46: Goldie

46: Goldie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles


Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

~Anatole France

I never had a pet. My mother did not want one, but I grew up — in spite of that deprivation — reasonably sane and secure, graduated from high school, and went away to college.

My roommate and I hit it off immediately. We giggled uncontrollably, like idiots, through an entire orientation session, and a bond was created that still exists today. We set up our room and loved every second of it. A place to call our own.

One night we hitched a ride to the local Woolworth’s for supplies, and there was Goldie, swimming around with a hundred of her friends and family in a huge tank. I knew right away I had to have her. I bought the fish, the bowl, a net, food, and home to the dorm we went.

I watched her swim and thought she was the most amazing creature in the world, living her graceful, carefree, sparkling life under the sea, so to speak. She waited for me each evening to sprinkle those precious flakes into the water and up she’d come, lips puckered and ready.

The first time I noticed how dirty the water was, I hesitated about the commitment, but only for a second. It became a monthly ritual carrying the bowl into the common bathroom, plugging the sink, standing guard so nobody inadvertently sent her to an early watery grave. I cleaned and scrubbed that bowl, returned her to the water and she would swim around happily once more for everyone to see. No acclimation time — what did I know? Goldie never seemed to mind. She was a hearty, healthy goldfish.

She was there for me whenever I needed her. Tough paper to write? She inspired me from her sparkling depths. Exams to cram for? She stayed up all night keeping me company, never dozing off. She watched as I foolishly let a nursing student pierce my ears. She was the first thing I saw when they revived me from my faint.

Boyfriends came and went, and Goldie listened patiently to my tales of woe and heartbreak. She was a constant in my life, and in my roommate’s life too — our personal mascot. Everyone checked in on her when they visited our room and she entertained them obligingly. Most of them had real pets to tell stories about, loyal cats and dogs, but I only had Goldie.

Winter break came. I didn’t even think twice. She would have to make the trip home with me. I couldn’t leave her with anyone else or abandon her either, so home she came, on my lap in her bowl, for a four-hour car ride. It was tricky, leaning into the bumps and turns to hold her steady, but she survived unscathed.

My mother made no comment, but my father was quite taken with her. He came into my room and visited her, joked often about eating her for dessert, all in good fun. At the end of winter break, I let a little water out of the bowl, and back on my lap she went for the long drive to our home away from home.

Once, a show-off science major boyfriend suggested that I was buying new Goldies to replace old Goldies as they perished, in disbelief that an ordinary goldfish could enjoy such longevity. That was the end of him.

Goldie traveled back and forth to school with me every year, and then, before I knew it, graduation day was near. The usual frantic paper writing, marathon study sessions, and endless parties ensued. In the end, my roommate and I made it to the big day. My parents came down, sisters, brothers, a big event about to unfold.

After the ceremonies we returned to my room to load up the million more possessions I had now accumulated.

I found my father leaning intently over Goldie’s bowl.

“Anne, I think your fish is in trouble,” he said.

“Funny Dad,” I responded.

He was silent. Then, “Anne, I really think you better take a look.”

I reluctantly approached the bowl. There she was, floating on her side, dead. I couldn’t believe it. I blamed myself... had I forgotten to feed her in the graduation rush? Had I neglected her in some way? I was devastated.

I took Goldie into the bathroom where I had so carefully cleaned her bowl while she swam peacefully in the sink, remembering the good times we had shared, and then I closed my eyes and flushed her down the toilet. I shed a few tears, but somehow it seemed right and made perfect sense. She had stuck with me through it all and now, at the end of this leg in the journey of my life, she was gracefully bowing out, our time together over.

Whenever I think of my college days I remember Goldie. A philosophy professor once told me that people and pets enter our lives at different times for different reasons and sometimes it’s best not to wonder why, just to love them while you have them because you never know. He must have had a pet goldfish in college too.

~Anne S. Cook

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