Just Keep Swimming?


Warning: This isn’t one of my typical feel-good posts. I debated not posting it at all, to be honest, because it seems so different from my usual message of “Be true to yourself and just keep moving forward.”

That’s not to say this post is irrelevant. It’s very relevant to me and others who share similar experiences. It’s a part of who I am as much as the happy-go-lucky stuff is.

I need to share this. Why? Well, because it’s something that… Well, let’s just say it’s eating at me.

The following is a true story, embellished by a thoughtful mind. The names weren’t changed, but there are innocents involved. Take it for what it is: an honest slice of life.

An Observation

I’ve no idea what kind of fish it was. Fresh water something. It was silver; I remember that. It had translucent scales with black flecks. Nothing extraordinary, but pretty nonetheless.

Marcus was instantly drawn to it.

Here, in the back corner of this insipid supermarket, the rabbit’s timothy hay in our cart, I let my 5-year-old on the autism spectrum take a breather from the crowds.

I needed a breather too. Marcus had been having a difficult day. He wouldn’t leave my husband alone, and my husband was understandably losing his patience. I needed to run errands, hence, this little outing.

Marcus cooed over the fish for some time while I tried to chase away the stressors that lurked around every corner in my mind. I wasn’t very successful. Good God, I was tired. I had so much to do.

A new year was approaching and with it new things to take care of. It’s hard to be hopeful when your eye lids are black with sleeplessness and your head tries to force itself into a blackhole.

“Snap! Snap!”

Marcus brought me out of my mental notations. I’m grateful.

“The crabs go snap!”

I laugh because he is showing me how crabs use their claws, waving his tiny hands in the air enthusiastically. He’s a happy kid and rather observant.

Of course, I look over to the tank he’s pointing at to see the exciting creatures on display. He shows me the one with the silver fish in it and my heart nearly stops.

Several drab, brown crabs are in there too. Just under the silver fish, they are tearing a few scaly, silver things into a morbid glitter. The faces are gone.

I want to wretch into something. I want to cry. The scene before me is not right—not one of popular pets doing their thing—it’s wrong. So very, very WRONG!

This wasn’t a fair fight for existence. There was no place for these fish to run and hide. No natural selection. The fish Marcus had chosen as his familiar was the sole survivor of a massacre.

Understandably, it was in panic mode, pressing against the clear glass, begging with its little fishy hopes for it to open. It could see other types of fish swimming free and unmolested just a few centimeters beyond.

“Help! HELP! They’re devouring us!”

If silver fish was crying, it was doing so in vain. None of the other fish paid any attention to it. It would never escape the horrors below.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk!

I watched this poor creature fight for its life in this unnatural prison, slamming its head into the unrelenting wall. I felt like an asshole for doing nothing.

What could I do? The crabs had to eat.

I thought about buying the fish. No. Michael would kill me. The department was bereft of employees anyway.

We also have cats. That’s a whole other form of torture.

“I’m tired, Mom.”

Marcus made the decision for me. I had to take care of my own.

I slowly left the pet section and meandered around the store for everything on my list. Milk–check. Vegetables–check. It felt good to delete those words from my phone.

Still, a hot stone lodged in the space behind my eyes.

Marcus couldn’t stop talking about the crabs. I managed not to bawl in front of the checkout person. I also kept my cool on the way home.

“Snap, snap, Mom. Crabs have powerful claws.” Marcus giggled in his car seat.

“That’s right, sweetheart. They do.”

He was still giddy with innocent animal facts as I unloaded our haul from the trunk of my hatchback and dragged it into the kitchen.

Michael took a few of the bags from me and casually placed them on the table. I could’ve done that. I’m a little bitter, sensitive.

“Did you have fun?” He asks. He’s looking at me, but I know he doesn’t care about my experience. He wants to know if Marcus has calmed down. “You were gone a while.”

An ocean comes out of my eyes and I’m overcome by the tide.

“There…there was this fish,” I tell him.

He raises a brown eyebrow and twists his mouth up into a scowl. He’s not as easy-going as our son.

“They put live fish into the tank with the crabs. The crabs were eating them. One of them was trying to escape. It looked so… so helpless!”

By this point, I’m ugly crying and hiccuping into my hands.

Michael is used to my emotional outbursts. He doesn’t scold, but he doesn’t comfort me either.

“Why don’t you go sit down? I’ll put the stuff away.”

I do as I’m told. I curl into the couch, fetal position.

Our boys watch a cartoon together, peaceful and sweet, oblivious to my strange pain.

I take a deep breath and try to compose myself.

It works. It clears my mind—as clear as thin panes of glass.

I see my life float by in ragged chunks and quickly realize why the macabre scene had been so vivid.

Oh, God. Oh, God! I am the fish!


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