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  • Writer's pictureKaycee Lynn Pancake

Floppy Fish: A Betta's Tale

I bought Floppy the betta fish in February of 2020 for work. I was in a two-year-olds’ class at the time and we were doing a pet unit. I’m fairly experienced with bettas and have used them in daycare rooms before, I already had a tank and gravel and what not. It was going to be a blast.

It was a half hour commute to work for me at the time, and I had a medical situation when I got there and ultimately had to leave rather early. The project was left to my coteacher… who had no experience with fish whatsoever. I gave her the best instructions that I could and said a prayer for the poor thing, but I can only imagine how stressful moving into his new home was. The kiddos that day named him Floppy.

He survived settling into his new home. He started off with a toy lobster and a Jesus figurine for company and conversation points with the two-year-olds. One day, he was brought down from his higher shelf by the clock to a toy shelf at the children's level so they could see him and he was promptly dumped on the floor. He somehow managed to stay inside of the tank instead of living up to his name on the carpet, and while I sat him on the changing table and started desperately scrambling to treat some new water for him, he swam in his inch or so of water that was left straight to Jesus’ feet. How is that for a life lesson? When your whole world seems to get dumped out from around you, just swim to Jesus!

There’s this lie that I encounter from time to time—Christians, Non-Christians, and even in my own heart sometimes—that once you come to Jesus, your life is this perfectly joyful thing. I wish that were true, both for me and for Floppy. Spoiler alert: It's not.

When our center closed for Covid in March, I took Floppy home with me (another half hour commute… this betta logged some serious milage). I did Facebook Live circle times for my daycare families, sometimes starring Floppy. He didn’t seem to mind. What he did mind was having to move from room to room until we finally found him some privacy from the cat.

The daycare reopened in May and I brought Floppy back again, now pregnant with my little Coronial. He stayed safe on the shelf and it seemed his little fishy life could settle down for real, but no such luck for the Flopster. There was some drama that went down. Our classroom was completely redone over night, moving him to a different shelf. Then I was moved in the middle of a Wednesday one week to a different classroom, so I brought him with me. I took some time off a week or two after that for my son’s Angelversary, so I took Floppy back home. When I returned to work, I had been placed in yet another classroom, so Floppy ended up on another shelf. Then I left that center entirely in December, bringing Floppy on what should have been his last car ride.

Surely then Floppy had earned his happily ever after, right?

Nope. Then we made it to March, a little more than a year since he was sentenced to a life of thrill and danger with me, when we got the pound on the door to tell us that the building was on fire. We didn’t even have time to evacuate with the cats.

When the fire department went back in for the first of both cats, they found Floppy on my desk. I watched this firefighter through the window looking in the murky tank, shining his flashlight in it, tapping it with his huge glove, thinking about it, and ultimately grabbing the tank. While I comforted my traumatized cat (who we now know will not leave her favorite room TO SAVE HER LIFE), he handed Floppy’s little daycare tank to my dad. “I can’t really tell if he’s alive or not, but I thought I saw him move,” he said.

Dad started trying to break the news to me that he didn’t think Floppy had actually made it. I’d been planning to change his water the day of the fire anyway, but the smoke from the day before and the sloshing up and out of our unit made the water look absolutely nasty, and Floppy wasn’t swimming. I knew the ‘tude this fish could get when his water was dirty, but this was a whole new level of disgusting. I saw his tail twitch. "Oh no, he's good," I told Dad. "He's just pouting."

Sure enough, we got him to my parents’ house where we were staying—a twenty minute car ride in that gross water—and cleaned up his home, and he was swimming around and fanning his fins, just as happy as can be.

So as we’ve been working through the insurance ordeal and replacing what we need, we made it a point to give Floppy a bigger tank. He has a five gallon mansion now, complete with plenty of plants and such to swim around, a sea mine home defense system, and a filter to make sure he never has to pout about his water again. He’s been a little confused—he’s never lived in such luxury before. But he’s earned it. He’s become a mascot of sorts for our little family. He’s resilient, just like us. He’s been through a lot just like us, and sometimes he has to pout a little just like me.

While we were staying with my folks between homes, we started joking that if we were to think Floppy dead and flush him, he’d probably come out the kitchen faucet saying “I’m back, Suckers!” And about the same time, I started half-joking that the next thing our little family would face would probably be a natural disaster like a tornado or something. But it wouldn’t be the end, just like the daycare floor wasn’t the end for Floppy. To be perfectly honest, there are days that I shake my head at the thought: there seems to constantly be something else bad that can happen, and my husband and I are a little exhausted from all of the disasters. We’ve lost a child, I’ve been through surgery, he lost his job to Covid, I lost mine to pregnancy discrimination, and then our home burned down three months post-partum, all in three years of marriage. It’s just about as much of a joke as Floppy’s apparent immortality—only it’s nonfiction. You can’t make this stuff up.

I’d love to end this post with some inspiring message of hope and faith, but really, on this side of Heaven, the story doesn’t always end in a neat epiphany. Sometimes you just have to shake your head that the fish is still alive. The fact that this betta hasn’t succumbed to the stress and trauma and just keeps swimming through whatever water he finds himself in—whether it’s the inch left after his tank is dumped or the smokey yuck after an apartment fire—I don’t think there’s any cheesy cliche that can top the inspiration that is simply Floppy the Immortal Beta Fish.

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