protographer23 / CC by 2.0

Bob and I met when I was in fourth grade. He was one of a squigglyzillion “bait fish” you could win at the Monterey County Fair, and wee baby Anna (utterly convinced that taking fish from a carnival game was “saving” them—it’s NOT!), came home with four. It was a massacre—two died within an hour, the third living only a day longer. But Bob? Now he was a survivor … and tragically the lone occupant of the 50-gallon tank we had bought for our new companions.

With time, I became less and less terrified of waking up one morning to find him belly-up like the others. I’d wanted to name him “Tawny” or something else vaguely mythical sounding, but my dad firmly dubbed him Bob. (We only called him Robert when he was misbehaving—out after curfew, chasing girls … you know how rebellious young goldfish can be.)

Bob lived out ten good years in that tank, transforming from a consolation prize tossed around like a leprechaun in a mosh pit to an adored member of the family who always treated us with gentle good humor. When he finally passed away, I was heartbroken, but I’d learned a hard lesson that I have to pass on:

Your fish doesn’t like you.

No, I’m serious. Hear me out! Sure, they might have a kind of grudging respect, the same I reserve for the sandwich artists at Subway (my Veggie Delight, no mayo, was flawless every single time—thank you, Tom!), no matter how much YOU love your aquatic companion, they’d much rather live their lives not confined to a glass cage with a creepy plastic diver swaying gently back and forth. Now, I AM NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD GO AND RELEASE NEMO INTO THE OCEAN (back away from the bowl)! I’m saying you shouldn’t have gotten fish in the first place.

So if you’re hellbent on re-enacting your childhood Little Mermaid fantasies, at least make sure to adopt (and never buy) your Flounder. Maybe even adopt a pair so they have someone to hang out with who isn’t huge and covered in skin. Oh, and try to make the tank as natural and comfortable as possible. Who knows? You may win your fish’s love after all.