Fishing for Answers: The Tolerance Tank in Hot Water

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acceptance / accountability / carassius auratus / emotional health / goldfish / human experience / justice / kindness / pedicures / responsibility / Stepford Wives / tolerance / Tolerance Tank

The Wives were restless. They desperately wanted to make a big splash but something was holding them back…Charmaine? She really was different than the other girls in her sorority. Clearly, she was too kind hearted, got along with any old fish that swam down the pike and seemed to enjoy spending her free time with that marshmellowy-white colored fish, Thor. He was clearly an outsider like the others before him.  It’s true.

Thor...he almost looks like a "Princess", doesn't he? That's why he appealed to my softer side.

Thor…he almost looks like a “Princess”, doesn’t he? That’s why he appealed to my softer side.

Among the girls remaining in the Tolerance Tank, Charmaine was the most adamant about possessing her own identity. Being called a “wife” among the other Stepford Wives relegated her to a follower position. This was not her style and, she decided, with guidance from her close friend, Thor, to make a break from the pack and swim toward shore with her identity in tact. She was going to take responsibility for her deeds once and for all. No more treading water behind the Wives. She resolved to be accountable for herself and her actions from here on out. She wouldn’t make waves, but would own what was hers; to include not sitting idly while her sister swimmers took advantage of those that swam innocently hoping to have finally arrived in a sacred place of peace and harmony toward all colors, sizes and shapes of sea life, most especially the main tenants swimming about, or Carassius auratus, in the Tolerance Tank.

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

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

If you happen to see the ladies pictured here: Bobbie, Joanne, Claire, and Sarah...where's Charmaine?

If you happen to see the ladies pictured here: Bobbie, Joanne, Claire, and Sarah…where’s Charmaine?

You will remember, the Tolerance Tank had originated as a safe haven for justice and neutrality, where nonjudgmental swimming was the norm and a pet store 100 gallon tank teeming with tons of relatives was just a nightmarish threat akin to imprisonment to all life living and breathing underwater. It was the horrid den of iniquity that any swim-loving fish dreaded. There was so little respect for life at these places! A death meant simply that days later a small blue net would swiftly be dipped into the living space of thousands, scooping up the remains of someone’s loved one and periodically a living onlooker just passing by, who most likely would be dumped back in with the rest just after he’d been seen flipping around in the net like a hyperactive fish. Less likely the death would occur to a transient fish with no ties to friends or relatives, or one with a nasty drug habit.

No funeral service, no goodbyes…just a lift out of the tank and into a small plastic baggy, which most understood to be a transportation device…but to WHERE they all wondered? Some residents would suggest that the remaining group of thousands consider a candle light vigil to honor the buoyantly dead; however the logistics were baffling to say the least. No bother, within three weeks the tiny goldfish brain would have erased the sadness from their memory banks and all would be forgotten, unless there was yet another floater among them sometime in between – a common occurrence. In this case another few week memory period would keep this death alive in their heads as they prayed to be transported ALIVE out of this swimming hell and into a peaceful place  – a sanctuary of sorts – like they’d heard about in bedtime stories while smaller and more impressionable.

One time a crafty little spotted fish played dead in order to be freed from the tank’s confines, with the idea that once he had his body placed into the net he would hop out and flip around to the nearest sink, where he’d remain moist on a sponge used for washing pet paraphernalia until the young pet store employee, Ralph, came to work. Ralph had adopted many a fish from this very tank. This rebellious fish was confident that his plan would come to fruition. And it almost did. Except that Ralph was on vacation that week and the often angry Rachel was scheduled to work the fish and sea creature area. She scooped up this dramatic fish and without even a second glance, tossed him in the employee bathroom toilet. His flipping and turning did him no good. He’d been flushed and sent out into the sanitation pipeline where most likely he would asphyxiate from the gaseous fumes. Friends from the tank were awash with sadness and the revelation that if they didn’t get out of that overgrown tank of mass confusion, they were going to end up like that clueless martyr.




A nonjudgmental acceptance, kindness, understanding and respect were not only Tolerance Tank priorities, but Charmaine’s new mantra as well. After her brush with death from a suspicious blend of fish pellets mixed with what investigators termed, “The human sugary delight, Pop Rocks”, in her gullet, She would no longer follow the crowd of “wives” to garner the advantages of membership. Who cares if she didn’t get into the most trendy clubs? Why did she need to get her fins waxed and gills shined weekly? Thor appreciated her just the way she was. Goldfish who clearly had no conscience or goals in life except to be known as a “wife” was no more appealing to Charmaine than would be swimming in a pint-sized carton of chocolate milk or cliff diving from a toilet seat. Besides, where did the sorority name of Stepford Wives even come from? Charmaine didn’t know of any living husbands among them!

However, the mystery remained…how and why did Maria the Samba Swimmer, Pimp Daddy Gangsta and Creamsickle (is anyone else hungry?) end up circling a tornado of toilet water in someone’s loo? Charmaine realized that she herself had been one of the last goldfish to be seen with each of the victims prior to their demise. Was it because she was running for Miss Congeniality of the Tolerance Tank 2014 or was that just a coincidence? Would her sister wives be attempting to frame her after the suspicious breakfast of human candy didn’t kill her? Obviously, she was clearly not as pretentious as they all were and would therefore never truly fit in as a “wife”, but what could her sister wives’ motive be? So many questions yet to uncover. Law enforcement in the Tolerance Tank was dismal at best. If Charmaine needed her name cleared she was going to have to do it herself. How did she end up like this, fighting for her life, then her character and integrity?

She’d once dreamed of opening up her own spa in Rome, no less,  where her employees would come far and near to work in the pedicure department, eating dead skin cells off of weary travelers. Her goal was to hire out an entire 100 gallon tank of her friends from a nearby pet store and give them room and board as specialists in the art of human foot cleansing. It was a  win-win proposition any way she thought about it. The hoards of fish got to eat rather well and the poor, sore-footed people would have a gentle exfoliation experience in a relaxing environment where fish were in charge of providing a service to enhance peoples lives, one foot at a time. A pipe dream her dad said. A silly whim, her mom said shortly before she’d succumbed to a shark feeding episode of the most horrendous kind.



People at the pet store who they thought they could trust since daily they served them breakfast, placed that blue fish net low and scooped her up just as she was reading Charmaine a bedtime fishtale. A mother torn from her young was simply outrageous and unfortunately, not unheard of. Another reason the Tolerance Tank was initiated. The tank motto: Live and Let Swim was proudly displaced at the reception area of the tank announcing that without a doubt all were welcomed. Until the three floaters that is…

Charmaine had a plan. She would need to enlist a few of her fellow pet store fish for this, but she promised the spirit of her three dead fish friends that she would find the answers to the question: Just who offed the minority fish in the Tolerance Tank? And was her all white friend, Thor, the next target in order to make it a tank of all orange goldfish? Would the majority win in this game of fools? Not if Charmaine could help it!

And the moral of this story is:

  • only the good float young;
  • see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil doesn’t apply to fish;
  • a thorough pedicure begins with a multitude of eager swimmers called fishmatologists;
  • if a net is lowered, swim away as fast as you can or yell “fire”, either way you’re sure to get attention;
  • though a thoughtful and sensitive gesture toward remembrance of victims, a candle light vigil is impossible to make successful if one is surrounded by pyromaniac fish, or water;
  • stand up for what is right, or swim tall and straight if you can’t stand. There is nothing worse than just blending when you know in your heart that a system is wronging innocent people with no advocates.

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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