For many, Easter represents the resurrection of a holy entity and our family is no different, though our special little guy wore no robes and swam through water instead of walking upon it. On Easter, we remember the death of our first and only pet (please bow your heads), Turquoise the fish.
On that fateful Sunday two years ago, we had just finished our egg hunt, brunch, and requisite candy ingestion. As always, I was trying to perform too many domestic miracles at once. I was on the phone with our friend Karen arranging that week’s horseback riding lesson while baptizing a sink full of heathenistic crockery. When I went to our family calendar to pencil in a time, I saw Poppy sobbing on the couch. As a parent, you learn to spot the subtle difference between the myriad types of crying your child can produce. I could tell that Poppy’s weeping was triggered by more than mere fatigue or an errant punch received from her younger brother London.
“Turqy’s died,” she said, and looking at the tank, I saw it was true. The fish lolled Lazarus-style on the bottom.
“What’s wrong?” Karen asked me, and I told her. “You need to have a ceremony,” she said (read: commanded). “Now.”
It is amazing how the grief of one family member can awaken something in the rest of kin even if it is centered around a thin ribbon of blue that never had much to say. My wife Lala comforted Poppy and plucked some flowers from a vase, while London followed behind, patting his sister in what he believed was an adult’s gesture of affection. Using a net the size of a driver’s license, I retrieved Turquoise from the bottom of the bowl. I wrapped the fish up in shiny tinfoil and was halfway out the door when I realized that aluminum doesn’t decompose, so I ran back and gingerly shrouded him in paper towels. I found myself whispering words of comfort though I wasn’t sure if it was to Poppy, this fish, or me.
The back of our house faces west and that night we had one of those blood orange sunsets New Mexico is famous for. I dug a hole under an old apricot tree in the yard with a spoon (I’m handy like that), placed Turquoise inside, and covered it up with a sweep of my unpierced palm. Even though we’ve had adult friends pass away, this was the closest our kids had come to having something living there one day and gone the next. I asked Poppy if she’d like to say a few words.
“Turquoise was my best friend and I loved him.” She placed a carnation on the grave before burying her face into her mother’s shirt.
“I’d like to say a poem for Turkboys.” London recited a few lines of verse that he’d been sporadically spouting around the house like a puerile prophet: “Look beyond the sea at night. Look beyond the trees that wave. Look beyond the monsters that bite. Look beyond the monster’s grave.” Even though the content of his poem had nothing to do with the event at hand, London seemed pleased.
It was now my turn since my shy wife likes to leave the speeches, toasts, or anything else that includes an audience up to me. We are not a religious family so I did not want to create a myth about some Technicolor fish heaven where Turquoise would swim fat and happy with Nemo’s mom and other non-aggressive sea creatures. I wanted Poppy and London to value and celebrate relationships we create and nurture during our lifetimes. Turquoise gave Poppy great joy, I said, and Poppy brings the same to those around her, especially her mother, brother, and me. And I hoped that we’d continue to bring joy into our home whether it came in the form of a fish, a friend, or the ever-growing love for family. But hopefully, I whispered, not a dog (at least for a few years).