why i hate betta fish, and other thoughts about my mom
so obviously the problem with listening to country music too much is that it is a constant reminder of my wayward youth growing up on a farm in virginia, and all the stupid shit i used to get up to while my poor mother ran after me waving her hands in the air shouting things like, ”why are there eggs on the garage door????” and, “HOW did you end up in LOUISA COUNTY??? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE IN SCHOOL,” and, “YOU’RE GOING TO GET THE PLAGUE IF YOU DON’T GET THAT PIGEON BLOOD OFF YOUR HANDS.”
- just girly things!
anyway, i’ve been thinking about my mother.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM MY MOTHER:
- all my best swear words
- how to make midnight snacks with nothing but condiments, weird leftovers, and a goddamn dream
- how to take a shot without flinching
- The Drunk Dance (CLAP YA HANDS)
- every word to every joni mitchell song
- 7 alternative spellings of the word “laugh”
- how to BETRAY your FAMILY by leaving them to DIE ALONE in FIRES.
the year was 2005. my dad brought eleven of his students to spend the night at my mom’s house (my parents are amicably divorced) because they were flying out of DC early the next day and my mother was closer to the airport by about 4 hours. they were all asleep in the rooms upstairs; i had slept on the couch, my father in the guest room, and my aunt in her apartment (which was attached to the kitchen).
the point is: we had a full house, and my mother decided to make everybody a big farm breakfast. which would have been a really sweet gesture, except of course that the stove in the house is incredibly temperamental and sometimes lights things on fire that aren’t meant to be on fire.
- SORRY ABOUT YOUR SHIRT, SKIP
"SHIT," said my mother.
i woke up, somewhat groggily, to the fire alarm. “is the house on fire?” i asked.
"EVERYTHING’S FINE," said my mother.
"is the house on fire?"
"IT’S UNDER CONTROL," said my mother.
i got off the couch, rubbing my dear sweet little 12-year-old eyes, not yet aware that i was about to be faced with the terrible truth about my own position in the household hierarchy. my stepdad was in the kitchen, fanning smoke out of the windows, while my mother poked at charred bacon.
i sat down at the island, stretching my hands out to steal a pancake. “hey,” i said through a mouthful, suddenly noticing: “where are the jerrys?”
the thing is, my mother and i go through phases of liking things where that thing is the only thing we like, to exclusion of all other things. examples of this include nacho cheese, the billy gilman christmas album, and, when i was in high school, 4 betta fish which for the purposes of this story are all named jerry.
my mother LOVED these fish. she talked to them all the time. “are you hungry, jerry?” she would ask.
“i’m hungry, mom,” i would say.
"there’s bread and probably some condiments in the fridge," she would answer, cooing at the stupid betta fish while it flared its dumb neckbeard like an IDIOT. you’re the YOUTUBE COMMENTS OF FISH, JERRY. “or if you want we have fruit.”
- FRUIT? FRUIT???? I’M TWELVE, I DON’T WANT FRUIT UNLESS IT’S IN A PIE AND SMOTHERED IN CINNAMON.
each jerry had their own little tank, even though it made using the island for anything but fish-viewing completely impossible. did you want to eat? TOO BAD. YOU HAVE ENTERED THE JERRYS’ DOMAIN, AND YOU MUST LIVE BY THEIR LAW.
back in 2005, just moments after the alarm has begun to ring: YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO COLLECT WHATEVER THINGS IN THE HOUSE YOU LOVE MOST, said my mother’s brain. EVERYTHING ELSE MUST BURN.
the most precious items in the house that by no means could be sacrificed to fire, a complete list:
- FOUR PIECE OF SHIT BETTA FISH ALL NAMED JERRY.
items that MIGHT, to SOME PARTIES, be considered SIGNIFICANTLY MORE PRECIOUS than 4 betta fish named jerry, an incomplete list:
- myself, her only daughter
- her ex-husband
- her ex-husband’s gaggle of ELEVEN INNOCENT MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
- her SISTER
- the dogs?????????
- 48 years of tax returns, FOR EXAMPLE, I’M JUST SPITBALLING HERE
my mother made four trips, in and out of the smokey kitchen. FOUR. she rescued FOUR LIVING CREATURES from her house and they were ALL AQUATIC FUCKING NECKBEARD FISH.
look, i know my mother loves me. i know my mother does not prefer the company of the jerrys to the company of her daughter. of course i know that.
- BUT COME ON!!!
- FOUR TRIPS!!! SHE MADE FOUR TRIPS!!!
- MY MOTHER HAD FOUR CHANCES TO SELECT HER MOST PRECIOUS CARGO AND SHE CHOSE HYPER-AGGRESSIVE WATER ANIMALS WHO ARE SO FUCKING STUPID THEY WILL OCCASIONALLY FIGHT THEIR OWN REFLECTION.
- LOOK I MAY HAVE RUN OVER VINCENT ON THE FOUR WHEELER ONCE OR TWICE BUT AT LEAST I NEVER TRIED TO FIGHT MY OWN—-
- whoops, okay, one time i did try to fight my own reflection after reacting badly to ambien but that is NOT THE POINT.
- the point is never let your parents near betta fish, because they will BETRAY YOU.
ETA: nine years later she remains UNREPENTANT