Monday, September 14, 2009


Let’s say I’m afraid of goldfish. I actually like goldfish, but for the sake of this post, we’ll assume I have a not-entirely-rational aversion to the creatures. The additional assumption is that my job requires me to deal with a goldfish. It’s pretty infrequent and I knew about the potential before I even applied to Industry.

I heard it was time to face the goldfish and agreeably began to make arrangements to do so. I happened, at some point, to admit I was tense around aquariums in general but goldfish made me particularly nervous.

“We’re friends here,” Adam said one day. “Tell me what bothers you about it.” When I looked at him skeptically, he leaned forward in his chair. “Seriously,” he insisted. “Is it the tail? The fins? If you tell me, I’ll try to help you with it.”

“I’ll be fine,” I finally replied. “It’s not a big deal.”

“I can tell that it is though,” he argued. “You visibly tense each time it’s mentioned. You’ve asked me twenty times if it’s really necessary. So what about it is freaking you out?”

“It’s the whole fish,” I confessed, blushing and feeling completely idiotic. “It doesn’t make sense, but I have nightmares that I’ll get tangled in the fins. Or have to touch the scales. Or look in the bulging eyes.”

“OK,” he nodded and considered me for a second.

“I don’t even like the gills,” I continued, fixating on the fear. “I mean, I don’t get it! I have no experience with breathing underwater and it scares me somehow!”

“So what would make it better?”

“I’ll be fine,” I answered. “Scared, but I’ll work through it.”

“Katie,” he said and waited until I looked up from studying my shoes before asking again how he could help.

“You could stay with me,” I said. “Stand between me and the goldfish. Remind me that the goldfish is actually a neat creature and rather harmless at that. I think I just need positive goldfish experiences and then I can relax.”

“I can do that,” he said. “I don’t pretend to understand completely, but if it helps to have someone with you, we’ll go see the goldfish together.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely. “I know it’s silly, but this is really sweet of you.”

He waved off my gratitude and, the very next day, crushed my sense of well-being by saying plans had changed. I would have to face the goldfish alone since the rest of the team planned to visit it the day before I was able.

“OK,” I replied when he told me, for that’s what I say when I’m processing upsetting information. I said it again when he said there was no way around it.

But after losing sleep over goldfish worries and fretting over fins and gills, swishy tails and bulging eyes, I found myself irritated over something else today and began to scold him about the goldfish fiasco.

“You made me admit being afraid!” I said, eyes narrowed in angry accusation. “I was embarrassed, but I went through why I was afraid and what would help. Then you said, ‘screw you, I’m doing something else!’”

“I did not,” he said evenly, blinking at me in surprise.

“Close enough,” I sneered. “If you didn’t care how I felt – if I was going to have to handle it on my own anway – why go through the exercise of examining the feelings and reminding myself how much I dislike this? It’s just cruel!”

He defended himself and, having spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about it, I shot down every single statement he made before turning on my heel and returning to my office. He followed me, lingering in the doorway while I ignored him.

“What do you want me to do?” he finally asked.

“Nothing,” I replied, staring at my screen.

“Come with us a day earlier,” he offered.

“I can’t,” I stated flatly, raising my eyes to look at him and feeling a twinge of guilt when he appeared worried.

“And I can’t go a day later,” he explained.

“I know. But I still feel scared and betrayed. Neither makes sense. I’ll get over it.” And I sighed when he left me alone, pressing a hand to my stomach to try to ease the cramp there.

“You don’t have to see the goldfish,” he offered 20 minutes later. I blinked at my phone and didn’t respond, powerfully confused at his shift in opinion. “I don’t understand why you’re afraid,” he continued, “but I’ve been thinking about it and I know you’re sincerely terrified. And I did handle this badly.

“So I’ve been thinking about you and your value to the team compared to this particular goldfish and its importance. You win hands down. You will have to face the goldfish eventually,” he warned, “but I can give you more time to prepare. Set up a situation where you feel safe and organized and settled because I know you do better that way.”

“Oh,” I said, for that’s what I say when I’m processing lovely information.

“So,” he said when I didn’t speak again. “Think about it and let me know.”

“I can do it,” I said.

“I know you can,” he replied quickly. “I’m saying that – for this time – you don’t have to.”

“Adam?” I said before he hung up. “Thank you. I shouldn’t have said anything about this – I should have just seen the goldfish and moved on. But I’m grateful that my feelings are important to you. Really.”

Feeling much better overall, I carefully considered my irrational fear and the potential benefit. And then, feeling no small amount of guilt, I decided to avoid the goldfish for just a little longer. What good is throwing a tantrum and getting my way if I'm not actually going to take advantage?


Amelie said...

I don't have advice about goldfish (nor an idea what they are), but your boss sounds like a good one, admitting that he didn't handle this well. And, yeah, I wouldn't go and face the goldfish on my own if I didn't have to.

rpg said...

Goldfish scare me too. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

every time i read your blog i remember what a great writer you are, i love your analogies. I still remember the polar bears and the tummy sliding as a great post!

Anonymous said...

sorry to hear about the goldfish though.

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