Tweak is my dude. He was the second fish I got after I got after the monster, Black Tooth Grin. Tweak is an electric yellow cichlid. Black Tooth is an aggressive orange some-kind-of-African-cichlid-or-another, and easily five times Tweak’s size.

They are the tank’s two main inhabitants, with a revolving door of a supporting cast. The suckerfish role alone has been played by ten different actresses.

The truth is my tank is the Wild West of aquariums, and over the last three years the gravel at the bottom has become littered with the bones of many a former contestant on Can You Survive Black Tooth?

I know, I know. So stop putting other fish in there, Slade. Right?

This story isn’t about my failure as an aquarist though. This is about Tweak, and Tweak has survived the unimaginable.

His first weeks with Black Tooth were a nightmare, as that carroty monster was still just small enough to fit into the nooks and crannies, leaving little place for Tweak to hide. Eventually – undoubtedly from eating the other inhabitants – Black Tooth grew too large to get inside one particular log, and Tweak has since made that his home.

By “home,” I mean the place Tweak goes when he’s once again pushed Black Tooth to the very edge of murder. Tweak is too dumb to hide there permanently. He swims openly (and pointlessly) until he’s beaten back into his corner. It’s arguably brave, but definitely dumb.

At one point something went sideways with the tank’s chemistry. Nitrates and pH levels, coupled with a faulty pump, did something drastic to the oxygen levels that left everyone dead but Tweak and that peach-colored leviathan.

That’s when Tweak got his name actually, because he started doing this weird, twitchy dance right after that. Some form of brain damage, obviously.

Nothing stops Tweak though! He went right back to his routine, save for the occasional weird seizure-dance.  A predictable cycle, really: Swim in the open, almost die, hide in the log until your stupid fish brain forgets that there is a reaper outside, repeat.

Fish after fish after fish.  Black Tooth is one of the four seahorses of the Apocalypse. Death incarnate. He will pick a target, slaughter it, and then leave the carcass on the steps of Tweak’s log, a warning of what is surely to come.

And you can’t just put lamb blood on your door and hope you get skipped either. There is no ichthyo-Passover.  You just have to survive it.

Tweak has been dodging everything this playground-bully-turned-Angel-of-Death has thrown at him for three straight years, with zero tactics, fueled only by an absolute refusal to become an entree. And for what, I don’t exactly know. Death should come as a welcome friend to the fish that spends every day stressed and under attack.

One day a few months ago, I came home to find Tweak’s pale body tucked in a corner beneath a plant, his fins shredded, skin the milky color of the deceased, part of his underside pecked away. Sorry for the morbidity.

I sighed and grabbed the net to fish (can you fish a fish?) his corpse from the corner, when he suddenly twitched.

You can’t take a fish to the vet, but you can put them in an isolation net and try to rehab them.  For well over a month I hand fed him and made sure he was okay. Eventually the fins grew back, his swim bladders repaired themselves, and he became his old vibrant self.

He’s since reclaimed his spot inside the log, where he now darts out just long enough to get nipped a near-fatal amount of times, before ducking back inside his tunnel to watch Netflix.

Netflix and gill.

Get it? Get it? Stop it, Slade. Ok, fair.

One would think that this is a parable of resilience – a cautionary tale reminding you that if you’re just willing to show some resolve, even a violent underwater hellscape is manageable.

But that’s not the lesson.

The reality is that Black Tooth will inevitably kill Tweak because Tweak refuses to adapt and there’s very little that can stop it.

Survival isn’t enough. That’s not living. Making it to tomorrow with the help of some charity and Band-Aids isn’t a victory. Once, maybe, but you can’t make it your default setting.

You have to actually do something if you don’t want to live in a boring log just to avoid getting devoured by the things outside.



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