Anyway I had a goldfish, a common Woolworth’s goldfish, who I brought home in a water filled plastic bag, and somebody, a man named Rick I think, who worked for my father, said it would be safe to place him in a concrete planter on the terrace, filled with water. Everybody is always doing their best. I remember his kind and comforting energy and I think he had been a marine.

I named my goldfish Simon. I loved him, but I can’t swear he had any real feelings for me. I turned him into my best friend, confided in him. It was the year my life collapsed. I was six, and my mother had disappeared.

Every morning, having bolted down the spiral staircase carrying my mother’s portrait, asking anybody I could find if she had CALLED, being rebuffed, I would go sit on the edge of that planter, and stroke Simon’s tail through the water.

One morning I came out and found him curled up in the drain hole, the water was gone. I can still see his small orange body curled up in there, defeated.

I don’t think I cried then. But strangely enough I cried today, in a cold cafe in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with waterfalls on the walls, and people working on their laptops. I was already coming apart, from the night before, but now I started to experience what felt like Simon’s emotions from 1971. Could that be?

A searing pain right through my heart that felt dark blue and like a thread, weaving a telegram from childhood from was never delivered at the time. I gripped my own throat, pushed up against my jawbone and tried to block the tears. Simon would not have understood why the water was leaving. He would have been wondering why I had let this happen to him, not protected him. He would feel betrayed, so deeply betrayed, just as I had. And he had no chance.

I always wondered what time it happened.

5 thoughts on “1971”

  1. Dear Celia,

    I somehow clicked on an email link and landed on this page unexpectedly. At first I didn’t even realize this was your website.

    This little story is so touching. Interesting that when we look back on our lives, entire decades can be a blur, but certain seemingly random events remain clear in our memories. Even as far back as 6 years old. These memories stick because they are important.

    Heartbreaking about Simon, I can only imagine how devastating it must have been for you to find him that way. I remember you so well at that age, how you loved animals and thought about becoming a veterinarian. There was the time a fly flew into the hot candle wax and even though we were already late for dinner, you insisted that we give it a proper burial.

    Just as gut-wrenching as Simon’s fate:
    “It was the year my life collapsed. I was six, and my mother had disappeared.
    Every morning, having bolted down the spiral staircase carrying my mother’s portrait, asking anybody I could find if she had CALLED…”

    I wish I could go back in time and simply be there for you. I wish I had KNOWN.

    Am so glad I clicked on that email link. Thank you for reminding us to pay attention. Your writing is a treasure.


  2. Thank you, Celia. Your words made me stop and think. You have always come across as a warrior for those who need help and for truth, it never crossed my mind you could be fragile, too.
    There are always consequences to everything we do. Concrete isn’t waterproof but you weren’t to know that and neither obviously did Rick, who wouldn’t have wanted Simon to die or for you to be sad. We make mistakes and learn from them. As I get older I understand what is meant by “life’s rich pattern” – we experience these contrasts of anguish and joy – where would we be without them? Hopefully we begin to understand that none of this is done deliberately to hurt us. It’s all about consequences. I once read that when you can start to experience your suffering without suffering, then you start to realise how wonderful it is to be alive. Danny

    1. Danny,

      I was quite moved by your letter and looked again at my words. I found that the passage about Rick needed to be relieved of an air of judgement that was there only because I was sloppy, dashing it off. You made me stop and think (very gently.) And when I did, I felt for Rick as well, not only myself and poor Simon. I made a slight change, influenced by you. Thank you.

      Do I come across as a warrior? This is a misunderstanding. I never felt like one. I was just working, doing journalism as I understood it, and the a war grew all around me.

      Yes, I am extremely fragile.

      And I’ve lost my heart for the “war” over “truth” that never gets “won.” I turn my attention now to little stories, wondering always why I tell them, why people should care, and so on, but sometimes a visitor stops by and lets me know the sound of my plink plinking on an untuned piano is not bothering anybody and I feel relieved and grateful, in the TRUE meaning of the word.

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