Tolerance Tank on Empty

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human experience / relationships / Uncategorized



It is a sad day in my kitchen. And today it has absolutely nothing to do with my lack of skill in either the cooking or baking departments.  How I wish this were the case. This is of far more serious importance, with potential for devastating consequences. I woke up to a death.  Not “of sorts”, but a real death.  A heartbeat extinguished. “Someone’s” baby. A dream died right in my very kitchen.

I shall explain.  I have what I now refer to as a Teaching Tolerance Tank.  It is a large fish tank, once filled with all one color goldfish (orange) that swam happily around amongst themselves. I called them The Stepford Wives for obvious reasons. There was Joanna, Bobbie, Claire, Sarah and Charmaine. All quite comfy eating, sleeping, swimming.  They followed the rules consistently. When it was time to clean the tank they obediently hopped into the fish net and waited patiently for a kinder, cleaner bowl. I heard nary a complaint. Fish did what they do and did it rather well. I was proud of them. And I was bored to tears. I decided it was time to add five new “friends” to the mix.

This time I chose more exciting personalities to grace the pool.  I added a speckled gold, black and white fish, and named her Maria because I  found her tricolor to be exhilarating…like a samba dance or something; a sultry all black fish named Blanche (“white” in French, ahhhh…irony…); an all white

Maria, the Samba swimmer

Maria, the Samba swimmer

fish named “Thor” because we needed a male. He’s not very aggressive, and in fact hides behind The Stepford Wives, specifically Charmaine. Yes, I was concerned he may get eaten alive by these ladies, so, in turn, I wanted to give him a name of strength just to be kind. Last but not least, a beautiful all white fish with an orange spot, named “Creamsickle” (I was hungry…so shoot me!) and a gold fish…quite literally. It is gold, not orange like The Stepford Wives. I refer to him as “Pimp Daddy” because I found that humorous.  I thought of him wearing a heavy gold chain and singing rap music to Frank Sinatra lyrics along the coral wall during Happy Hour.

One can only imagine what happened next…at first it was all so unfamiliar to The Stepford Wives. They formed a “pack” of sorts. following each other around as if they had no individual personalities at all…to be fair, they did at least swim independently prior to these minority fish showing up! Now they were seen hiding behind coral and seaweed. They weren’t even “pretend” friendly.  The Stepford Wives weren’t given instruction on how to share their space with fish of other colors. It was hard to watch, friends. While the newbies swam with abandon back and forth and through sea anemones, resting on the red starfish and fraternizing among the sea grass, then joining up for some jellyfish gelato in the Tolerance Tank Café, the five Stepford Wives were hiding out in a dark corner of the tank.

Ok, it was all new.  I understood, perhaps the newbies were a little much.  They joined the tank in such a jubilant state that they may have intimidated the long time inhabitants living there who had regular routines and rituals. I thought it might just be a relatively short  adjustment period. However, looking at our U.S. segregated past, it took at least nine years just to get Brown vs. Board of Education out there and acknowledged! And that wasn’t even desegregation as a whole. Rather, it was merely a step in that direction.

Still…I couldn’t have imagined what I saw the very next morning in the same 24 hour period that the Tolerance Tank held my “friends” all together in the same venue.

It seems that poor dear Maria, my samba dancing fish,

Creamsickle...not because she chose that name, but because I was hungry

Creamsickle…not because she chose that name, but because I was hungry.

was taken too soon. She was a floater. And I can’t tell you whether the death of Maria affected those left behind in such a way as to unite them (as they, The Stepford Wives, as well as the newbies, appeared to be doing synchronized swimming in a string of  “follow the leader”)  or whether it was a cover up of sorts…with The Stepford Wives committing the crime and then using their charm to suggest to the others that if they all unite no one would get fingered. Whatever the case, I was horror stricken upon closing in on the Tolerance Tank.

I do not know the answer to this tragedy. Alas and Alack, I shall never know.

No one is talking.

Stepford Wives mingle with Pimp Daddy, Creamsickle and Maria prior to..."the event". I cannot go there.

Stepford Wives mingle with Pimp Daddy, Creamsickle,Thor (far left, head not showing) and Maria prior to…”the event”. I cannot go there….sigh…


Moral of the story:

a.) When your time is up, it’s up.

                                   b.) A fish brain is approximately one-sixteenth the size of it’s body, has no capacity for empathy, and a memory span of three months maximum. People act much the same but without this excuse.

                                   c.) Maria stood for living a life out loud. She was an individual. She stood out from the rest. Could she have been chastised for this? We should all live like we were floating!

Question: How come those of us humans WITH brains approximating three pounds, equipped with all brain parts in tact, and only using ten percent of what we are capable, tend to act so much like fish?

Think. Empathize. Love one another. Appreciate differences. Embrace life. (as Maria did).

RIP: Maria “Spot” McFish, #SambaDancer


The Author

I am a licensed clinical social worker who just happens to adore the written word. I have had a private practice and am now writing a memoir on my life in the company of my father and many of my clients who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I hope to dispel some myths and break down some barriers for those with mental illness. I write out of need and complete joy, which I hope to convey throughout my blogs. The human experience is not exclusive to one group. I hope to appeal to most as I touch on some pretty heady material with some self-deprecating humor and raw emotion thrown in for good measure. I have four amazing children, one HUGE dog and a tolerant husband. I am blessed.

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