One morning, when I was around nine years old, my mother woke me up on what I thought would be just another school day. To my surprise, as I was wiping my eyes,
She excitedly asked, "Do you want to skip school today?"
This was completely out of the ordinary, but it was not an opportunity I was going to pass up. Back then, my parents were in the midst of a messy divorce, and I think she was looking for a way to escape reality.
The weather that day was absolutely perfect. It was the first day after a long, gray and piercingly cold winter where the ground thawed, and the weather got just warm enough that everyone's mood perked up a little bit. We lived in the Midwest, and everyone knows when you get a gem of a day like that, in February or March, you have to take full advantage. Some people grill, a lot of people go on walks, but on that particular day my mom decided we were going to go on a picnic. We packed up a few blankets, went to the grocery store, picked out some of our favorite foods, and then went to a local forest preserve.
We drove around looking for the perfect spot, lugged our stuff up a big grassy hill, and began to unpack for lunch. Funnily enough, setting down the picnic blanket was not as elegant as it looked in the movies. It was more like a tango with one of those air dancers you see at the car dealership. Finally, we placed one bag in each corner and sat on the others to keep everything pinned down. Every so often, there would be a surprise gust of wind that would send our napkins and empty plates rolling down the hill, almost taunting you as you got close to picking them up. They would take off and fly just a little bit further. My mom kicked back and read her John Grisham novel, and I lay on my back, staring up at the sky. I remember squeezing my eyes really tight and attempting to take a mental picture of that exact moment.
When we finished eating, we packed everything up and decided to walk down to the visitors center of the forest preserve. It was a tiny brick building that was practically empty except for a large white wall of photos and small artifacts. There was a display case of stuffed otters, muskrats, a big log and other wildlife native to northern Illinois. Next, there was a small animatronic depiction of glaciers, and I was especially excited to hit the big red button that made it move. At the end of the hall was the most exciting part. There was a giant fish tank built into the wall. It was filled with fish of all different sizes swimming so slowly they could have been suspended in one place. I've always gotten overly excited being around any animal so I could have stopped and stared at them for hours.
A man walked over wearing muted green cargo shorts and a park t-shirt and excitedly exclaimed,
"You two are just in time! Do you want to see us feed the fish?"
I was absolutely thrilled, and my mom's face was gleaming with excitement knowing the day was going better than she could have planned. The man walked away for a moment before coming back over with a large bucket. He carefully stepped up onto a stool, hoisted the bucket over his shoulder, and began pouring lots of water into the tank. When the bubbles from the water dissipated, we noticed what must have been 30 tiny goldfish were suddenly swimming around. I assumed they had been stirred up by him pouring his bucket in or that they were just excited to eat, but then something strange happened. All of a sudden, a large fish swooped up from the bottom of the tank and ate an entire goldfish in one bite. My mom's face quickly turned from gleeful to stoic as she started processing what was about to happen. Within seconds, woosh, and another goldfish was gone. Suddenly time felt like it stood still as I began to realize the tiny orange goldfish were in imminent danger. Our joyful picnic at the forest preserve would now turn into what could only be referred to as the Great Goldfish Massacre of 2005. Tears streamed down my face and panic consumed me as I tried to coach the fish into their appropriate hiding spots in an effort to spare their lives.
"We need to save them! That man is a MONSTER"
My mother quickly grabbed me by the arm and attempted to drag me out of the visitor's center. I protested and was wailing
"But we need to get them!"
I remember staring blankly out the window as we were on our way home, trying to process what had just occurred. My mom was frantically trying to pull out any idea she could on how to soften the situation. I remember her awkwardly trying to explain the food chain, and the circle of life. But it was a situation only time could cure.
Over 15 years later, I went to that same forest preserve to have lunch with a friend. While leaving I had to use the bathroom and realized I had never been back in the visitor's center. I even found myself actively avoiding going inside that day. Finally, when I was about to leave, I decided to go back in, for old times' sake. To my surprise, it looked exactly the same. The same photos were hanging along the big white wall. The display was still filled with stuffed otters, muskrats, and the big log. The animatronic glaciers were still creaking away, and I was still tempted to press the big red button. But as I got to the end of the hall, I noticed one thing had changed. The fish tank was gone. It was the only area they renovated in the whole building. There was even a rectangular molding in the middle of the wall of where the fish tank used to be. I'm sure there could be a number of reasons they decided to get rid of that fish tank. However, that didn't stop me from joyfully calling my mom on the way home and letting her know that I single-handedly saved those fish by throwing a tantrum back in '05.
She proudly said to me, "You're right Savannah, you did it."