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How a Singing Fish Gave Her Comfort

The Billy Bass gag gift taught her to expect the unexpected and that God was always with her.

Billy Bass/ Illustration by Chris Buselli

Just a quick Google search and there it was—an eBay listing for a Big Mouth Billy Bass, available to the highest bidder. I matched the asking price and crossed my fingers. It looked exactly like the one my ex-husband had brought home all those years ago, back in 1999.

It was a gag gift. A rubber fish mounted on a plastic plaque. At first glance, it could have passed for a real fishing trophy—until it started to sing. The battery-powered fish would spring to life whenever someone walked by. It would swing its head around, shake its tail fin and move its mouth along to the music blasting from its speakers. The fish performed two songs: “Take Me to the River,” by Al Green, and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin.

We hung it up in the living room. It was hilarious! …The first hundred times, that is. Then we grew sick of the thing. But our three-year-old son, Kevin, loved it. He’d activate it again and again, shrieking and dancing along. Almost a year later, when the batteries finally died, we didn’t replace them. The Billy Bass was banished to Kevin’s toy box in the corner of the living room.

I didn’t miss hearing the same two songs on a loop, but I did miss the easy laughter the Billy Bass sparked. My husband and I were going through a tough time in our marriage, and it became harder and harder to smile.

We’d fought before but not like this. It didn’t feel like something we could fix. I wasn’t sure how much more either of us could take. I was having trouble sleeping. When the house was dark and my husband and son were asleep, I’d wander from room to room, haunting my own house like a ghost. I prayed then, asking God for guidance and strength. But I still felt so alone.

One day, the crushing weight I’d been carrying became too much. It was early afternoon. My husband was still at work. I could hear Kevin playing outside in the yard. I was in the living room, straightening up a little. The misery that overtook me was sudden, like a blow. I could barely breathe.

I sank to the floor in front of the couch. I couldn’t stop crying. Not wanting Kevin to hear me sobbing, I leaned forward, burying my face in the cushions.

“Lord,” I whispered, “please help me. I’m so sad.… I’m just so sad, Lord.”

“Don’t worry, be happy!” music blared. “Dooooo, dooo, dooo, dooooooo!”

My head whipped up. Had Kevin wandered back inside and started singing? No, the room was empty; no one was with me. As I listened closer, I could hear the mechanical whir of the Billy Bass from the corner of the room. I got to my feet.

Sure enough, in Kevin’s toy box, the Billy Bass was singing, mouth flapping and body wriggling. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” played. I watched, stunned. The song finished. Only then did I pick up the animatronic fish.

The Billy Bass had three modes: on, off and motion detecting. Had my husband replaced the batteries at some point? Had Kevin left it on motion detecting? I pressed the button. Nothing. I flipped it over. The Billy Bass was switched on. I pressed the button again.

Nothing. Of course. The batteries were dead.

My tears turned to laughter. I stood there in the living room laughing for quite some time. I felt better than I had in weeks. It was as if the weight of my troubles had been lifted—all because of a silly, singing fish! And yet the relief I felt was real.

Don’t worry, be happy!

Those words became my mantra. Through the ups and downs—through my eventual divorce—whenever I felt low, I’d simply remember that singing fish. How God had used it to show me that I wasn’t alone. That he was always with me.

Over the years, we moved several times, and Billy Bass eventually got lost in the shuffle. But when Kevin, now 22 and living on his own, called to tell me he’d been having a difficult time lately, I knew just what to do.

The new Billy Bass arrived a few days after I placed the order. I wrapped it, ready to give to Kevin the next time I saw him. He knew the story of what had happened to me all those years ago. I included a note. “Pray and trust the Lord for everything,” it read. “When the Lord is involved, expect the unexpected. No batteries needed.”

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