When I was about five my father bought me two goldfish at the pet store for about ten bucks. We got a round fish bowl, a bunch of blue pebbles, and a little fish castle to put in the pebbles so my goldfish could play knights if they felt like it. He bought a little shaker of fish-flakes to feed the fish and some water drops to make the pH levels in the water habitable for them. They had names, but I never remembered them. They were to me, Fish 1 and Fish 2 and I was only moderately excited by their presence. We had them for about a month before one day I found them floating belly up in their fish bowl. Apparently the water had been too basic for their delicate fishy bodies and it killed them. I walked out in the living room to where my father was sitting out on the couch watching TV and held the bowl of dead fish in my tiny arms.
My father looked at the bowl in horror, his mind going into panic mode as he desperately racked his brain for the words on how to explain mortality to his serious eyed little girl holding her bowl of fish. Would they flush the fish, bury them, hold a big funeral? What was he supposed to do?
I looked up at him and with a straightforward tone of matter-of-factness I said, “Daddy, my fish are dead.” I then carefully placed the bowl of carcasses on the floor and then beamed up at him. “May I have a cat now?”
You see, my dad bought me fish to distract me from what I really wanted, which was a cat. Now like a number of small, bug-eyes little girls of 5, I was absolutely obsessed with cats. I drew pictures of cats, I watched movies on cats, I checked out every book in the library on cats, and I collected stuffed animals that were cats. By the age of five, I could rattle off all 91 International Cat Association certified breeds of felines and their specific breed traits and registered colors like some boys of five can rattle off Pokémon.
I knew every single fact about cats, from the average lifespan to the year that cats were domesticated (7500 BC in Cyprus). I had a singular focus in life to achieve one goal, which was to acquire a cat by any means possible. My mother was adamant about not having one, but as my obsession grew, she began to bargain, especially after I began to dress up as a cat myself.
“You can have a cat when you are five, Maddie.” She said to her then three-year-old daughter, thinking that by the time two years passed, the fancy of feline ownership would have subsided in her toddler’s mind. “Just take those socks off your hands and stop meowing.”
It was a smart strategy, but she gravely underestimated my fixation.
On the morning of my fifth birthday I crept into my parents room at four in the morning. Standing inches from my mother’s face, I poked her forehead softly with my index finger and smiled with a wide toothless grin. My mother jerked awake as she saw two dark, saucer-like eyes staring at her in the weak light of dawn.
“I’m five now, Mommy.” I whispered, “Can I have a cat now.”
My mother rubbed her tired eyes and shot a look at the clock. “What?” She asked groggily, her mind still coming online.
“Remember, you promised me two years ago that we would get a cat on my fifth birthday. I’m five today.”
“You remember that?” She asked in surprise as her hands fumbled for her glasses.
My mother furrowed her brow and looked down at her daughter’s wide grin. We had owned a cat when I was a baby and it was psychotic. When it bit me, my parents had had to “send it to a farm in the country” and my mother was heartbroken. As my mother looked down at her gleaming eyed child and frowned. This was bad.
I smiled undeterred and flipped the pages in my book to an article describing how to properly assimilate children and animals.
“Look Maddie.” She said softly but firmly, closing the book on her lap and taking me in her arms, “The only way you are going to get a cat is if God drops one in your lap. So if you want a cat, you are just going to have to pray for one.”
I looked up at her and grinned, then picked up my book, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and dropped to the floor and prayed.
Nine months later, Ms. Melissa Cook came to live with us and she brought her cat, a beautiful and black silky shorthaired cat named Ebony. Ebony actually stowed away in Ms. Melissa’s moving van and it was a bit of a surprise that her cat followed her. God put that cat into my lap and I fell in love with Ebony at first sight and when Ms. Melissa was ready to go, she left Ebony with me.
I’ve had Ebony for eleven years and she is still my favorite animal in the whole wide world. She was the answer to a little girl’s multi-year prayer.
To this day, I have never had another fish.