Life, and love, in a fish­bowl

Los Angeles Times - - THE PETS ISSUE - By Ni­cole Pa­jer Pa­jer is a free­lance writer in Los An­ge­les. L.A. Af­fairs chron­i­cles dat­ing in and around Los An­ge­les. If you have com­ments or a true story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

Ditty was my first com­pan­ion af­ter re­lo­cat­ing from Michigan to Los An­ge­les. He was my part­ner through the chaos of ad­just­ing to life in a new city, and he was drama free, un­like my out-of-work ac­tress room­mate.

Did I men­tion Ditty was a gold­fish?

He was part of my life be­fore Greg, whom I met one night af­ter ven­tur­ing out with a girl­friend to shake off the af­ter­math of a bad date. Ear­lier in the evening, I had gone to a sushi res­tau­rant with a “Zoolan­der”-ish model (merely to sam­ple the baked scal­lop roll at this cher­ished es­tab­lish­ment, which he had deemed “life-al­ter­ing”). While rant­ing about this latest dat­ing flop on a bar stool at Jones Hol­ly­wood, Greg ap­proached me. My friend hit it off with his side­kick, and we spent the next six hours to­gether.

Af­ter an eight-month friend­ship and some cat–and-mouse shenani­gans, Greg and I be­came insep­a­ra­ble. It was clear to me that we were headed for the long haul. Plus, my morn­ing rit­ual of re­triev­ing wrin­kled clothes from an overnight bag be­fore rush­ing to work from his apart­ment quickly got old. So did pay­ing two rents. Co­hab­i­ta­tion was the next step.

Greg never had his own pet, so when it was time to move me into his tiny North Hol­ly­wood bach­e­lor pad, he was con­fused as to why a gold­fish was com­ing along. We barely had the space for my clothes, let alone a 2-gallon fish­bowl. But as I handed him boxes to load into his Prius, I quickly es­tab­lished that Ditty and I were a pack­age deal.

We were, for the most part, liv­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity-free. We were kid-less, dog-less — with­out even a plant to our name. Our nights were filled with red wine and Net­flix, meet­ing friends at the neigh­bor­hood pub and watch­ing lo­cal bands at Ho­tel Café. We were adamant about not want­ing to be par­ents in the fore­see­able fu­ture and were con­tent on build­ing a life around this care­free hon­ey­moon phase.

Ditty, how­ever, had his own agenda.

One morn­ing, I woke up to a sticky note that read: “I fed Ditty,” with a gi­ant smi­ley face. I looked into the bowl and saw ev­i­dence of Ditty’s break­fast. The feed­ings con­tin­ued.

Sev­eral weeks later, I couldn’t help but no­tice that my sporty lit­tle gold­fish had tripled in size.

“Greg! How much have you been giv­ing him?” “What­ever the can says.” I scanned the la­bel. “Feed three times a day — what your fish can con­sume in three min­utes? That’s way too much for one gold­fish!”

Then Ditty went belly up. Google di­ag­nosed him as con­sti­pated, a com­mon gold­fish ail­ment.

In my search for a cure, I stum­bled upon this gold­fish re­vival guide. 1. De­frost a frozen pea 2. Coax gold­fish into eat­ing it 3. Feed only peas un­til the fish works it out of his sys­tem “We need peas!” I ex­claimed. Ditty bobbed around the tank as Greg rushed to Vons and then revved up the mi­crowave. It was a bit of a chal­lenge to feed a pea to an over­stuffed gold­fish, but, even­tu­ally, Ditty sucked in a por­tion that sailed past him.

The next morn­ing, Greg raced to the kitchen to find Ditty back in ac­tion. I felt a strange tin­gle in my stom­ach as I smiled over my sur­prise at his will­ing­ness to drop ev­ery­thing for my fish. Our fish.

This whole gold­fish-sav­ing op­er­a­tion be­came a rou­tine — we re­vived the lit­tle fan­tail 72 times. All the while, Greg and I were mov­ing for­ward in our re­la­tion­ship. There was talk of mar­riage and a bare­foot beach wed­ding, oc­ca­sional ring shop­ping (we couldn’t walk past a jew­elry store with­out “brows­ing”) and the re­lo­ca­tion from our bud­get apart­ment into a very adult Stu­dio City town home.

Ditty never went belly up when there was a half-hour to kill; he saved his es­capades for when we were run­ning late or be­hind on dead­lines. He brought chaos and panic into our house­hold, but ev­ery time I watched Greg drop a pea into his bowl, I re­al­ized that my boyfriend and I were start­ing to share the sat­is­fac­tion of com­ing to­gether to care for some­thing be­sides our­selves. And we were pretty good at it. So good, in fact, that tend­ing to Ditty oc­ca­sion­ally sparked a di­a­logue that started with: “If we ever have kids … ”

Around re­vival No. 48, Greg and I got mar­ried. Be­fore fly­ing to Maui to make things of­fi­cial, we ar­ranged for some­one to look af­ter Ditty. Pro­vid­ing his care­taker with in­struc­tions for re­viv­ing our aquatic fam­ily mem­ber ranked as high on our pre­de­par­ture to-do list as pack­ing my wed­ding night lin­gerie.

Sadly, gold­fish have a life span, and one night we found Ditty hov­er­ing along the top of his bowl. We couldn’t save him.

Our clut­tered freezer still houses the orig­i­nal bag of frozen peas, which we couldn’t bring our­selves to toss. Mean­while, Greg and I have moved into a new home, one filled with live plants, two dogs and a 50-gallon aquar­ium.

Re­bekka Dun­lap

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