Thursday, January 25, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 82



Gangrene thumbs and sterilized fish

Wendy Miller

Plants do not live long in my apartment. It's sad but true. I choose to not believe that it's my fault. Instead, I choose to believe it's simply my destiny to acquire suicidal plants.

Plants that have decided to end their existence do it in the privacy of my home. The reputation of my green thumb thus remains intact. But it doesn't alter the fact that the only surviving member of the plant kingdom still under my care is a solitary, determined-to-live african violet.

I'm proud of the success embodied in this plant. The fact that it has not bloomed since I got it does not worry me. This one is a fighter. I have no doubts that I will soon wake up to discover small purple flowers.

Although the violet is durable, I feared that a road trip home to West Virginia over winter break would be too much. I left it with my neighbor (who just happens to work in a greenhouse) and I returned to find my violet very much alive. I have not, however, always had such good fortune.

As a dorm resident during my freshman year, my pet was the only kind allowed -- a fish. The guy at the pet store warned me it was a fighting fish and needed its own tank. This was fine with me. I just wanted one fish. I christened my purple fish "Angel."

She turned out to be an excellent study buddy, but somehow I couldn't see her accompanying me on Spring Break. The mother of one of the girls traveling to Florida with me volunteered to keep her for the week. The next morning I delivered her to Jackie's house.

It was the last time I saw my fish.

To understand the cause of death for Angel, some insight into Jackie's household needs to be divulged. 

The behavior of her mom and step-dad always struck me as eccentric, but strangely amusing. Each parental unit drove their own white BMW. Jackie was an only child, but her mom treated her sweater-wearing poodle like a second child. (The 16-year-old poodle had to wear sweaters because she had become bald from age in so many places that Jackie's mom had her shaved.)

Their completely white living room included spotless white carpet. The overly clean house was intimidating.

On my first overnight stay, I was jolted from sleep at 3 a.m. by loud noises. I whispered across the room for Jackie. She glared at me from under her pillow and proceeded to explain through clenched teeth that it was just her step-dad flipping his mattress.

Apparently the night flipping followed by the changing of all bed linens takes place twice a week. Twice a week. I tried to remember the last time my mom had flipped the mattresses.

Long story short, the step-dad cleaned my fish to death by sterilizing her bowl.

Upon my return I sensed instantly that something was terribly wrong. The mom, carrying the pink-cashmere-clad poodle, was standing forlornly at the door. My heart dropped. Was it my mom, my brother? What happened? Why was she looking at me like that?

I was relieved when she finally broke the news about the fish.

She was so sweet about it. I believe that she thought I was going to be freaked out over the loss. The step-dad was at the pet shop buying me a new purple fish. Angel was buried under a tree in the front yard, the spot marked with a tiny circle of pebbles.

I didn't know how to react. I liked the fish, but it was just a fish.

As I struggled with something to say, my friend Kim (who had traveled with us on Spring Break) managed to say the worst possible thing to Jackie's mom. It was only a question, but it made Jackie's mom clutch her beloved poodle to her chest and run sobbing hysterically into the house.

Kim had asked, "Is that where you're going to bury your dog?"

Jackie (my forever-irritated-at-her-life friend) glared at Kim and gloomily replied, "Great, Kim. You just cost Mom six more months of therapy."

Miller, a senior in philosophy, can 
be reached at

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