We have a fish tank. It’s a 60 gallon monstrosity. It takes up an entire corner of our house that could be used much more efficiently for more storage space or just allow us to park the baby strollers, grocery carts, and riding toys somewhere other than in the middle of a walking path.
It was Sean’s. He was a marine biology major in college. Basically, that means he “had to” spend a semester in Hawaii scuba diving and he had a salt water aquarium. The aquarium did not make it to vet school where we met. It lived, empty, in his room at his mom’s house. When dating, some people imagine being married and think about what their children will look like, or spend hours writing their new last name in curly cue letters with little hearts all over. I’m a little pragmatic, so when I’d visit his mom’s house, I’d see the tank and imagine the magical underwater world that would someday be in our home.
It was going to be spectacular. Like Finding Nemo live action. We’d have live coral, clown fish, bright blue and yellow Tangs, a couple of puffer fish, some starfish (sorry, I’m mean sea stars), and maybe a shark. Just a small, friendly one that wouldn’t eat all the other fish.
As with many things, you come to some realizations when you’re dating someone seriously. Sean informed me that saltwater tanks are a lot of work. It’s hard to manage the pH, the salinity, the fish are expensive and they die easily. I was a little disappointed. I mean, here I am, dating someone with a degree in marine biology, and he’s not even going to put it to use by maintaining my spectacular underwater world. There are things that are deal breakers in a relationship that vary depending on your values, etc. The fish tank wasn’t a deal breaker, but I was really disappointed.
Sean must have sensed this. He quickly told me that a freshwater tank would be much easier to maintain. The fish were overall smaller and less expensive so we could have more. And, they schooled. He wanted a live tank, living plants. The picture in my mind changed, but it was still going to be an underwater wonder world. There’d be schools of bright Tetras, Mollies, Guppies, and whatever else was freshwater, maybe even a freshwater eel. Lush green plants would be waving in the current, with the schools of fish darting in and out. The fish would thrive, producing tiny little babies that would hide in the underwater forest. It was perfect. Even better, I’d be able to just enjoy it and leave all the tank maintenance to my marine biologist. Perfect.
As you might imagine, the honeymoon didn’t last long. The plants didn’t thrive. Only a couple actually grew. The fish didn’t thrive either. Sean was particular about what kind of fish he had, and they never had the right kind. Eventually, he tired of it. He let me get my guppies and black moor goldfish.
Turns out goldfish are dirty little things and guppies are prolific breeders. Soon, I had twenty-three guppies, all yellow because the two red and two black I bought didn’t breed and died quickly, and three goldfish (One died. I’m all about pairs, kind of like Noah’s Ark.) And one rapidly growing algae eater. He was twice as long as the goldfish and became aggressive.
As the name implies, algae eaters eat algae. He was rapidly growing because the only plant that liked our tank was algae. Lots and lots of algae (due to those dirty goldfish). We started growing a kind that nothing eats. Soon, the tank had its waving forests, attached to the sides, growing off the pathetic plants that stubbornly refused to die, and creating a murky, gloomy tank that was no fun to look at. It was impossible to clean and Sean gave up on it.
We waited for the fish to die so we could get rid of the damn thing. They never did. Five years later, all the guppies and dirty goldfish have finally died, but we still have four Tetras, some sickly looking snails, and that gigantic, mean algae eater.
Recently, the tank has been truly neglected. Sean has stopped bothering refilling it to make up for evaporative losses. So the water is getting lower and lower and the filters, which circulate the water at the top of the tank, have become waterfalls. Really loud waterfalls that disrupt my sleep.
In these last five years, I have managed to never add water, clean the tank, or change the filter. I figured, although I did want the tank, it was Sean’s project, not mine. And I knew if I took it over it would become my project. I have too much on my plate to take on another project. So it became a stalemate. Sean not taking care of it, me not taking care of it, and the fish not getting the hint to die. (The algae even went away once the goldfish died.)
As usual, I caved first. This weekend I couldn’t take it anymore. I refilled the tank (I estimate it was 30 gallons low). Figured out how to use the little tank vacuum and vacuumed five years of accumulated crud from under the gravel, then refilled the tank again to replace all the water that came out with the vacuuming. I changed the filters. And although I didn’t disconnect it correctly and wound up with water everywhere, I got the job done. Then I waited.
I figured either I’d have a clean, full tank, or I’d shock the fish and they’d die and we could get rid of it. They didn’t die.
So on Saturday, I took the girls to the pet store, bought some new plants and some new fish (and a couple of shrimp). I now have ten fish, plus two shrimp, and that algae eater. (It’s all about the pairs. Unpaired fish turn into massive algae eaters.) I planted a little forest. The fish are schooling and darting in and out of the plants. The algae eater keeps knocking some of the plants out of the ground, but Sean says that kind of plant likes to float anyway, and it’s a good place for the baby fish to hide. I’m going to let the tank settle a little and get some more fish.
I have a new project now. And it’s going to be an underwater wonderland.