Here is a life lesson I wish I had learned earlier: Stop Trying to Change Your Partner. I would have spared myself much frustration and heartache. If there is one thing I have learned from 29 years of marriage, its that I can’t change my husband. He will do whatever he plans to do. And will change when and how he chooses to. In fact, I can’t change anybody except myself. Changing myself is hard enough of a task.
The minute the penny dropped that my effort to change my husband was part of the problem and not a solution, this story popped into my head. I wrote it down in a hurry. I laughed hysterically while writing it until tears poured down my face. I laughed at my own stupidity.
Ladies and gentlemen. I give you a parable that is essence of a hard earned life lesson: “Don’t Try to Change Your Partner.” The story of a fish that is determined to learn how to ride a bicycle.
Fish on a Bicycle
There once was a fish that swam happily in the sea and was as happy as … well as happy as a fish swimming in the sea could be. One day when the happy fish was swimming near the shore, it heard a wise voice from above say : “A woman needs a husband, like a fish needs a bicycle”. The fish felt riveted by what it heard. “A bicycle! …. A bicycle! … A bicycle” … the fish repeated the word in its mind like a chant. “O something that I don’t need” … thought the happy fish lustfully. “For once to have something that I don’t need, would be something indeed”. And so the fish swam around the sea, feeling slightly less happy than happy can be, singing to herself a tune that can never be: “ I want to ride a bicycle, I want to ride a bicycle, I want to ride a bicycle, I want to be a fish on a bicycle”. And then one day as if by magic, the less happy than happy can be fish took a wrong turn and felt lost in the big sea. In a panic, the fish twirled around and zigzagged in random shapes, until it found itself in a never before encountered reef. As the sun sent its golden rays down the shallow end, darkness uncovered the way theater drapes part on an opening night, and there it was, a shining object with two wheels. The fish’s heart skipped two beats and wobbly wobbles went up and down its imaginary knees. “God is indeed great” professed the fish. For it had wished, yearned and asked, but only an empowered creator could have answered back so eloquently. The fish stared at the bicycle in awe and with great trepidation approached it attentively. “I am, I am going to be a fish on a bicycle” said the fish. First the fish had to untangle the weed that entwined itself around the frame and across the wire. Then the fish made sure to place a colored ring around the wire of the front wheel to mark it as taken. The fish was certain that had any other fish discovered this treasure it would lay its immediate claim. Now that the bicycle was cleaned and marked, it still looked unsatisfied. The fish knew that a bicycle was made for riding and not lying on one side. That is when the fish realized that her imaginary knees and knuckles better materialize. And so the fish swam to the Odd Objects store, where little fishes went to play pranks on their cousins and buy Halloween trappings. Among the soggy shelves it found sand blasting guns and plastic fins. But at the back of the store in the “Dropped from Heaven” department it found what delighted. Prosthetic human limbs, with the necessary knuckles and knees, the fish purchased without asking the price and went home feeling most accomplished. The fish spent all her evening strapping on legs , arms and practicing wobbling motions to bring them alive. After many failed attempts, the fish felt confident. It decided to approach the prized possession in her new disposition. The bicycle seemed mildly impressed with the fish’s hearty attempt. But Alas, all riding trials ended with the fish buried under a pile. The fish now was the most unhappy fish in the sea. It practiced and practiced with wobbly motions of all kind until a precise choreography of torso movements yielded mastery of limbs. The unhappy fish approached the bicycle with a new determination. And lo and behold! A riding experience was in the cards. The fish on a bicycle rode gingerly, around and around in a circle, and then in straight line. All the creatures of the sea, looked upon with amazement. Even the octopus and the shark spared precious moments to notice. The tortoise smiled for the first time in 50 years and the star fish took a vow of non violence. They all pointed a finger and said: “Look! A fish on a bicycle.” For times, they are changing and the signs were clear as can be. They sensed they had witnessed history. The fish puffed up it chest in victory and rode around every day to applause and adoration. The bicycle seemed pleased, but not all was well in the sea. A few logical fishes doubted the victorious fish and asked annoying logical questions : “Why ride a bicycle when you can swim faster? Why defy nature when god gave us scales and fins? A fish is not a human. Pretending something that you can’t be is a dangerous venture”. But the victorious fish answered them with clever retorts that silenced them: “You dumb doubters don’t you see? This is progress, it is called technology. Today I ride gingerly in a straight line, tomorrow I will zip around like a devil on ecstasy. You old fashioned fish don’t matter; it is us modern fish that hold the future in our nonexistent fingers”. In this state of defiance, the fish knew that it had to perform. In order to ride with required speed, the defiant fish needed to construct an elaborate plan to level paths and roads so that the bicycle could speedily navigate around. Although the doubters have been silenced, the defiant fish was certain that their doubting voices would rise again. As the vigorous training program for bicycle racing began, the astonishing happened. The bicycle spoke. Its first words in the sea where screeching moaning sounds of whining. “eeeemmmmmmmmmm, I do not like to forge ahead with this haste, I do not enjoy being ridden by a fish, I do feel nauseated by the wetness of the salty sea”. The shocked fish was dumb founded. Completely aghast, “Why didn’t you say something sooner, until now I thought you were deaf and mute”. “Oooooooo! I didn’t want too seem excessively fussy”, replied the bicycle. “That bastard!” …. er … I mean …. “That illegitimate love child of a car and a unicycle!” … “After everything I have done for him!”…. er …. I mean “After everything I have done for it!” … The shocked fish began to scream and in complete hysterics picked up the bike with all its might and threw it to the shore. As tears poured down the depressed fish’s cheeks, it took off the fake limbs. Much to its surprise it found that real limbs had began to grow out of its torso and the depressed fish realized that it had forgotten how to swim. The fish sat next to the shore and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. “O! One day when I am finished sobbing, I will teach myself how to swim using these new limbs, who knows perhaps I will invent a novel way of swimming for fish” said the depressed fish to console herself. “And if that doesn’t work, I have heard that they can do wonders with plastic surgery these days” the depressed fish continued. That is when the depressed fish heard the wise voice from above again: “I told you that a woman needs a husband, like fish needs a bicycle. Next time why don’t you poke yourself in the eye instead and save yourself the heartache”. And so the fish started a poke in the eye business, where the young and foolish fishes could ,for a fee, get a poke in the eye using the depressed fish’s new limbs to immunize themselves from heartache. Her business motto was “A fish needs a bicycle like a woman needs a husband”. And the fish lived forever after bitterly.
Here is a clip of me reading A Fish On A Bicycle at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. Open Mic event. I ran out of time and so had to cut the story short.
I saw this poem performed live at the a poetry slam a couple of months after I wrote “fish on a bicycle” story and it was my favorite thing I heard in an evening that included many talented poets. The poem by Johnny MacRae felt like some sort of a cosmic response to the story I wrote earlier about the Fish and a Bicycle.
Here is another attempt at telling the story while incorporating elements of dance into it. This was an experiment. I am not happy with the result, but here it is anyway.