Warrior Words: ‘Responsibility’ — Demonstrated by a teenager

I don’t consider myself a materialistic person. I wear hand-me-downs from my brother and older cousins and I typically avoid wasting what little money I have. However, on one fateful night, I experienced such a deep temptation that my very sense of self was lost in a deep fascination of something intangible and alluring.

This temptation struck me at a time when I least expected it. After finishing track practice, a few friends and I decided to venture to McDonald’s to feast upon our favorite synthetic beef. It was a Friday, so we didn’t have explicit plans or school responsibilities, and I didn’t need to go home immediately. Most teenagers from our small town would agree that one of the most appealing places to visit on a Friday night is none other than the Petco adjacent to the Norwalk Walmart. Filled with ferrets, guinea pigs, lizards, and fish, Petco never fails to surprise those who choose to enter its edifying confines. Meandering the narrow aisles, I spotted what I believed to be one of the most glorious creatures to ever exist upon the face of Earth. My eyes fixated on a betta fish. The solid red scales sparkled and shimmered underneath the fluorescent lights as the fish danced around the sea fern in its small, tupperware-like box. My thoughts abandoned reason and restraint as my friends tried to persuade me to think twice about such an irrational decision. Refusing to consider consequences, I walked without hesitation to the cashier to pay for the $8.50 fish.

Like a mother, I cradled my fish back to my car, which, suddenly vigilant of my charge, I drove home with unprecedented caution. At home I received a minor scolding and a number of questions and comments about my decision to buy a fish on a Friday night: “Who dared you to do this?” “Did you think this through?” and “Maybe this will teach you some responsibility...”

And so, I began my initiation into the daunting experience of the kind of responsibility that must be “parenthood” — by watching over my pet fish. Who knew that being a parent could be so hard? I had to remember to feed my fish twice a day, clean his tank every two weeks, and make sure that something in his behavior — a tail twitch, or… was that eye contact? — signaled he was alive and, I prayed, content. All it took was a little responsibility. Easy. In the morning, I would eat breakfast at the kitchen table, half of which was now commandeered by the fish tank, and observe my fish swim in rhythmic, repetitive circles. At night, I would add the small pellets to his bowl and watch him dash to the surface and dart back down after finishing his supper. My little red betta fish was a constant in my life, something I knew I could return to each day that was outside myself but for whose well-being I was responsible — and maybe had some power to address.

Nearly a year later, tragedy struck. Perhaps it was teenage carelessness or perhaps it was simply the cycle of life: my glorious, red-scaled betta had passed away.

Yes, taking care of a fish is incomparable to the actual responsibilities of being a parent.  But that fish granted me new perspective and a deeper respect for what my parents do for me each and every day. I also learned that irrational and spontaneous decisions are not necessarily bad or irresponsible. They can lead you down a road that you might have never explored before. I still cannot name the elusive compulsion that drew me to the fish. It had something to do with its beauty, but more to do with some need to care for something that did not relate to my self-absorbed school career, athletics, and extracurriculars. I try not to measure experience with a bottom line, but the short time I spent with my betta was priceless — and the benefits far exceeded that impulsive $8.50 payout.

Tyler Zengo is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.