An Open Letter To My Fish

Dear Henrietta,

I bought you two years ago last Sunday. Since moving out on my own, I had always wanted a pet, but my building at the time didn’t allow cats or dogs. A pet fish seemed like a suitable compromise, and I was right.

Some might think “Henrietta” is a bit too fancy of a name for a fish. I admit, it is a tad unconventional. It goes against the grain of more common fish names, such as Flounder, Flipper, Bubbles, Dory, or my personal favorite: Sushi. But you are no ordinary fish. In fact, I think you are rather extraordinary. A very special and unique fish, and so, Henrietta seemed a fitting name.

You’re very pretty. Magenta, electric blue, and deep-purple colored. When I purchased you, the label on your container read “female betta.” Recently though, a friend of mine who is more knowledgeable in fish species pointed out that only male bettas display such vibrant colors. Kind of like ducks. Or peacocks.

Regardless of gender, you seem unphased at being a boy fish with a girl fish’s name. I like to think this is because you aren’t too concerned with labels or gender. You are a progressive fish, which I think is pretty cool.

We’ve never really spoken. Our exchanges are a bit one-sided. I’ll often say hello and ask how your day was. You just sort of stare at me, bobbing mid-water, opening and closing your mouth. No words emerge, but often little air bubbles do. You also flick your fins. I like to think this is because you are communicating with me in your own fishy way, akin to sign language. One flick means “Hello.” Two flicks mean “How are you?” Three flicks mean “Shut up and feed me already.”

That reminds me, I’m really sorry about the food situation. Betta meal options are fairly limited. It’s either bloodworms or food pellets made of shrimp meal, both of which stink like rotten eggs. I’m not sure if you have a preference. They each seem to satisfy your questionable palette. Regardless, I do alternate between the two, just in case.

Sometimes I wonder if you get lonely. I watch you swim around your bowl in aimless laps and I think, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a little fish friend to swim with. You could flick your tails and blow bubbles together and complain about how your human mother keeps serving the same, gross meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I wanted to get you a fish companion, but the lady at the pet store told me that bettas have another name: Siamese fighting fish. You are a member of a fish species known to brutally attack other fish until you’ve killed them. I don’t know what information is more surprising, that you are instinctually a cold-blooded killer, or that you are Asian. I always assumed you were Eastern European.

Needless to say, I decided not to risk getting you a friend, on account of your genetic predisposition for murder. Instead, I bought you a fake plant. I think it makes your fish bowl feel less empty. Recently, I upgraded your bowl to a tank. A purchase spurred by parental guilt upon the arrival of your dog brother. He is a considerably more animated family member who has monopolized my time and attention. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’ve been neglectful of my fish mom duties, but I have been distracted and home a little less often. I go with your dog brother for long walks and out to the park a lot. I wish we could take you with us, but I think it might look a bit odd, carrying your bowl around, water sloshing over the rim. And so, I bought you a guilt-tank. And another plastic plant. And a fake treasure chest with glitter stuck to it which is purely decorative and serves no practical function. Your fish pad is looking pretty fly these days. I think it would impress other fishes if you had them over. Before you killed them, I mean.

Anyway, sometimes I convince myself that when I walk into the room, you dart enthusiastically back and forth upon seeing me. But then you try to attack the tank filter, and I wonder if I haven’t just misunderstood the signals. Are you only attacking it to throw me off? I may never know.

Regardless, dear Henrietta, whenever I go on vacation, upon my return, I’m always happy to see you contentedly swimming around—seemingly oblivious to my absence. I suspect so long as there is someone available to feed you (typically a friend or neighbor) that you are indifferent. Listen, food is important, I get it. You have your priorities all figured out.

Henrietta, you’ve been a reliable companion to me these last couple years. Always there, serenely swimming or bobbing along. It’s calming to watch you. You are a helpful reminder for me to slow down when things get a little too hectic and to instead go with the flow. I sure do like having you around, and I hope that you’ll stay awhile, which according to my Google search should be anywhere between another two to four years.


Your fish mom

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