When I was a kid, my family moved from California to Massachusetts during the high heat of summer. It was a trying move - we were two trucks, a car, two parents, an uncle, five children, two dogs, a cat, and my goldfish. We had little money, my parents' marriage was on the brink and this move was supposed to be our fresh start. Before we left, I carefully put my two goldfish, some pebbles, and a plant in a jar with holes punctured into the top. This makeshift aquarium rode on the rear dash of my mother’s car as we travelled east on I-80 through lines and lines of corn.
I was sure I had created a safe, tidy home for my fish. But the motion of the speeding car turned their adorable jar-house into chaos. Mile after mile, I watched in horror as my fish sloshed in violent circles, unable to swim or control themselves in the ceaseless waves. Their only peace came when we stopped for the night at roadside motels. There, they seemed perfectly fine again, dashing around the jar like regular-old goldfish.
On the final day of our drive, my uncle, tired of my incessant worry about the fish, suggested a way to stop the sloshing. “If you put plastic over the top of the jar, and screw the lid on over it, the water won’t swirl. It’s physics," he said, "Just don’t forget about them". I had never heard of physics, but I put a sandwich baggie over the top of the jar, closed the lid, and sure enough, it worked. The water stayed calm as we drove, and the fish swam happily, their world made motionless by the airtight seal. I was thrilled.
That afternoon, we arrived. The New England air was strange and thick, and cicadas greeted us with high-pitched song. We ran into our new yard, our limbs stiff and journey-heavy. The grass smelled of earth and our skin was sticky with the damp. It wasn’t until some hours later that I remembered the fish. When I went to fetch them from the car, they were limp, and bent over in the still water.
It turns out that an airtight life is impossible. It turns out that sometimes, sloshing senselessly in wild waters is the only way to move from one place to the next.