R.I.P. Professor Ballard

Galleons, it is with the heaviest of hearts that I inform you that, as of this evening, Professor Ballard, angry fish extraordinaire, has passed away.

The cause of his death was total renal failure, though the cause of that shall forever remain a mystery. His tank was clean, his water purified, his food the same smelly fish flakes he always ate. The Professor obviously had dropsy (fluid build-up from his fucked-up kidney, causing his little abdomen to bloat and his scales to all stick up like he was a pine cone), but the exact cause of the dropsy is unclear.

What is clear is that Saturday night, he was fine. Eagerly waiting at the top of his bowl for food, then happily (and jerkily- the older he got, the more his suicide attempt started to catch up with him) swimming around his bowl. Hiding in his little ship. Glaring at me as I gazed into his home.

Sunday night, when I went to feed him, I found him lying listlessly on the bottom of his tank. His little body was swollen, his once-blue color bleached to a lifeless gray. My heart shuddered. I was sure he was dead.

Fighting back tears, I went to fish his tiny body out of the tank. At which point he frantically darted away, and I realized my little Professor was still alive. Gingerly, I moved him to his little to-go cup. His scales were all flared out, and his gills were red. He appeared to be gasping for air.

I will admit that, at this point, I kind of lost it a little.

It’s hard to describe why I became so attached to The Professor. Perhaps because I had him almost the entire time I was in Michigan, and he kept me company in my lonely little apartment. Perhaps because we bonded over the trauma of his near-death experience. Perhaps because I was constantly amused by his hatred of me- hiding when I’d come to see him, glaring at me when I would sing to him, throwing rocks at the side of his tank when he decided he needed a tank cleaning or feeding, giving up on making bubble nests after he realized I’d never get him a girlfriend, robotic or otherwise.

Or maybe it’s because, deep down, I’ve got a very soft heart for the handful of people and creatures I truly allow into my life.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that I have become very attached to The Professor in the time we’ve been together. So much so that I bought him a to-go cup so that he could make the long journey from Michigan to Arizona with me this spring (during which he was surly as all hell, but I couldn’t blame him- after all, he was stuck in a vehicle with me for 30-ish hours while I sang loudly along to music from my iPod).

[Let’s face facts- I like Johnny (my other fish) well enough, but if I hadn’t had The Professor, I may have released Johnny into the wild and purchased a new fish upon moving down here. We just never developed the same bond I did with The Professor.]

So last night, as I watched his pale, tiny body spasming, his tiny fishy gasps as I made him a little sling to keep him close to the water’s surface so he could breathe, I could feel each tiny fish gasp like a physical blow. I watched him, his eyes darting back and forth as he struggled to breathe, to keep going. He’d spasm and try to swim a bit before giving up and floating back into his little sling. His body was stiff, his scales still protruding, the movement of his inflamed little gills getting slower and slower.

I have personified my fish to a great degree, it is true, and it is likely that the spite I usually attribute to him was simply an amusing construct by me in an attempt to connect to the alien little creature I called a pet. But last night, where I always see spite and irritation, I saw only fear in his tiny eyes. I wished I could hold his little fin. Instead, I stroked his tiny body once (I dared no more- I was afraid I would just aggravate his pain) and told him how much I cared, my voice cracking as I did. He stubbornly kept breathing, kept fighting, and eventually I went to sleep, sick with worry.

In the morning, he was much the same, and I cried again, speaking to him and begging him to hold on. But when I returned home from work, I found that it had proven too much for the little guy. His eyes were glassy, his body stiff, his little gills flaring no more.

I wasn’t even there at the end. He died alone, gasping. And that breaks my heart a hundred times over.

Minutes ago, I stood over a toilet, his little cup in my hands. There is no dignity in a fish’s funeral, but as I consigned his tiny form to those porcelain depths, it seemed only right to sing him a final farewell. What came to mind was this, since I had just finished BioShock Infinite, but it was very fitting for the solemnity of the moment:

It warms my heart to know that The Professor would be well and truly pissed that I sang at his funeral.

Professor Ballard, you were the best sort of fish. You were my companion these last two years, and I loved your silly, scaly ass. It seems only fitting to say:

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