Hey, girl. I sit down at the computer tonight, inspired to write to you after seeing the movie "Marley and Me" with Joel tonight. I'm making kissy noises at you, whistling, imploring you to join me on the couch, which- good girl!- you just have. It's a little hard to type with you licking me. When I lift my hands from the keyboard to scratch your ears, you cuddle your head into my palm. I wonder which one of the cats you picked that up from.
The movie "Marley and Me" is so sad in part because the ending is a forgone conclusion. Those of us with beloved animals in our lives know we're bound to outlive you. I've always maintained that missing out on the fifteen or so years of unconditional love you bring to my life would be a far greater loss than someday helping you pass when it's time, but I dread that day more and more with each passing year.
You're going to be nine in March, my girl. NINE. I can hardly believe it, Belle. You ran out of the Thornden Park Rose Garden in late August 2000, and the vet thought you were about four months old when- after two weeks on the porch- me and my college roommates admitted you were ours after all in early September. That means your birthday was sometime in March of 2000. We usually celebrate around March 8, you and me, but since I keep track of your age with the turn of the calendar year... I've been thinking about it more lately.
Last year, when you turned eight, I thought, you know... You could live to be 16. It would be beating the odds a bit, but it would mean that we still have the same amount of time together as we've already had. Now that you're going to be nine, I know that "halfway" is behind us.
I have to confess; I've been facing your mortality lately, puppeleh. Part of it is because people I really care about let their beloved dogs go recently. Brandy was 14, but Zoe was only 10. They both had cancer. We know you're healthy, minus the eye troubles. We've managed to keep that under control with medication, and you're so good about it. You hear the rattle of that bottle and run to your dog bed. "You can sit on your bed," I tell you. "But you will take these pills." Going to the eye doctor vet is practically a treat for you. Dr. Cho is so gentle, and Margaret the med tech literally dotes on you.
Other than that, you're healthy and well. You take the last flight of stairs up to the apartment a little slower these days, sometimes putting both of your back paws together on one stair at the same time. That said, you dragged Joel down the street two days ago. You still greet us with puppy-like wiggles and energy at the end of the day. I'm so grateful for your health and energy, and I never want you to get any older.
I know you know this, because I tell you late at night whenever I can't sleep. I pull you up from the foot of the bed and stroke your tummy, telling you that you're the best dog in the world. I whisper in your twitching ear that when I was a little girl, I had dozens of stuffed animals. Toys only, but I loved them. I gave them names and invented personalities for them. I never wanted any of my stuffed animals to think I loved any more than the others, so I pulled them all off their shelf and into my bed when I was a child. I poured a lot of time and love into those stuffed toys. I feel like it all came back to me in you, pup. All that love lavished on the proverbial Velveteen Rabbits became Real the day I found you.
If I ever had a guardian angel, Bella, you're so it. I got gravely sick when you were about six months old, remember? For months, you laid at the foot of my bed while we tried combinations of meds, and therapy, and crying. You were just a puppy, and there were lots of other people to love and chase you.
My mom knew I was sick- seriously ill- when I said, "I get no joy from Bella."
You took care of me, too, when we moved out in the middle of the night. I grabbed a week's worth of clothes, a throw blanket, my Harry Potter books, my camera, and you, remember? You stayed on alert all night in the pet-friendly hotel we went to. When we finally found a place to go, you got so sick and panicked around Jason's new puppy. You threw up in my lap on the way to vet, but I knew we'd be okay if we stuck together.
Six weeks later, you rode shotgun all the way to Florida. We were 1,000 miles from friends and family. Most people go clubbing on South Beach, but since you were the only friend I had, we hit the dog-friendly boutiques. I think the dog beach we went to was featured in the movie I saw tonight. You LOVED that place, except for the waves.
I'll never know for certain how many times you've protected me, but I know I felt better that night we heard the gunshots because you were with me. When we drove back a year later, this time with Fred in the back seat, you barked at the sketchy man who banged on the window in that rest stop in Georgia. I'm willing to bet that the sketchy drug people who used to live downstairs never used the emergency key to the apartment because of you were here, barking your fool head off at molecules of air. Thank you, muffin face.
I know when you're hungry or when you don't feel good because you've eaten trash. I know when the cats are bugging you, trying to touch your feet as you sleep. You know when I need a good cry. You always let me bury my face in the ruff of your neck during the scene in "I am Sam" when Sean Penn loses custody of Dakota Fanning and whenever those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan come on TV.
You were the best flower dog, Bella. I didn't know until after the honeymoon that you ducked behind a hedge and took a massive dump right before the ceremony. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not pooping in the middle of our vows.I spend a lot of time thinking about what the future holds. I picture the house we want to buy, what my job might be as things change. You're in all my daydreams, sweet girl, sitting under a high chair, waiting for food to drop, curled in front of the imaginary fireplace.
Our adventures will never become a New York Times bestseller, Bella. This blog will never inspire a screenplay, and even if it did, Jennifer Aniston would NEVER be cast to play me. :) A quick web search found that eighteen different dogs played Marley in the movie I saw tonight. There is only one you, Isabella Louise. When I think of your unending affection, loyalty, and protection, I know it will be my privilege to follow you around for all the years we have left, carrying your poop home in a plastic baggie. I love the security of you curled behind my legs each night when I fall asleep, even when you snore. Especially when you snore.
I love you, dog. Thanks for being mine.