How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood

When I was seven, my family moved from suburban California to rural Idaho.   In an effort to embrace Northern Idaho culture, my dad took me fishing at a lake near our house.   I was really excited.

Mostly because I thought that I would get to keep the fish I caught as a pet.  

My dad spent all day showing me how to thread a worm and cast a line.  

Every second, I expected to feel a pull on my hook and reel in my new best friend.  It never happened.  

I was heartbroken.  Even though I never got to meet my fish friend, it felt like he had been forcibly taken from me.  My hopes were crushed.  As my dad was desperately trying to console me, a kindly fisherman took note and offered to let me have one of the fish he had in his bucket. 

I was ecstatic!  My mind immediately composed a vivid montage of all the fun times I would have with my new friend. 

The fisherman set his bucket on the dock and let me pick out my fish.  I chose the cutest fish I could find and lovingly transferred it to my own bucket.   "Hi," I whispered; "My name is Allie.  I'm your new best friend."   

Once we got home, my dad went to take a nap and I carried my fish's bucket out into our backyard.   I set the bucket down and ran as fast as my excited little legs could carry me to fetch a shovel.  


I set my friend free in his new home and watched him swim around for awhile.  I felt so pleased with myself for transporting this humble little fish from his old life of poverty and hardship to a new life with his very own pond and all the bread pieces he could eat.  

After making sure that my fish was comfortable and happy, I went inside to make toys and furniture for him.  I glued toothpicks and popsicle sticks together to form miniature chairs and tables.  My fish was going to love his new home!  I was so excited for him.  

An hour or so later, I proudly carried the things I made outside to give to my fish.  

As I got closer to the pond, I could already sense that there was something wrong.  There were no happy splashing sounds.  I couldn't see the water over the top of hole I'd dug.  I dropped the fish furniture I had made and broke into a run.  

When I reached the pond, I was horrified to discover that most of the water had been absorbed into the ground.  My fish was lying on its side, flopping around in about a half-inch of mud-water.  

WHAT HAD I DONE????  I immediately got the hose and started spraying my fish with a stream of cold water.  

I filled up the hole and waited.  My fish floated belly-up in the murky water.  Every now and then he would thrash around and try to turn himself over unsuccessfully.  I tried to help him stay right-side up by holding him in the correct orientation and then releasing him gently, but he always flopped back over lifelessly.  It became clear that he wasn't going to make it.  

I knew what I had to do.  

I went inside and got my mom's butcher knife.  

I didn't want my fish to suffer.  I had to be brave for him.  I had to do the right thing and finish what I started.  I drug the fish over to our brick patio and prepared to end its life as quickly and painlessly as I could. 

I held the blade high over my head.  It glinted in the sunlight as I tried to steady my nerves.   

I took a deep breath and brought the knife down as hard as I could. 

 I barely dented my fish.  It flopped around as urgently as a half-dead fish can, as if to say "OHMYGODI'MBLEEDING!!!!!! WHAT THE F*CKING F*CK ARE YOU DOING???? IF YOU'RE GOING TO DECAPITATE ME, DO IT!!! KIIIIIIIIIILLLLL MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"

I began to frantically hack at it, over and over, like a berserk war machine.  


I couldn't kill it.  My pathetic 7-year-old muscles could not sever the fish's head.  I needed help. 

I ran inside and woke up my dad.  

Imagine, for a second, that you are peacefully slumbering after a nice day of bonding with your young daughter - who you think is playing peacefully out in the yard.  You are warm and comfortable and feeling secure about your life.  And then you are abruptly woken up by this:

Upon discovering that his daughter was crying and covered in blood, my dad became visibly distressed.  He asked me what was wrong and if I was okay and where did all the blood come from? But all he could get out of me were half-sentences interrupted by hyperventilation and random screaming.  

I was eventually able to drag him out to the patio where the fish was still flopping around heroically, spattering blood all over our new brickwork.  My dad told me to go inside.  

From under the covers of my parent's bed, I could hear metal strike brick.  Just once.  Then my dad came back inside and sat down on the bed next to me.  He patted me on the head and asked me if I wanted fish tacos for dinner.   

The Awkward Situation Survival Guide

Awkward silence

You are talking to an acquaintance or having dinner with your coworkers.  The conversation suddenly comes to a crossroads and no one knows where to steer it.  The silence has extended past the 6-second mark and the awkwardness is increasing exponentially.  Worst of all, you were the last person to speak, so everyone thinks the awkwardness is your fault.

The Solution:  Sudden, loud noise


You are having a great time, talking loudly, feeling like the life of the party.  You are soaring on wings of confidence.  You get a little too bold.  Something offensive slips out.  

Now everyone is staring at you and your confidence implodes like a punctured balloon.  Suddenly you can't find anything to say.  You are nothing.  You are dirt.  Your soul is soaking up shame like a sponge and you are beginning to weigh the value of your friendships against the magnitude of your embarrassment.  

