My high school biology teacher was as off kilter as they come, but we all loved him. He once read a study that supposedly proved students could score higher on tests if they listened to classical music during the examination, and he took it to heart. I’m pretty sure that by “classical” they meant something like Mozart or Beethoven, but our teacher came to a different conclusion. He’d play that Alice in Wonderland inspired song by the Moody Blues on an old cassette player and manically run around the room staring at each of his students so he could “see it working.” The distorted hippie music was more of a distraction than anything, and when he’d come over to my desk, reeking of coffee and something he swore he didn’t grow in his greenhouse, I’d completely lose my train of thought.


He was the type that would trip out on some sort of new discovery he’d found in this or that scientific magazine and then rant about it for hours while the rest of us willed the clock into fast forward. He was also the type that could milk out every ounce of our rapt attention by creating a bomb with a coffee can, a bag of flour, a bendable straw, and a candle. His class was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, awesome explosions and soporific lectures, but I can honestly say I that looked forward to it.


It was during one of his lulls that I drifted off and started staring at the digital clock on the wall with its malicious red numerals. Time seemed to bend and stretch around my impatience and I was doing my best to will it into the past when my beloved biology teacher looked over at me and accused me of being a goldfish. I didn’t know what he meant, so I asked, and he said that gold fish have a two second memory span and that I should do my best to extend my attention span. The rest of our time in class that day devolved into hypothetical badinage on what it would be like to be a goldfish, and the thought has stuck with me through the years.


I have no idea how they figured out that a goldfish only has a two second memory span, because it’s not like you can ask them, but what would that be like? How horrible would it be to be unable to recall anything that happened before two seconds ago? Or would it even be horrible? If you were a goldfish, and you lived in a tank with a bubbling treasure chest and a menacing skull, you could go back and forth and live in a constant state of surprise. You could swim up to the treasure and say “oh shit! I’m rich!” swim the other way, see the skull, and say “oh my god! That skull is crazy scary I’m out of here!” But then you’d see the treasure chest again, which would now be a complete novelty because you last saw it more than two seconds ago. That’d be your entire life: “Dude look at all that gold! AHHHH! A skull! Someone died here! Wow! A treasure chest! I’m the luckiest fish ever! Crap! A skull! I bet there’s a pirate in these waters!”


And what if you lived in a tank full of other goldfish? All day long, every day, you’d be making new friends because every time you’d meet a new fish, they’d be forgotten two seconds later, and they’d forget about you at the same time. You’d never be lonely, you’d never truly make friends, you’d never get irritated or fall in love; you wouldn’t have the memory span necessary to realize that it sucked, that it kicked ass.


My mom bought me an African tree climbing turtle when I was a child but we didn’t know it was special when we brought it home from the pet shop. The sticker on the tank in the store simply said “turtle.” We put him in a little aquarium by my bed, but when I woke up after that first night’s sleep with Sammy the turtle and looked over to find my new friend, he was gone. I searched all over that house through my tears and finally found him in the living room stuck to the wall about ten feet up. He must’ve heard me come in because he turned his little turtle head towards me with a “what, this is totally normal” expression on his face. Shut up; this is my story. Anyway, my stepfather got a ladder and popped him off the wall before handing Sammy down to me. We called the pet shop, learned the truth about Sammy’s heritage, and then put a Plexiglas lid on his aquarium. He tried to escape a few times after that, but mostly, Sammy the turtle spent his days eating goldfish. I’d put a fish in the water with him, he’d hold super still like the tree climbing ninja that he was, wait for the fool fish to get too close, and then high-ya! He’d latch on to the poor fish with his jaws so quickly that it made me distrust his usual slow turtleish way of doing things.


But he’d just hang on to the wriggling goldfish until it was dead and then take his time eating it. Looking back, I now realize that death was slow in coming; it took way longer than two seconds for the fish to stop twitching. How horrible would that be? Near the end, that goldfish with his two second memory would remember nothing but pain and fear and confusion. All the things that came before, birth, food and defecation, the trip to my house in a plastic bag with his friends, all of that simply didn’t exist. My crazy-ass biology teacher taught me something, despite the Moody Blues, and I do my best to cling to it when I feel my attention span shortening. Being myopic, letting the fleeting moments that constantly swim around us slip in and out of our awareness unmarked, is a mistake. I take note and remember, because I’m not a goldfish.




Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here:  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here:

New Friends, Old Strangers

One thought on “The Goldfish

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