Monday, September 30, 2013

the toy that saved me

//Write about a toy you most treasured//

When I was little, I was intense. I had intense feelings and intense attachments, at least that's what it felt like. One of these was my attachment to my stuffed animals.  I had a whole pile on my bed: 3 easter egg colored teddy bears, all with silk ribbons around their necks. A few Beanie Babies, a Raggedy Ann, an old duck without the stuffing, all stacked on my bed from biggest to smallest. Guarding me. Welcoming me.

In the very front was my tiny bear. He was small and chestnut brown, with little waves of soft fur and limbs that would swing back and forth,  back and forth. He wore a little red and white striped romper. His eyes were kind, and he had a small smile that made me feel at home. I won him at a family Christmas party when I was 8. At first, he was nothing special, he was just miniature, and I liked that. He sat at the very front of my animal pyramid because he was the smallest, and he didn't even have a name. As time went on and my family life started getting worse, his miniature size came in handy, and he turned into my biggest ally.

My dad is a strong man. He's opinionated and traditional and he doesn't believe in weakness. No pepper on your food because it should be good enough as it is cooked. No crying. No special blankets to sleep with at night. No ketchup on your scrambled eggs. He liked the control he elicited from us, his minors, his subjects. I lived in fear, walked on egg shells. I never knew what would trigger his anger, so I was carefully defiant. At first, I followed my father blindly, not even realizing that a father could do wrong. As I got older and situations started happening, I realized that fathers could do wrong. When I would go to his house for his allotted weekend, I noticed a tangible difference in the way that I felt when I was there, like I was in Siberia, half way across the country, when in fact I was only a few miles across town. As a result, I would get homesick. That unrelenting knot in my stomach so strong, I can feel it even now. An emptiness, a cold slimy feeling writhing in my gut. It made me sick. It made tears well up in my eyes, spilling onto my silk pillow at night, in my painted room with the leaf stencils and purple bed spread. My father had made that room exactly as I had asked, because he wanted it to be the best. He wanted to be the best, not for me, but for him.  He didn't like when we timidly asked if we could go home early or if we could call mom during the weekends. His sneer of disgust at our weakness or his sense of value to us, I don't know which. But, I knew that if he knew about my need for something that reminded me of home, he would take it and not give it back.

Enter my miniature bear. He was small enough to fit in my backpack, unnoticed in my bed. I could stuff him in my pillowcase and no one would be the wiser. When I had no choice but to leave my mom for the weekend, I would sneak into her closet, filled with her shoes and her coats and her smell. I found that special perfume she wore on dates, the one that smelled warm and amber. I would spray that right on the chest of my bear, soaking it deep into his fur so I could smell it all weekend. With that bear, I kept a broken locket my mom gave me. Inside, a picture of baby me, and a scrawled oval note in my uneven handwriting that read: mom. I sprayed the inside of that locket with her smell too, and then they were hidden. At night, I would carefully pull them both out of their hiding place and push my nose into his fur, smelling deeply and imagining my mom hugging me as I tried to fall asleep. It was the closest thing I had to comfort, and the only thing on earth that understood how I was feeling in such an unrealized tumultuous time in my life.

It seems silly that something so small and insignificant could have elicited such strong emotional and physical reactions in me. I wish I was exaggerating that I created a safety net with a little sack of stuffing and polyester. I slept with that tiny bear for longer than I care to admit. As years went on, times changed and I got older, one by one my stuffed animals were gone. The three silk-ribboned bears disappeared one day in my teens. The duck banished to the shelf, the Raggedy Ann placed in storage and the Beanie Babies handed down to my sister. My little bear lasted until I left for college, and even then I packed him away secretly in my box of keepsakes and took him with me. After all these years, I still feel an overwhelmingly strong emotional connection to him. Even now, when I'm feeling nostalgic or lonely, I open up my special box and smell deep into his fur. If I'm careful, I can catch a faint whiff of that perfume, and the ache in my heart is dulled slightly.

I give my daughter a bunny because I hope that it will be her ally and her friend when she feels like she is alone. I am a believer in having an object that you can pour all of your love and hope and tears and sadness in. Something that is always there and never fails you. One that sits and smiles and loves you right back, no matter what.

I think we all need one.

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