goldfish

A Fish Named Nellie Bly

Nellie was my first goldfish.

Not my first fish; I had a lot of fish growing up. And I named them all “Cat,” as part of my oh-so-subtle plan to convince my parents to adopt a kitty. (Took seven years, but it worked. Subtle and steady wins the race.)

Anyway. Our story starts on April 21, 2016. My sophomore year of college.

To raise money for a local philanthropy, a campus club decided to sponsor the “Fishy 500,” a fish race. Participants paid a fee, squirted fish with tiny water guns to spur them to swim through a 10-foot track, then got to walk away with the satisfaction of having helped abused children as well as the subjects of their mild waterboarding.

Which is how I ended up paying $10 for a fish that costs 34 cents at PetSmart.

I named her after Nellie Bly, who pioneered investigative journalism, but is now mostly remembered for her “stunt work,” most famously traveling around the world in 72 days, beating the fictious record set in the book Around the World in 80 Days.

I had no idea how ironic all of this would be.

I’ll be the first to admit – Nellie (the fish) had it rough. For one thing, being a broke college kid, I never wanted to spend the money on a fishbowl. Plus, none ever seemed to be the right size; I wanted something big enough so she didn’t feel confined but small enough that she didn’t feel lost in an endless sea of isolation. (Sorry for the pun, I really tried to avoid it.)

So, I bought a large piece of Tupperware from Dollar Tree, and that was Nellie’s home, except for a few short stints in a Mason jar, pickle jar, and salsa container.

You think that’s rough? Just wait.

Between my sophomore and junior year, I lived in three different states. Ergo, so did Nellie.

That summer, we packed our bags (and Nellie’s Tupperware container) and scampered between Tennessee (where I went to college), Florida (where my family lives), and Alabama (where I interned). As we toodled across state lines, Nellie bobbed along in a pink cup sandwiched between me, singing along to some Broadway soundtrack for x hours, and a passenger seat littered with mostly empty water bottles, my shoes, purse, and who even knows what else. Over the course of many trips, she had a few tumbles but always survived. She was basically the aquatic version of Jason Bourne.

The journalist Nellie Bly once feigned insanity to write an expose about the brutality and neglect of mental institution. I’m sure my Nellie longed for the sanity of an 1887 loony bin.

Anyway, when summer ended, the traveling ground to a halt as I slogged through the fall semester of junior year. Then we hit December. As a single fish parent, this posed a dilemma.

I always flew back to Florida for Christmas break. At the time, I was not well-versed in the TSA policy on fish. After diving into parts of the TSA website that no one who wasn’t planning a low-scale terrorist attack has ever looked before, I concluded that I could probably bring Nellie. But I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to take any chances with my little golden-scaled traveling buddy.

When I flew home, I always parked my car at a family friend’s house in Nashville to avoid spending a small fortune for airport parking. So, rather than run the risk of some dour muscle in a bulletproof vest confiscating Nellie, I asked my friends to keep her.

The mom was very nervous, but I remember promising, “Nothing will ever kill this fish.”

[Phantom of the Opera overture]

That poor woman prayed over Nellie every single day, and on January 2, 2017, when my plane finally landed at the Nashville airport – after a five-hour delay – and I lugged my duffel bag off the suitcase carousel, my car and Nellie were both shiny and sleek and ready to go.

By the end of the night, we would all be in varying degrees of ragged.

My plane took off late because of foul weather in Nashville. As I navigated the roads to Jackson, Tennessee, it was still raining steadily. To make things worse, there are no lights along I-40. But I had a podcasting class the next day, so I zipped through the dark, listening to the Hairspray soundtrack.

About an hour later, I felt the wheel turning itself to the left. Before I could react, my car smashed into the guardrail. Then it bounced off and veered to the right like a tiny metal ball in a pinball machine, slamming into guardrail on the other side.

I screamed. (Honestly, though, I think a part of me was less scared of dying than embarrassed that the last sound I ever heard would be Zac Efron singing “Ladies Choice.” That’s a swan dive onto rock bottom you never get to recover from.)

Anyway, after bashing both sides of the car, I managed to get control and pulled over to the side of the road. Turning on the emergency lights, I yanked open the car door. My bare feet sunk into the mud, rain sopped my clothes. I stood back and tried to assess the damage, but I couldn’t make anything out through the rain. Cold and wet, I crawled back into the car and called the police.

When I hung up, it hit me – where’s Nellie?

Her cup had rolled under the passenger seat.

My car was totaled.

We never found Nellie’s body.

Every time I tell this story people are like, “That’s the funniest and saddest story I ever heard.” And it’s true. And even though it hurt in the moment, looking back, I have to say, I couldn’t imagine Nellie dying any other way.

So, why write about this now, more than a year and a half later?

Grieving is a process, and it took me time to work through it. For the last nineteen months, I’ve wondered if I have the capacity to give a goldfish the care it needs and deserves.

A couple weeks ago, after writing about how Nellie weirdly helped me get my job, I decided it was time to move on. I was ready to open my heart again.

Life happens. Fish die, cars wreck, screws fall out. The world is an imperfect place.

After a week of research and visiting pet stores, I screwed up the courage to buy another goldfish.

Sometimes, you just have to get back on the horse. Or put another fish in the bowl.

Or the cupholder of my car, which is where my new fish ended up the very next Saturday afternoon as I drove from my apartment to my parents’ house, an hour away.

Amazing how, in spite of all our best intentions, we end up making the same mistakes.

Well, hopefully not all of them.

If anyone was wondering, I named my new fish “Nora” after Nora Ephron, who co-wrote and directed my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail. So, I’m naming my fish after women writers now. Cliché? Maybe. But at least I’m not using them as a mini SPCA commercial.

