the feeding, but there’s an outbreak of disease. It’s the year 1347 inside of the tank and Little Flipper is now deteriorating right in front of your eyes. He’s decaying alive, but it’s ok, you don’t have to worry about him dying a slow death because your other fish, The Terminator, has decided to eat him instead.
-Or, even worse, you come home one day and yell out “Mommy, mommy, they are playing freeze tag!” You are so proud of the little fishies for getting along so well, beaming at the fact that they were so intelligent as to organize their own game of fishy freeze tag. But something is amiss, evident by the stern frown on your mother’s face. No sweetie, they are not playing freeze tag…
Really, these were the first times where I was ever really able to conceptualize death, and probably the root reason for why I actually hate fish. But back then I wasn’t looking so deeply into my pyschosis, and in general I just resolved to stay away from fish when possible. There was one tough week when my roommate Chantelle, unaware of my phobia, agreed to pet-sit her friend’s beta. He sat menacingly on our kitchen counter, stirring nightmares in my mind for a full seven days. I felt like a prisoner in my own house, too embarrassed to admit that his proximity to the refrigerator was the reason why I was eating fewer meals. I was nothing but relieved when his visit was over, but still I had this lingering feeling of fish problems. My Fish Sense if you will. I distinctly remember going to sleep that night, thinking to myself “It’s too cold tonight. It’s too cold for a fish.” I really had no idea what the hell I really meant by that, but the next morning I got on the phone and called my mother, who confirmed my eerie sensibility. Our beta Jon Krakauer had died… the only fish I ever really loved.
He was kind of a secret pet. I didn’t tell many about him, for worry that it would be too hard to explain how I, a fish hater, was myself a fish owner. You see, Jon had entered my life on a whim, back in high school during a month when my best friend and I decided that I was going to get rid of all of my fears: graveyards, heights, etc. The trip to the graveyard was no problem. My biggest worry was that I’d somehow let the car go rogue and roll over all the tombstones, earning myself an afterlifetime of curses and unforgettable in-this-life shame. Of course this didn’t happen because I made Alissa drive, and the worst that did happened was that I got yelled at for taking too many photos of Johnny Ramones’ tomb.
Then, the only real currently confrontable fear left in my life was my paralyzing disdain for aquarium life.
Alissa and I decided that it was best to go with an aggressive tactic, so after school one day, we went to the store and bought a little blue beauty who we named Jon Krakauer. The original intention was to keep Jon Krakauer over at Alissa’s house– a safe 15 mile distance from mine. Outside of the FNR (fish nightmare radius), and for the most part Jon was easy to take care of. A couple of fish flakes, some fresh water. Badda bing badda boom he’s lookin good, good to go. Aside from one incident where Jon flopped out onto the kitchen table during a particularly shoddy water-changing session, life was good.
Then one day I get a call from Alissa’s mom. Alissa was in Israel for an extended time and her mother was getting tired of having to change Jon’s water, and his tank was getting dirty and could I come pick him up? Wait… um, what? Of course I had to say yes since his vida was technically my responsibility. So here I am in the car with this fish buckled in next to me, driving him closer and closer into my FNR. I’m looking at him and feeling terrified and super awkward, like a divorce dad whose finally got his kids for the weekend but has just realized he’s made a terrible mistake because all he’s got at his home is scotch and peanut butter… But finally Jon and I make it home and as it turns out, he actually looks rather nice sitting atop the bookshelf in our kitchen. My mom, understanding the depth of my fear, agreed to take the brunt of the work. I really owe Jon’s particularly long life to her, since she cleaned his tank weekly– carefully balancing out the Ph levels in his water and adding fresh plants for him to swim in. I myself owe some of my life to Jon, since his living so long helped to pacify some of my fish fear. All in all, like his namesake, Jon Krakauer actually turned out to be quite a survivor, living out an above-average lifespan of 4 long years. He was given an honorable burial beneath an orange tree in our backyard.
Still, when I meet new roommates I am just upfront and I let them know that I am not particularly chummy with chum. If it’s got fins and lives in a tank I won’t like it and I’m not going to kid myself. I will be the first to admit: I’ve got serious fissues.