In Memorandum: A Girl and Her Goldfish

“Frodo or Sam died,” my mother said to me over an AIM instant message, followed by a sad emoticon. My heart dropped. Not Frodo or Sam!

When I was seven years old, I went to our church’s annual “Harvest Festival” on Halloween empty-handed, and then left with a pillowcase full of candy and a fist full of goldfish in water-filled plastic bags. We originally had seven but, by the end of the weekend, we were five fish down.

The two remaining had been the brightest, shiniest and smallest of them all. As the other five went belly-up one by one, my mother explained to me that these types of goldfish were essentially feeder fish for snakes and that their lifespan was short. I understood and held modest funerals for them in the bathroom before flushing them without shedding any tears.

The remaining two lived in a simple fish bowl with two oddly shaped rocks for decoration Đ no gravel, no castles, no pump, no fake seaweed. The fish had new names every week, none of which I remember now.

Five years and a couple months after that fateful Halloween, the first “Lord of the Rings” movie came out and I stumbled onto a new obsession and the two most perfect names possible. From then on, my two surviving goldfish were officially named Frodo and Sam.

Though I often referred to them as a collective unit, they were wholly individual. Frodo was the one with the bigger and prettier tailfin while Sam had the smaller and more modest one. I thought this was befitting of Tolkein’s characters.

Goldfish may not be the most glamorous of pets but they were still a part of the family. Frodo and Sam were often outshone by our Persian cat or, later on, our vocal orange tabby, both who happened to be big fans of drinking out of the fish bowl.

But there was nothing like the way the sunlight hit their bowl from the living room window and cast their dreamy, fluttering shadows over the entire room on early weekend mornings; or seeing how excited kids were to see their brilliant scales and proclaim them as “Nemo!”

We always let visiting children put the tip of their finger on the water’s surface to be “kissed” when the fish swam up to investigate the disturbance.

Frodo and Sam (much like their namesakes) were survivors. They were outliving their former friends by quite a long time, even though both of them were almost lost to our sink’s drain on numerous occasions when getting their bowl cleaned. They even cohabitated with curious, predatory cats with very few incidents.

When my mother told me that one of my happy Hobbit fish had passed away, I was shocked. Had the dearly departed fish lasted one more month, it would have been able to celebrate its fourteenth birthday.

I had to know exactly who had died. An “or” didn’t suffice anymore. Frodo and Sam were no longer a unit. I asked my mother to go to the fish bowl and describe the tail to me. No matter how many times I had explained the distinction, I was still the only one who ever remembered. She reported back that the tail was small. Frodo was no longer with us.

My darling Frodo defied all odds to just keep swimming. He outlived the lifespan of giant squid, octopi and Great Atlantic salmon. He outlived three Robbins family hamsters and a parakeet. And now he is being outlived by Sam, his best friend, his closest companion, his bowl-mate, his life partner.

A couple years ago, my mother accepted the cast-off goldfish of a friend’s disinterested child. I promptly named them Wallace and Gromit. They live in their own fish bowl, too young and tiny to join our ancient fish without deadly repercussions. My only hope for them is that they can live up to the legacy of Frodo and Sam’s epic friendship.

Rest in peace, Frodo Robbins. You were a great fish. And to you Samwise Robbins, Frodo will be the first to greet you when you swim off to Valinor.