The Fish Tank

fish-bowl-846060_1920You have always hated those fish. The neon blue tetras, glints of silver that flash around the tank. The catfish that scour the pebbles. The guppies with their flowing tails. Each bubble that rises reminds you of your failure.


It is late at night and you sit on the edge of your bed. You pull out your journal. You try to write, but your mind won’t clear. You remember when you and your husband travelled to Guatemala as a couple—your first trip away from your then three year old daughter. You were at a café in Antigua on a Saturday evening. The food was delicious, the atmosphere warm, and you chatted and laughed. Two young girls played together at the edge of the restaurant. You said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Lola could have a sister to play with?” His face turned to stone. He said nothing else. The next morning was Mother’s Day, but your only gift was a card he threw angrily across the bed at you.

You turn back to your diary and write, “This is tearing me apart.”

For years you try to quell the desire for another child. Your marriage is a prison, and your daughter’s pleas for a sister break your heart. Then, one day, you find yourself staring at a stick with a little blue cross on it. You can’t believe it. You are simultaneously thrilled and terrified. That night, you reluctantly break the news to your husband. His cold stare frightens you, but you hope that when he holds the baby, he will change his mind. You visit your parents. You pick out names. You go the midwife. You try to hide your excitement. One afternoon you start to bleed. You cry and bleed for 2 days until you have nothing left.

Despite the fact that he adamantly does not want another child, your husband is really a good guy. He sees what you are going through and it pains him. He tells you, “We can try for another.” And so you try. For months and months, you try. Sex becomes a chore. You have tests. He has tests. You do acupuncture and take pills that make you feel crazy. And it happens. You are lying on the ultrasound table, elated. The technician is cheery, “There—I see it! Do you see it?” she chirps. “Oh my gosh! There’s another one!!” Before you have time to register fear or excitement, her face drops. She leaves the room. You get dressed and the doctor comes in. “I’m sorry,” she says, “the heartbeat is faint. There is something wrong. They won’t survive.”

This time is worse than the last. You decide to get a D and C, because you can’t handle the bleeding again. The entire process is a violation. You have to drive 1 hour to an abortion clinic for the procedure and wait in a room full of young girls who are desperate not to be pregnant. After the procedure, the doctor looks up and smiles, “It went fine, you’re all emptied out now.” You are devastated, but you don’t cry. You have no tears, because you truly are empty inside. Even though you are only 41, you know you can’t go through this again. The trying, the losing—it is all too painful. You know it was your last chance.

But the desire does not go away, and one day you ask your husband if you can adopt. He reluctantly agrees. Months fly by. You go to classes. You write checks. You get physicals and background checks and clearances. Your first program closes, so you hesitantly transfer to another. You have a home study. And you wait. Your excitement this time is tempered by fear. Foreign adoption is fraught with moral questions. And you just aren’t sure about it. A year goes by, and your husband comes to you. “I’m afraid, “he says. “I can’t do it,” he says. Even though you share his doubts, you say nothing. Again, you cry.

You have to tell your daughter, who has been anxiously awaiting her new sister. She is only five years old, and she becomes hysterical. She is sobbing uncontrollably while you rock her and rock her. Finally, her sobs turn to hiccups. You give one more try at consoling her. You ask, “Would you like to get some fish?”



TRACY FERRELL teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  She loves tropical beaches, the desert, a bluebird day on the ski slopes, flamenco guitar, tequila and just about everything to do with Mexico.  When she’s not teaching or traveling,  she can be found in her restored miner’s cabin in the tiny mountain town of Sunshine, Colorado with her husband, daughter, 2 dogs and 2 cats.  She no longer has the fish.