The Solution: Confuse... 

... or redirect... 

Getting caught staring

Sometimes you are ogling a pretty girl, sometimes you are trying to get a better look at a horribly misshapen person and sometimes you are just spacing out and your eyes happen to be pointing directly at someone.  

Whatever the case, when you are caught, you will feel shame.  Lots and lots of shame. 

The Solution:

Encounters with close talkers

Conversations with close-talkers are usually only awkward on your end. They could be telling you about how they found ten miniature unicorns in their backyard and all you are thinking about is whether your breath stinks and exactly how to angle your head so that you aren't breathing on them, but it still kind of looks like you are paying attention.

The Solution:

Unwanted conversation 

I am painfully bad at avoiding/extricating myself from this one.  I get sucked into all sorts of unwanted conversations about crazy political conspiracy theories, the annual budget for sports teams I don't care about, advanced scientific debates that I am woefully underprepared for and probing discussions about my breast health.  One time, on a Greyhound bus ride to Seattle, I talked to a woman I didn't know for 7 hours about her divorce because I couldn't figure out how to end the conversation.  

Generally, unwanted conversations happen unexpectedly, so there is very little you can do to avoid them. 

The Solution:  I have no idea; you tell me. 

Responding to someone who isn't talking to you 

The Solution:  You have several options

The Milk Crisis of 2005

I haven't always been an unemployed pseudo-hobo.  When I was in college, I often worked during Christmas and summer breaks serving food and bussing tables in my hometown.   I have a lot of stories I could tell you from those times, but one in particular sticks out in my mind.

I was having a really bad day.  I had barely slept the night before because being scheduled for an early shift hadn't made me any less nocturnal.  I hadn't gotten anything to eat either.  I forgot to pack a lunch and I was stalwartly holding out on buying something because working for $3.25 an hour plus a paltry amount of tips kind of makes you reluctant to purchase a $10 hamburger if you don't absolutely have to.

My sleep-deprivation and hypoglycemia were only aggravated by a string of rude and demanding customers - one guy didn't like the shape of his burger patty, a kid threw a fish stick at my head, some snobby lady made fun of my gaudy, oversized work uniform and I was verbally molested more times than I could count.  In light of all of this, I was overjoyed to see a friendly-looking old man come in and seat himself in one of the booths.

The seniors who came into the restaurant were usually delightful to be around and I felt relieved that maybe I would get to experience a fulfilling and kind interaction for the first time that day.

I brought him a menu and cheerfully asked if there was anything he would like to drink.  He was like

I quickly went and got him a big glass of cold milk.  I handed it over to him with pride, feeling good about my prompt reaction-time and smiling service. 

He stared at the milk silently for a few moments before shouting

I was surprised by his reaction to the milk, but I obliged his request and went back to get him a smaller glass.  We only had two different glass sizes, so I chose one of the smaller ones and brought it back to the man's table, again feeling proud of my ability to provide quick, tailored service with a smile.

He looked at me.  He looked at the milk.  He looked back at me.  Then his wizened face contorted into a menacing scowl and he shrieked

I felt a little discouraged, but not yet defeated.  As I noted before, we didn't have any intermediate-sized glasses, but that wasn't going to stop me from getting this man the exact right amount of milk.  No, I needed to find a solution!   That solution ended up being filling one of the large glasses halfway.  It wasn't the prettiest way to present milk, but it got the job done.  

I trotted the half-full glass of milk over to the man, who was now scowling at me from across the room like he was expecting me to fail.  I cautiously held it out to him. .  

It became immediately apparent that my crafty solution was not satisfactory. 

I said, "Sir, we don't have any medium-sized glasses.  We only have large glasses and small glasses."

Man: "What the hell are you talking about?" 

Me:  "The restaurant only has two sizes, small and large.  We don't have any medium cups." 

Man: "Why don't you have any other cups?"

Me:  "I don't know.  It's stupid.  I'm sorry." 

Man:  "Do something about it."  

Me:  "I'll try." 

I scurried back to the kitchen to work on somehow hand-crafting a medium-sized glass.  I had very little to work with.   We had some styrofoam to-go cups that were the same size as the large in-restaurant cups.  I took one of the styrofoam cups and cut about three inches off of the top of it with a steak knife.  It was not pretty.  It looked like I had tried to gnaw the cup apart with my teeth.  But it would have to suffice.  I filled the monstrosity I had created with milk, took a deep breath and walked toward the man's table.  I could see him glaring at me, daring me to disappoint him one more time. 

My hands shook as I held out the cup to him, hoping, hoping, hoping - maybe he wouldn't notice the jagged edges, maybe he wouldn't care that there were little bits of styrofoam floating in his milk. Maybe.


He ended up ordering orange juice instead.