Lessons in Sadness with Gillbert the Dead Goldfish

Last week a group comprised of what I’m sure are complicated individuals but for the sake of convenience I will refer to as assholes decided it would be a fabulous idea to put goldfish in the toilets at my school. My roommate heard about this and, being the damn hero she is, decided to save one.

Yesterday I asked her how  Nemo was doing. She said fine, but she hated him. I told her that if she didn’t want it, I could take care of him. She said I could. I was positively giddy that I would be getting a new pet.

I set up a nice spot for him on my bookshelf. I studied him so I could come up with a name more fitting for his spirit. I was going to name the fish Rahab, but he had a distinctively boyish air about him, so I called him Gillbert. I took pictures and sent them to my friends, telling them to welcome him to my family. I was the proudest fish parent there ever was.

For the next ten hours, anyways.

I woke up and cooed good morning to Gillbert, who didn’t respond. I thought this was normal, seeing as goldfish have limited cognitive abilities. I made my way over to his tank and gently tapped on the glass. Still, no response. If there’s one thing I knew about dear old Gillbert it was that he always responded when I gently tapped on the glass of his tank.

I looked at his limp body and felt myself starting to cry. “Huh, that’s weird,” I thought. I loved Gillbert but I didn’t really think he was worth crying over. So I dried my tears and went to my statistics class. But my eyeballs wouldn’t stop watering.

My teary eyes were getting in the way of normal human functioning, so I texted my sister. I told her that Gillbert died and that I felt weird. She asked why I felt weird, and I replied that I thought it was sadness, but I could be having a stroke. She said that i was not having a stroke. Then she said something really wise. She said that it was okay to be sad.

I’ll say it again: It’s okay to be sad.

In the past, I felt everything I touched shriveled and died. I felt incapable of tending to friendships or hobbies or my school work, so I felt that I might as well not get too invested. But now I’m older. I get invested in friends and hobbies and fish and I feel sadness when they change. Sometimes I panic when I feel sad because I’m afraid I’m going to get stuck in a rut. But, like my sister reminded me, it is okay to be sad. I’m grateful for the sadness I feel when a friendship changes, because it means what we had was good. I’m grateful I was able to love Gillbert enough to be sad for him.

So here’s to you Gillbert.

From the toilet you came and to the toilet you have returned.

Thank you for the lessons you taught me and for letting me love you. I’m sure if you had the mental capacity to do so you would have reciprocated.

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