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Bella Isabella Everywhere: My Magical Fish

This is a post by Melissa Palmer, the mother of Sophie Palmer, a young girl with autism. Melissa shares the story of Isabella, their family's magical pet fish from Sophie's perspective. Sophie has been attached to Isabella for the past three years. Isabella unfortunately passed away last week but Melissa wanted to show how special she was to Sophie.

I want to tell you a story about my pet. She’s not a dog or a cat, a canary or a snake. Those kinds of pets are lovely but none of them are my pet. My pet is a beautiful Betta who lives in the one-gallon tank on my dresser. Her name is Isabella.

But what’s interesting about Isabella is not that she lives on my dresser, or that she is a Betta or even that she is beautiful. What is most interesting about my Bella Isabella is that she is really, truly magical.

Other fish may swim to the surface to get food or fishy treats. They may even bob to and fro once in a while, but can any of them dance the Flamenco? Isabella fans her fins out like a shimmery ball gown and dances on the water. She almost always knows when I’m watching and she’s rarely ever shy. She puts on such a show. She sways side to side and glides and dips. She must have special shoes to do moves like that. She probably keeps them in the coral in the one-gallon tank on my dresser.

Bella Isabella also loves music. When I practice my piano I can tell even though my back is turned. Because sometimes as I play, if I listen hard enough I can hear her playing along. She has a little pair of drums she keeps in her tank. I’ve never seen them but I know they’re there because as I play I can hear the tiny beat coming from the top of my dresser.

When it rains and the thunder outside frightens me and I want to hide, my Bella Isabella comes right to the edge of her tank and blows me little water bubble kisses to let me know it’s okay sometimes to be scared. It’s like she can read my mind. I know somewhere in that coral next to her dancing shoes and drum set she’s got a little Betta pillow and blankie, and a little Betta bed and night stand and tiny crackers for her Bella night time snack. I know she loves to get tucked in just as much as I do. On those same stormy nights that I got so scared, I swear I could feel her in the night kissing me on the forehead as I fell asleep.

In the morning when I wake up she swims side to side following my every move as I get ready for school. She knows I keep my socks in the side drawers and that my favorite hat is almost always under the bed. She never tells me to put my things away. When it gets messy, she doesn’t mind. But what’s magical is when I get home the room is always clean.

I swear one day as I got off the bus I heard the hum of a tiny vacuum coming from my room. She must keep her cleaning things next to her dancing shoes, beside the drums, next to her bed and blankie and nighttime snack, the pillow and nightstand.

If only there was a way to bring her with me to school. I’d get her a tiny book bag and pack it with a little pencil and ruler. I’d load her teeny lunchbox because she wouldn’t like the fish sticks in the lunch room and I’d be sure not to forget some sneakers for her fins at gym.

When I can’t seem to figure out my math homework I will sort it out with her. I’ll say, “Isabella, 3 + 5” and before I know it she will take a gulp of water and send eight bubbles my way. She’s got a calculator and a desk somewhere in her coral in the one-gallon tank on my dresser, right next to the dancing shoes, behind the drum set, near the bed by the blankie and pillow, next to the night table with the bedtime snacks, probably on the other side of her vacuum and cleaning things, her bookbag and lunchbox and sneakers for gym.

But what’s magical about my fish isn’t how she fits all these things in the tank on my dresser. It’s that my Bella Isabella is so good at keeping secrets.

No one knows she’s magical but me. 

My beautiful Betta isn’t at all like other pets. She can’t be held or hugged really tight but she comforts me just the same. She can’t catch a ball, but she can hold my hand. My Bella doesn’t have big muscles but she sure is strong. My Bella has a heart that soars. My Bella can’t run. But she can fly.

What’s magical about Isabella isn’t all those things that she can’t do. It’s all the things she can. 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.