The Clownfish Incident

I want her to know about The Fish Who Loves Me, the one in the aquarium that always watches me, follows me. It seems to seek me out and stare at me, shimmying up or down in the water if I happen to adjust my height while I am peering through the glass as the day goes on. It darts away if someone else gets near the tank but as soon as the coast is clear it always floats back to look at me.

There is a chance, I believe, that this fish is the reincarnation of some soul mate or other from one of my past lives. It is, according to my research, a female golden mbuna. If I could find a human female who looks at me the way The Fish Who Loves Me does, I might put my heart out there again and see if I can still function in a romantic relationship.

I snapped a photo of the mbuna one day with my phone – it had, as usual, followed me to the end of the tank while the other fish scattered and paid no attention to me. That fish moved in close and looked me in the eye while I took its picture. Every time I see that picture I marvel at the intense way that fish is staring at me, as if to say, “Don’t you remember me? How can you look right at me and not know me, after all that we meant to one another?”

In keeping with sharing some of the dumbest, most inconsequential things (which is to say: many of the funniest, most significant things) that happen to me during any given week, I also want to share that photo with her.

But then I recall the Clownfish Incident, and I reckon I may never share that photo with her.

“Don’t you remember me? How can you look right at me and not know me, after all that we meant to one another?”

Even as I took the photo of The Fish Who Loved Me, thinking immediately that I should send it to her, I knew I could not do that.

I only have a few weak details – a photo in an encyclopedia entry about clownfish, something vaguely terrifying that still haunts her. The Clownfish Incident was formative, that’s for sure. She has not forgotten it.

This, of course, begs more questions than it answers.

  • Was the encyclopedia in her home, or at school?
  • Which set was she using – Britannica, World Book, Funk & Wagnall?
  • Was she seeking out information about clownfish for a school report, or
  • Did she just stumble upon it while leafing through the C-volume of the encyclopedia set (like an innocent treasure hunter striking the bone of a murdered corpse while digging where X marked the spot on his map)?
  • Does she remember anything else about clownfish besides the fact that a photo of one gave her a lifelong dread of seeing other photos of clownfish, possibly photos of any other fish? (Hence, my reluctance to send her a photo of The Fish Who Loves Me)

In my own half-assed research to tease out an answer to possible stressors in relation to the Clownfish Incident I discovered that there are real clownfish and false clownfish. Whether real or false, every clownfish is born a male and can turn into a female for mating and/or leadership purposes. The largest female in a group of clownfish will be its leader, while the largest male is the dominant male of the group. If the female leader is killed or dies, the largest male will change its gender to female so that it can lead the group from that point forward.

I hope she remembers this, too, from the Clownfish Incident. I think knowing these things about clownfish would change her trauma into triumph. Then I could send her the photo of The Fish Who Loves Me.

Then again, maybe The Fish Who Loves Me doesn’t really love me.

Maybe The Fish Who Loves Me is not the reincarnation of a soul mate from another lifetime.

Maybe the Fish Who Loves Me looks at everyone the way she looks at me, but I am attaching significance to the unpremeditated actions of a tiny-brained, cold-blooded tropical aquarium fish as a way of dealing with loneliness without drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in dangerous, empty casual sex.

Maybe I’ll never have the answers to any of these questions.

One thing is certain: my time is up this morning, and this writing exercise is over.