I remember the day I met Bella. It was April 28, 2001. J and I had decided to stop by the shelter, but we were just looking - we weren't ready for a pet just yet. She was the first one we saw - you know, the one in the "featured pet" cage, a euphemism that we would soon learn meant she was on death row. "Adopt me today," her card read, "I'm ready to go home." Her name was Brandy then. I remember how fluffy and soft and cute she was. I remember how sweet her disposition was when we let her out to walk and play a little. I remember how we decided maybe we were ready, and how we couldn't wait to take her home.
My family always had pets when I was growing up - dogs, cats, rabbits, even a chicken. But they were kept outside, not really a part of the family, just animals that we had to clean up after, feed, and often fear. But Bella was different. She was our baby, our little one-year-old sweetheart. And the first pet that was really mine.
She stayed in the house with us, even slept on our bed, we spoiled her lavishly, we loved her deeply, and she was perfect. I remember how quickly she was housebroken after a single accident. I remember never having to worry when we left her alone at home, and I remember crying the first time we left her at a kennel, seeing the sad look in her eyes as we went away. I remember how she hated baths, and how when her fur was wet, she was so small. I remember how we could never find a toy that she wanted to play with, and how there was nothing that she wouldn't eat. I remember trips to the bark park and the dog beach, and the thousands of compliments on our little social butterfly.
But most of all, I remember July 2, 2002. I remember waking up late and not taking her for a morning walk, a ritual we had never missed until that day. I remember wishing that she hadn't been so well-behaved that morning, waiting patiently until I awoke instead of jumping on me when the alarm went off. I remember rushing home to my apartment, without so much as a pat on her head or an "I love you," to get ready for a very important meeting. I remember the horror in J's face when I answered the door and he was screaming at me. I couldn't hear what he was saying. Maybe I didn't want to hear it. And then I remember running, falling to the cold, hard asphalt and disappearing into J's embrace. And my fists pounding on his chest. I remember looking through the thick wall of tears to see her lying on his car seat, motionless. And collapsing again. And how every time I looked, I hoped she would move. Breathe. Grin. Lick my face. Just one more time so I could say goodbye.
I remember her little ceremony - just J, his mother and me in a little room, Bella in her little box. I remember how perfect she looked - not like she had been hit by a car, but like she was sleeping. We laid her on the blanket that she first came home in, we gave her the one toy we finally got her to play with, we gave her one of her favorite treats, we gently placed a photo of the two of us in the box. It was quiet in that little room, just like she always was.
But now the flowers on her grave are wilting. The photo on her headstone is fading. The lines in the grass are long gone. Her face is blurring in our minds, sharpened again only by photographs that never did her personality justice. We see her in our dreams. We remember her only in our hearts.