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Her name was Caffrin. Not Catherine or Cathy…but “Caa-FFrin” as I was reminded on many occasions. She was my son’s fish, his first pet. A red Beta. We picked her out earlier this year at Petland Discounts and placed her in a plastic bowl with blue gravel and a fake castle. Justin was charged with feeding her every day and he did so—most of the time—but we did when he didn’t. By the way, Caffrin was a boy, but, as far as Justin was concerned, she was a girl. Seeing that I couldn’t prove him wrong, I let it go.

When I got home last night Justin approached me with a somber look on his face, “Daddy, I have to tell you something.” I was expecting it to be a recount of something bad he’d done that day at school but my wife came up behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders and gave me “the look” that said “be sympathetic, not angry.” So I listened…

“Daddy, Caffrin died. We had to flush her down the toilet and pray for her.”

I was taken aback at both the news and his composure. He was sad, but very practical. “She was sick,” is what he reasoned. He asked his mother when it happened if he was a “fish killer,” and she assured him that he wasn¹t.  She said that fish don¹t live as long as people and that everyone dies. He seemed ok. I felt guilty because I wasn¹t there when it happened.

This week I¹ve been consoling a dear friend through a loss and my thoughts have been consumed with my own mortality and that of my family¹s, so the timing of this occurrence is more than coincidental in my mind. I rubbed Justin on the head, preparing to give him an uplifting speech, but I think my wife had already done much of the damage control. He rattled off to me about how they prayed and that Caffrin was in Heaven now. The debate still rages amongst my Catholic peers if animals have souls, so I¹ll let his ignorance be bliss for the moment. He quickly turned his attention to the jerk chicken I¹d brought home for dinner.

But, just like a grown-up, it hit him more the next day. This morning when we went to wake him for school he was already up, standing up at his dresser, staring at the empty space where Caffrin¹s fish bowl used to be. “I miss Caffrin,” he said, hanging his head. My wife gave him a hug and assured him that it was ok to miss Caffrin. We asked him if he wanted another fish and he said yes. Then proceeded to bargain for more fish: “Since I’m five, I should have five fish.”

Kids. Gotta love ‘em.

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