My university does not allow any type of pets in the dormitories. Rumor has it some kid left a gallon tank of fish to rot over Christmas break one year and ruined it for the rest of us. Whether that is true or not, everything from hamsters to dogs have been banned from entering the residence halls.
Needless to say, people have found ways around this rule. Cats, ferrets, gerbils and hermit crabs have all spent their fair share of time in places like Dechantal and Havey Hall. There is something about having a pet on campus that is so comforting. I think we’d all love to bring our dog or cat with us for the semester as a sort of coping mechanism just to make it through the week. It's nice to have something that is so excited to see you when you walk through the door and every pet owner knows the struggle of missing that when you go away to school.
My freshman year, I obviously followed the no pets rule. I lived right next door to my floor’s resident assistant and wasn’t looking to get into any trouble, as I had already been told I could not have my lava lamp (which apparently was drug paraphernalia, something I’m still trying to process). To combat this, my best friend bought me a cactus named “Curtis” and told me to take care of it as I would any other animal.
That semester, Curtis died from being overwatered (he looked dry, I couldn't help myself).
Then, Curtis Junior died from being crushed by my book bag after a long and stressful day of mid-terms.
And Curtis the Third? Well he disappeared somewhere around finals week and I never saw him again.
What I should have learned from this was that I was, in no way, ready for a pet. I mean if I could not take care of a cactus how was I supposed to take care of something actually alive? People like me were most definitely the reason we weren’t allowed pets on campus and I was well aware of this.
So, naturally, I went out and bought a fish my sophomore year.
The first few days were fine. Little Artemis swam merrily around in his clean, colorful new bowl and didn’t seem like he needed much attention. He was the perfect pet for me: Low maintenance and quiet. I could go days without checking up on him. But that also became the problem. Every week, his bowl would need cleaned and I’d find myself with no time to clean it. He was only supposed to be fed every so many days but I would find myself forgetting when I last fed him, sometimes leaving him without food for way longer than necessary. “He’s just fish,” my friends would say. But to me he was so much more than that. As I watched him swim around the bowl, following my finger as I moved it up and down the side of the glass, I couldn’t help but adore him and simultaneously feel so sorry for him that he had an owner like me. Like most early twenty-somethings would tell you "I'm not in the place in my life where I could have a baby," I can tell you that i was in no way at the point in my life where I was ready to have a fish.
Something like remembering to clean your fish bowl can seem tiny in the grand scheme of your little college life, but nonetheless it is a responsibility. And as adults, these little responsibilities add up one by one into what eventually becomes the routine of our lives. Having to take care of this fish made me realize just how incompetent I actually was at 20 years old. If I couldn’t take care of him, how was I even supposed to take care of myself? (A very good question, as at this point I'd probably been wearing the same pair of socks for three days straight). In a way, Artemis at least helped me slightly start to get my life together. I started writing down when to feed him, which led me to start writing other things I needed to remember down somewhere that I would surely see them. Then I found time to clean his bowl during the week, in which I'd clean whatever else I had lying around because I was already tidying up with him. It started with something small, and step by step I just kind of started to get better.
Now in truth this fish did not completely change my life. But he did give me some perspective on how I should probably be handling my responsibilities. So now, every time that I do not want to do something that I really need to do I just remind myself that Artemis needs me to be a good, responsible mother.
But then I just laugh and go back to watching Netflix for the rest of the night. But hey, at least its a start.