College is a time of independence. We move away from home and abandon our beloved pets. One of the few pets most schools allow in dorms are fish. And a lot of students take advantage of that. I sure did. My sophomore year I was next door to a pet store and, on a whim, bought a Betta fish. And, like the mature college student I am, I named him Buster Baxter.
Buster Baxter had lots of playdate offers as soon as I announced that he had found a home with me. I was warned not to let certain friends fish-sit for fear of receiving Snapchats of said friend "fishing" with my pet. I googled all the ways to best take care of a Betta. I bought a cute tank with a plant that Buster Baxter loved to lounge in. I got good food and a water conditioner. I was a good mom. I was a proud mom. I'm sure lots of students feel this way.
Having a pet fish gives you a sense of responsibility. I don't think most students realize how much they will come to care for their fish. At first it seems like something fun to do. Fish seem pretty low-maintenance compared to a dog, so how could one possibly form a relationship with a stupid fish? But let me tell you, the human-fish bond is like no other.
You will soon find yourself talking to your fish. At first it will be you asking if he's hungry or tired. But slowly you will progress to talking to your fish like he's human. You'll share details of your love life and social drama and how mean your professors can be with all the homework you get. You'll start to learn your fish's quirks. When Buster Baxter was hungry, he had a tendency of picking up one of the pebbles at the bottom of his tank and tossing it at the wall. He was smart like that. When he was mad at me, he would hide in his plant and if I came up close to the tank to feed him, he would approach me and flare to show his anger.
Buster Baxter and I were a team. We understood each other. If I had a bad day, I could go up to his tank and he would come out from wherever he was hiding to hang out with me. We could stare into each other's eyes and have a whole conversation. This simple little fish could make my day. His bubble nests (because even though he was isolated in a tank, he still wanted to attract mates) and his pebble tossing were some of the highlights of living with a Betta fish.
A lot of people might not get this type of relationship. My dad liked to say that Buster Baxter's brain was too small for him to remember me. I like to believe (and am quite certain) that he is wrong. After having a fish for a while, you'll start to notice his behavior change. He'll be more friendly with you. Just like a dog who's a little scared of people. Fish are the same. Their tiny pea brains don't mean they can't love you.
To all college students: make the spur-of-the-moment decision to get a fish. I can tell you that it is well worth the $25 you'll have to spend on the fish and its tank. A love for a fish is like no other. Even though you'll do all these weird things I described above, your friends will love your fish. You will bond with other fish owners and your friends will always volunteer to fish-sit. Buster Baxter had lots of friends. Even though he hated when I left, I'm quite sure he loved all the friends he made in his various fish-sitters. And I'm certain they loved him too. Don't be afraid of the responsibility. A fish can be as big a part of your life as a dog if you make it that way.
In loving memory of Buster Baxter
(January 17, 2015 - May 31, 2016)