Grief and Internet Anonymity

Tonight was a bad night.

I have been keeping fish for about 14 years now. It all started with a free goldfish that I won at a college orientation event. A bowl became a 10-gallon tank, and then a 29-gallon tank when I did my research and learned about the actual needs of a goldfish. A couple of years later, my goldfish, Hyacinth, died.

I was devastated.

I know, you’re rolling your eyes and saying “It’s just a fish.” But, he wasn’t just a fish. I had spent countless hours researching and caring for this fish. I had done everything I could to make sure his habitat was perfect and that he was healthy, so his death was a blow.

Of course, eventually, I recovered and decided to try my hand at tropical fish keeping. Within a year, I had a beautiful live-planted tropical aquarium running with a beta fish, some schooling fish, and my first pleco (after an algae incident.) He was a bristlenose pleco, only an inch long, and the ugliest thing I had ever seen in my life.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor, water and nature
My 29-gallon tank

Bristlenose plecos are smaller than the 2-foot-long common plecos people are familiar with. They only grow to somewhere between 6-8 inches long and eat algae and driftwood. You can see the driftwood in the photo above, though my pleco is hiding in it, as he often did during the day.

Image result for bristlenose plecos
source: http://www.pethelpful.com

Male bristlenose plecos live up to their names and grow horrifying-looking bristles on their face as they reach maturity. Females do not grow bristles, however.

Their average life-span is about 12 years, so they can live for quite a while. Though I was not particularly attached to my own pleco at first, after he began to develop his bristles (and I got over how terrifying they looked) I actually really grew to love him the best. He quickly became my favorite fish, and was the only fish in the tank, aside from my beta fish, who was given a name. I named him Davey Jones, and called him Jonesy for short. Even my mother, who hated my fish tank, loved Jonesy and would sneak him treats of cucumber or zucchini when I wasn’t home.

When I moved out of my parents’ house 5 years ago, I upgraded from a 29-gallon tank to a 55-gallon tank. Jonesy came with me, along with a few other fish and all my plants and driftwood. As of today, I have had the same community going (Jonesy being the only original fish) for the past 11 or 12 years.

Tonight, after getting home from a long shitty day, (I spent 4 hours sitting around in a car dealership and left with no car. :|) I went into the living room to feed the fish and found Jonesy dead on the floor of the tank.

Of course, I was upset. My heart broke for my uniquely ugly pet fish whom I’d had for my entire adult life (I bought him when I was twenty! Please don’t do math right now).

After recovering from the initial shock of finding him, and realizing that he likely died of old age and nothing I did, I carefully scooped him up, wrapped his body and disposed of him. I kept my composure. I was sad, but he was an old fish and I took great care of him.

When I went back to the tank to feed the rest of my fish, a thought that has been nagging at the back of my head for about the last year-and-a-half or two years came back. I ought to sell my set up. I had considered it before buying the house–it has been getting hard to keep up with maintenance as my life has gotten more and more hectic, and I have slowly begun to lose my love of fishkeeping.

Adding on top  of that my workload, and the fact that I am hoping to have a baby by this time next year (I know I haven’t written anything about that yet–it’s coming!), I realized it was probably best for the fish and myself if I sold the whole set-up to someone who had the time and the energy needed to take care of a tank this size. The one thing that had been holding me back for the last year was Jonesy and how attached I was to him.

I took to Facebook and posted in a fishkeeping group about my loss and explained that I was considering selling the whole set up for reasons a, b, c and x.

At first, people were kind and offered condolences and advice on selling my set up. Some complimented me on the beauty of my tank, others suggested bringing the last few fish to a fish store and selling off the set up piece-by-piece.

Then, someone commented saying that I was a disgusting person for giving up my aquarium in exchange for a “human brat.” This someone was some rando 20-year-old kid, so I really didn’t care about his opinion and told him so. Then, it escalated. Women with children began to shame me and rub in my face that they had children AND fish tanks. Men commented saying how many kids they had and pointed out that THEY never gave up THEIR fish.

I was annoyed and hurt. I didn’t owe them an explanation. I reported the comments to group admins and tagged admins but after over an hour, none of them had done anything. The comments continued to escalate. A few people defended me, but they got worse and worse. I was called a “shit person” a “whore” and told to kill myself.

Now, as a woman, I get comments like this every day on Facebook. MANY women do. Usually, I report the idiot and move on. Tonight, it hurt though. Tonight, I was grieving for the loss of a beloved pet, and looking for advice, and I was told instead that I would be a shitty mother and that I should just kill myself.

Why do people think it’s okay to say things like that to other people? The anonymity of the internet, even if you are using a Facebook account with your real name and photo, makes people into monsters. No administrator in the group did anything to stop this, and in the end, I deleted the post and left the group like a coward.

Now, I’m exhausted from a bad day, upset over the death of my favorite fish, and feeling hollow inside because I ran away from the onslaught of insults being thrown at me instead of facing them and standing my ground. I feel like a failure, even though logically I know that I am not and I know that what these random people on the internet have to say doesn’t matter.

Still, it hurts. Especially when I am feeling like crap already because my pet died–it hurts. I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. No one does.

It’s one thing to get into a flame-war with someone on Facebook. Many of us are guilty of it–I am guilty of it. But I have never told someone to go kill themselves. I have never stooped to bullying someone for no reason other than the fact that I could, and they could do nothing about it.

Bullying is nothing new–and neither is internet bullying. This month alone, Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran deleted social media accounts because people were bullying and harassing her so much that she felt she had no other choice. Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown deactivated her Twitter after so-called fans made a slew of homophobic memes (during PRIDE MONTH) using her photos. The world is fucked up.


Anyway, I’m sorry that this post is a downer, but I felt like I had to get it off my chest somehow. I’ve been crying for the past two hours and I’m not even sure why. I’ll be fine in the morning, I’m sure–but tonight my heart is aching and my ego has been struck a solid blow.



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