In memory of Nellie. I hope that Heaven is a full-sized aquarium full of friends, where you can traverse the entire galaxy without the constraints of a Tupperware container.

If you’re reading this and not completely repulsed by my negligent fish ownership, type your email into the “Stick Around” widget on the top right of the screen.

Why I Will Never Have a Wedding

Premise: Weddings are freaking nightmares.

Yes, we’ve seen all the movies. My Big Fat Greek Wedding taught us that true love can withstand even a tightknit family. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers taught us that the best way to get a woman is to kidnap her and cause an avalanche so she would have nowhere to go if she did escape. The Princess Bride gave us the most iconic line in the history of romantic cinema: “Mawwiage is what bwings us togewah today,” which is such a great line because you can use it for any occasion – graduations, birthdays, funerals… But whether it takes standing outside the girl’s window blasting a boombox or riding into the a sunset on a lawnmower, they always get their happily-ever-after.

I’m talking about real-life weddings in the late 2010s.

Point 1: Dresses are expensive.

In high school, I bought all of my formal dresses at one of two places: Goodwill or Salvation Army. I think the most expensive one set me (read: my mom) back $40. (That may seem tacky, but to be fair, the only dance I ever went to was the Governor’s Ball hosted by a statewide government club and held inside the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum. Every year, I took a photo next to the Batmobile and a display case of pocketknives.) In college, on the rare occasion I attended some fancy soiree, I usually borrowed a dress from one of my sorority sisters.

Well, now, I’ve graduated college. I’m a 22-year-old working as a corporate communications coordinator in St. Petersburg, Florida, so the odds that I will invited to the Met Ball Gala – or any gala, ball, promenade, sock hop, or disco, for that matter – is extremely slim.

Some would say nonexistent, but I’m still holding out hope that I will one day run into Dan Stevens, and he will realize that we are meant to be together.

But unless – or until (Simon Sinek says positive thinking is the only way to achieve your goals) – that happy day comes, I will never have an excuse to wear a fancy ball gown again in my life, ever.

So not only does that mean that I already have two floor-length dresses that cost upwards of $250 hanging up in a closet in my parents’ house, but, if I were ever to have a wedding, I would (easily) be spending upwards of $1,000 on a dress designed for me to wear only once in my entire life.

Call me a Goodwill-hunting pack rat, but I honestly cannot wrap my head around that.

Point 2: Pre-wedding hoopla is insane.

The first time I was a bridesmaid, I twisted the combination of my school mailbox, opened the metal door (probably on the third try), and invitations to five wedding showers fell out. Five. For the same girl.

Now, I don’t think she reads this blog, but in case she ever does, I want her to know that I don’t judge her; I know that she didn’t plan them. And, to be fair, she had just graduated college and was working at Starbucks until her wedding. But as an introvert with a full-time job, I can’t imagine doing a bunch of pre-wedding shindigs.

And it’s not just the showers. Proposals have to be such an elaborate affair – emotional and intimate (but with a photographer close enough to capture everything) – plus a surprise engagement party with family, friends, balloons, cake, and a photo booth (pics or it didn’t happen). It is such sentimental rigmarole. Whatever happened to the days where a man just offered the girl’s father a goat? When did we decide we needed to bring pageantry and romance into this transaction?

And it isn’t just the future bride who gets proposed to anymore. Now there’s “bridesposing.” This is when the bride-to-be woos her friends into being her bridesmaids by presenting them with a small gift, typically jewelry.

Literally. It’s proposing to your friends.

(Although, as a bridesmaid, I realize I probably shouldn’t complain about this.)

Point 3: Lingerie showers.

Listen, we lived together three years, I never learned what type of underwear you like, and I don’t want to know now.

Point 4: The ceremony is just a freak sideshow in the social media circus.

I already mentioned the engagement brouhaha. So, let’s talk about the big day.

It takes a least three Facebook albums to capture the average wedding day: the pre-wedding primping, the family/bridal party/groomsmen/couple pictures, and the ceremony (which, honestly, are the least exciting pics). Not to mention all the wedding countdown photos (I know one girl who started post 400 days before her wedding – you read that right, a four followed by two zeroes. That is over a year!), the “I said yes to the dress” picture, the snapshot when you get the marriage license, the wedding hashtag, the bachelor/bachelorette party pictures, the wedding video, the anniversary video…

Conclusion: Let’s just get away.

Beneath all the Pinterest-inspired table settings, when photos are sucking at every gigabyte of phone memory and the send-off sparklers are nothing but ashy metal sticks, the important part of the wedding is that two people have vowed to love, honor, and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. I understand that it’s an important day, but in the grand scheme of things, it is one day.

Plus, I know a lot of people who say they don’t even remember the wedding. I recently had dinner with a friend who told me the only thing she remembers from her wedding is that one of the guests ripped his vasectomy from dancing. (I’m working on selling that story to Hallmark.)

All that to say, I’d rather save money for the honeymoon, so we can go somewhere exotic and start our life together with amazing memories and peeling, sunburned shoulders.

So if I ever get married, I’m going to elope. But not in an unplanned, harum-scarum, run-baby-run, kinda way. (Hello, it’s me.) We will be organized and logical about this. We’ll make travel reservations and toodle down to the courthouse on a pre-arranged date.

Heck. Maybe it’ll even be an excuse to wear one of those bridesmaid dresses again.

Sounds like happily-ever-after to me.

Do you hate weddings? Does emotion make you snarky? I think we’ll get along just fine. Click the “Follow Me” button or type your email address into the widget on the top right of the screen!