My friend Shaun died on Saturday 1st December 2012. We had been friends for 8 years and he had been with me through good times and bad. He had not been well for almost a week and I knew he wouldn’t be with us for much longer, but when he died it hit me hard, which is understandable you would think, a friend passing away. However Shaun wasn’t just my friend, he was my pet. Shaun was my goldfish.
It was 2004 and I had just moved into a flat on my own after difficult breakup. I had kept goldfish in the past but they never lasted long, to be honest I wasn’t good at looking after fish. But when I moved I had a girlfriend who worked in a pet shop and she knew a lot about looking after animals and especially looking after fish, so it seemed like a good time to get some fish again. A new flat, and new fish.
A few of the fish at the beginning didn’t last long. I thought I was cursed. I made sure I didn’t over stock the aquarium, I made regular water changes, and did my best to keep them alive but it wasn’t meant to be, however Shaun lived on. He stood out from the other fish for a few reasons, at first it was because he seemed so plain. I had named the other fish because of how they looked. Goldie was named because he was a very gold goldfish; Stripe had a stripe along his fin, which also reminded me of the gremlin with the same name. I even at one point had a goldfish named Hitler because he had what looked like a little Hitler moustache, but Shaun didn’t really have anything special about him. He was just a shubunkin goldfish. Shaun of The Dead was on at the cinema and I was a big fan of the film. As I had no idea what to call the shubunkin I decided to call him Shaun. Shaun the Shubunkin.
Another thing that made Shaun stand out was for the fact that he seemed a lot smarter than the other fish. He would ‘watch’ the TV, and would follow you around room. Now when I say follow, of course I don’t mean he would jump out of the water and flop along the floor behind you, but he would always seem to be facing you if the TV wasn’t on. If you sat next to the aquarium he would swim up to the glass as if say hello. Some people didn’t believe me when I said that Shaun was smart and so I tell them to sit next to the glass. If you moved, he would move too. My friends would bob their heads around in front of Shaun and get excited when Shaun bobbed back. Soon all of my friends became a fan of Shaun.
As the years went by Shaun grew and not only did he outlive his fish friends but he outlived a lot of my relationships too. Girlfriends came and went but Shaun was always there. In 2009 I started dating Sally, and survived the day I moved out of my flat to move in with her later that year. Shaun really felt like part of the family. He had lived to see my relationship with Sally grown from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife.
There had only been a few times that I was worried that Shaun wouldn’t live to see another day and it was when I moved flats and also swim bladder problems. However each time he had an issue I managed to nurse him back to health again. I started to think that Shaun was immortal and would be with me forever. It didn’t matter if I hadn’t changed the water for a while because Shaun would survive it. It didn’t matter if I forgot to feed him for a while because Shaun would survive that too. I was so used to Shaun surviving everything that I would sometimes become complacent.
Last week I noticed that Shaun didn’t look well. I hadn’t changed his water for a while and so I did a 25% water change hoping it would make Shaun better but it didn’t. It was something I had never seen before; he started to spend a lot of time sitting on the bottom as if he didn’t have enough energy to swim. He stopped eating. He then went from sitting on the bottom of the tank to lying on the bottom of the tank. I didn’t know what to do? If I just let him lay at the bottom all day he had no chance to surviving, so I decided to move him to a large but shallow Tupperware container. I transferred most of the water from his tank and got a little pump to oxygenate the water for him. I thought maybe with the container being shallower than the tank he would be able to feed which he did. He did start to eat but he still hardly moved. Soon all I could do was sit and watch his little gills open and close. I started to accept that maybe Shaun wouldn’t survive this time. Maybe it would be more humane to pour vodka and corn oil into the water and put him to sleep. It was late Friday night and I thought that if Shaun had not made any improvement in the morning that I would euthanize him. However on Saturday morning I didn’t want to look. I could see that he hadn’t moved but I didn’t look long enough to check if his gills were still moving. It was Sally who told me that his gills had stopped moving. Shaun had died.
As Shaun was special to me I wanted do something special for him. Maybe make a little cross out of lolly sticks and bury him in the garden? This just didn’t feel right as the property is rented and isn’t our own. Maybe I would let him go in a river and watch him float away downstream? This seamed like a more fitting send off. Sally suggested the canal near where we live so I put Shaun in a little plastic sandwich bag and rolled up the remainder of the bag around him and then sealed the bag shut. It fitted him perfectly. He looked like he was in plastic little coffin. On Sunday morning Sally and I went for a walk down the canal. It was a cold and frosty. The sun was low and it made the frost and water sparkle. We came to one of the benches along the canal with something next to it that looked a bit like a little grave stone. I think it was an old mile marker. It was a peaceful spot and a thin layer of fog across the water made it feel slightly magical. It was the perfect place to set him free. I took his little coffin out of the carrier bag that I had brought him down to the canal in and dropped him into the water. I had a marker pen on me and decided to write Shaun 2004 -2012 on the stone next to the bench. We stayed a while to say goodbye and then headed off to let him float away to the next life.
He is at peace now and I have a place I can go to sit and think of him. A place where I can remember the good times we had. Keep on swimming little Shaun. I will miss you.