“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Somewhere out there is a worn out Steiff teddy with a hole in his foot and a nose stitched from heavy black thread. He was a gift to me as a baby, some 50 years back now, my companion who sat patiently in my pram waiting for me to grow old enough to love his fur off.
If you happened to find my old friend, I lost him one day two decade or so ago, during a move. It was only in the aftermath of unpacking that I discovered him missing and I was devastated. I can only imagine in my romantic mind that he zipped across the country in a U Haul and found a new home with someone that needed him. If you happened upon him, the slice in his foot a testament to the interest of a ten year old in all things medical. Craft scissors as scalpel I had only sliced but an inch when I realized that my friend was straw filled. I never forgave myself for causing him harm, so you may have found a worn band-aid stuck to his course fur. Oh, if you tip him the right way you might still hear the growl, its hard to say because it was beginning to fade in the years that I loved him.
I never replaced him. I couldn’t replace him. Wound into every sharp piece of straw were a thousand childhood giggles, a plethora of adolescent pain, and a smattering of fear of an adulthood I wasn’t necessarily prepared for.
You might have wondered at the worn places where his fur was rubbed clear off and replaced by something that resembled a blank needlepoint canvas. One or two sharp mohair tufts existed in the middle and I would wake with red scratches on my neck from curling him up in my arms. He was my best friend and I hope that whomever he found took from him the comfort that he so steadfastly offered me in my early years.
I will never fully understand how or why I lost him along the way, but he will always stand out in my mind as my old friend. Broken and wobbly where his knees bent. His head lopsided where he loosened in his neck joints. Two poorly constructed eyes and a tightly sewn nose with one black thread that stood straight out like an unruly whisker.
He was…the most beautiful friend in my world. I hope you treated him kindly despite his ugliness in appearance. I hope you understand that he wasn’t disposed of but lost one day by a young mum who still looks for him on every antique store shelf and at your local yard sales. Not out of nostalgia but out of a need to reconcile my guilt at feeling that an inanimate straw filled toy might feel that I simply let him go.
Ridiculous maybe. It’s how my heart works. Maybe yours does too and that’s why you’ve stuck with me through the narrative above.
Maybe you’ve felt disposable and that’s why you’re still with me.
Maybe it would help if you knew that I’ve felt that way too. Maybe if we are honest we can truly say that we feel like this today, or we felt like this yesterday.
It’s hard in our present world to not feel like something better is right around the corner. Technology is flipping devices our way with the speed of Grandma at the church pancake breakfast. So much so that it is getting hard to keep up.
Way back in the day there were no ” no down payment, take 24 months to pay” that allowed us to rid of the furniture that we tired of after a short 6 months. Toss to the side of the road to become someone else’s “old but new to me”. By the time we got around to replacing something it had been completely used up, bereft of any plushness in the pillows, torn at the seams and it shifted sideways when you sat as if it may fold in half at any given moment. More often than not it would make its way out to the garage or the tree house, sometimes it found its new home among the paneled basements, but unless it was in two or three pieces, it stayed. Filled with memories of TV dinners on the aluminum fold up trays, memories of first kisses or when the baby peed all over the new upholstery. If you searched in the creases you might find pennies, or if you were lucky a quarter or two. Finders Keepers.
Today we have build a bed, build a shelf, build a bear even. A much cheaper version of things once crafted with care, now easily erected ( for the most part..have you ever read IKEA instructions after the age of 50?) and just as easily discarded when the mood strikes for a new color or new shape. When the fiber fill rolls up and creates empty pockets, we wander in search of something that is better filled out, more comfortable to rest upon. Something prettier than what we had before.
It is most uncomfortable when you notice that we have started the same practice with each other. Just today I read about a young man that took his own life at the urging of someone that boasted to love him. As I scrolled through the texted conversation that ensued prior to his death I was overcome with the painful realization that the words that flew were no more than instructions on how he could dispose of himself. Her words screamed to me, to him; that he was replaceable. His own words in reply were of a young boy scrambling to hold on to the end of an old couch that was tipping with each syllable that she presented. “I have to go to the beach with my mom, I’ll do it later”. There he was gripping onto something familiar, something that had been with him for years and something that felt safe. But to no avail. He asked for one more moment to say “I love you” and she doused it with “They know how much you love them already”. Carefully deconstructed I read “You’ve loved them enough, that will get them through this, and now it’s time for you to go” Something else will replace you…eventually.
The usual comments followed on the news thread. I was grateful to see so many that shared the pain of the family left behind, those that empathized and were so deeply affected by a death that was so needless. I was then truly horrified at the comments that suggested the young lady had done no more than to encourage someone who didn’t want to live in the first place. “So what” “She only helped to deplete the surface population” “Waste of space”.
Like the corner unit that no longer fit into the decor it was perfectly OK to break him down and to throw him to the roadside.
It is not OK at all.
It’s reprehensible. This is not OK. It’s inhumane.
Souls are not disposable.
Human souls are truly no more than the teddy bears that we wore the absolute hell out of because if we did it right; we loved them too hard to let them go. They stunk, they were stained. Their ears fell off, their stuffing gave way to holes that you could stick your thumb in and use as a carry handle. They were no less important just because their eyes fell out or their mouths drooped into the corners. No less important because they could no longer sit straight up at the end of the bed but sat flopped because the joints wore out. We cried on them, drooled on them, dragged them through the yard, in the wagon and stuffed them into our bike baskets. We wrecked them with love.
We don’t love something until it falls to pieces and then replace it with the next best thing available.
I don’t comprehend the thought process of a disposable world.
I hope I never do.
I think I’ll flood the world with teddy bears.
If you find mine. Call me. He was loved into ugly. And he’s completely irreplaceable.