Recalling my first experience of loss as a child

angelfish

I’ve been scouring the web for writing prompts. I miss writing on this blog already (which may be because my meditation series ended on Sunday, so now I’m craving the “fix” of catharsis that comes with deep thought about something. It took me a while, but today I found this one:

“Recall your first experience of loss as a child. What does that loss have to do with this current loss? See if you can find a single object or metaphor that might link that prior loss with this one.”

I do, vividly remember my first loss as a child. I think I was in first grade, around six. I already struggled with some of the anxieties that would continue to plague me in later life, particularly fears around tragedies striking (I was particularly scared of house fires) and losing things that were important to me (at this point, and fortunately at most points, this referred to important objects such as jewelry or meaningful souvenirs and tokens rather than people). I became attached easily to objects and dolls, ascribing person-like attributes to them, convinced in my child’s imagination that they all lived rich, vivid lives behind that veneer of plastic or glass, just like people.

It is not surprising, therefore, that I became very attached to my first pet, a black-and-white angelfish named Angie (hey, when you’re in first grade you can be very literal with names. At that time I thought that pets wanted to be named something akin to what they’d always been called. I figured this particular fish was called “angelfish” in the pet store, and thus Angie wouldn’t be too hard of a change for it). Plus, I had a well-loved Aunt by the same name. I took very good, careful care of Angie, feeding her just the right amount at the same time each day, talking to her regularly, saying goodnight before turning off the fishtank light (by which I read late into the night for most of my childhood, but that’s neither here nor there).

As fish do, however, eventually Angie died. She wasn’t that old – pet-store fish don’t have an overwhelmingly long shelf-life – and I was heartbroken. Sobbing, I begged my mother not to flush her down the toilet. I couldn’t let her go. I put her body in a plastic baggie that I carried around with me; this way, at least I could look at her and talk to her when I wanted to. At some point, my mother swapped it out for a baggie that had a browning piece of lettuce in it.  At the time, I remember being suspicious, but I had no proof, so that baggie of lettuce stayed with me for a while. I don’t remember how long – I’m sure it was less time than it seems in the hindsight memory of a six-year-old. I’m fairly confident that eventually I buried her rather than letting her get flushed, but I don’t remember. If only we had movies like “Finding Nemo” when I was a child, so that the toilet flush scenario wasn’t so frightening!

What I remember most vividly about the loss of Angie the angelfish was how hard I sobbed for her little dead body, and how I clung to its remains. In many ways, I responded to Ander’s death similarly to that one. I sobbed. We chose to have him cremated, and I have his ashes on display at home, because I cannot bear to part with them yet. Eventually, maybe, like with Angie, I’ll learn to let go of the tangible remains of his body and scatter or bury them – but maybe not. I have always had difficulty letting go.

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4 Responses to Recalling my first experience of loss as a child

  1. Gretchen says:

    Thanks for sharing. As I read this, I couldn’t help but reaffirm in my mind how fully we are ourselves, even from age six…, even from infancy. Thinking of you and Ander.

  2. typhaine says:

    That’s such an interesting prompt. I’ve looked for some too, for when the inspiration doesn’t come from daily events…

    And as for letting go of the material reminder of Ander, I think it’s ok too not to ever quite get there… Or to let go of it just a little (we dispersed small quantities of Paul’s ashes in meaningful places but I still want to look over his urn at home…)

  3. Kerri says:

    Thank you for sharing C. It is an interesting point for sure. I often wonder to myself what Charlie must think and how our loss is processing in her little mind and how it is affecting her.

  4. Pingback: palimpseste | le marcassin envolé

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