Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dreaming with the Fishes

I have always had dreams about fish, stemming from a childhood incident when I was sweeping the kitchen and bent down to pick up what I thought was a crust of bread from the floor only to discover it was a dried up tropical fish. Either our cat had finally managed to wrestle it from the aquarium or it had jumped out and she happily took it on as a plaything; either way, from then on I made a wide circle to avoid walking directly past the fish tank and kept my eyes glued to the floor in front of me when I did. I hated going into stores that sold fish, especially if the aisles were narrow. In college my roommate had a goldfish in a bowl in our kitchen and it died while she was away one weekend. I didn't go into the kitchen for the 36 hours until she came home. For years, I had nightmares of fish swimming through the air around me and I was unable to escape.

So my family was fairly surprised when I told them I wanted to get my own tropical aquarium. But I had grown to like them, wanted a relatively low-maintenance pet, and figured what better way to beat an irrational fear than to face it head on?

I've learned pretty quickly how to remove a dead fish from the tank and flush it down the toilet. I no longer worry that my fish are going to jump through the tiny cracks around where the filter sticks up through the plastic cover. I don't (usually) jump when I'm vacuuming the gravel at the bottom and a fish slips past my hand in the water. But I still have nightmares.

Now they are usually about the safety and wellbeing of my own fish. For instance, last week I dreamed that I let the baby fish loose in the tank and the adults started eating them and I couldn't find the net to scoop them back up to safety. I've dreamed that I come home and the fish are in a pool of broken glass and water on the rug and I don't know how to save them. Sometimes there is an alien thing in the tank - a combination bird/fish/monster thing that I find in the morning and don't know how it got in there.

Last night I dreamed that I'd taken the fish with me when I was visiting relatives, who also had a row of full aquariums. I was packing to go home when I was told that they couldn't drive me home after all, but I'd have to take a bus. I started scheming that I could get the fish into tupperware containers, but I'd need two, since the babies and adults still needed to be separate, but then there was no way I could also carry the glass aquarium and all the accessories, plus my luggage, onto a bus - and what good would bringing the fish home do if they had no home to go home to?

And then I woke up. As usual, one of the first things I do when I wake is to turn the light on in tank so they have a chance to wake up a bit before their morning feeding. It also gives me a chance to make sure nobody has died during the night. But nope, everybody's there, everybody's happy, no aliens.

I think I'm stressing because I am going away overnight this week. Last week I had to and one of the baby fish died (now down to 16 out of the original 17.) While the adults can go a few days without food, the babies, especially the smaller, weaker ones, can't. I have used weekend/vacation feeders, which are chalky blocks that slowly dissolve and release food, but the pieces of food are much bigger than what the babies now can eat. Plus I'm not thrilled about all that chalky residue in their little plastic nursery; it dissipates fine in the large tank but might be overwhelming in the smaller quarters.

Maybe I'll check in with fishgeeks and see what advice they have to offer.


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