I have a teddy bear that I sleep with every night of my life. I hold it close to my heart even when I am sound asleep and have no control over what I’m doing, which is pretty amazing, considering I’m a wild sleeper and will sometimes end up sleeping horizontally on my bed, sheets tangled and pulled from the corners of my mattress.
I’m not really a teddy bear kind of girl. I never have been. While other kids my age collected stuffed animals and dolls, I was busy living a life of adventure on the Withlacoochee River, where I grew up. My first boyfriend was amazed that I didn’t know who H.R. Puffenstuff was. I could never get him to understand that TV wasn’t important when your 11th birthday present was a brand new V-hull fiberglass boat with a shiny new 4HP Johnson motor.
I was so busy running the river every day of my life that I didn’t have time to collect stuffed animals and dolls.
But my childhood wasn’t filled with just boats and alligators and birds and fishing. It was also filled with all the trauma that comes from being the daughter of an alcoholic daddy with demons chasing him so hard he never stood a chance of getting away from them. So the boats and adventures were an escape from what our life was really like- living in a small trailer on the banks of a dark, dark river.
My parents finally divorced when I was a senior in high school. By then the alcoholic daddy thing was old hat. I’d already started the process of protecting my heart from the rejection that one will always feel when , time and again, their parent chooses the bottle over them. My Dad moved away to live with my Grandma and eventually I left the small town and moved south to live with him and go to college.
Shortly after I moved in with my Dad, he joined AA. For six months, six far-too-short months filled with sweet, blessed normalcy, my Dad didn’t drink. That was the only time during the 32 years I had my dad that he didn’t drink. During this time, he came home one day with a brand new teddy bear for me.
This was such an odd gift, coming from my dad. My Dad and my Grandma both grew up dirt poor. Because of this, they hoarded everything, and I mean everything. But my dad hoarded food most of all. He never had much money but he always sent my sister and I home with bags of canned food that he bought for us. For Christmas we would get weird gifts like 7 containers of dental floss and spark plug cleaners for our car. I always said that he loved us to the best of his ability.
I don’t know if that bear was a peace offering, something to make up for all those years lost to booze. I’ll never know.
Through the years he’s had some trauma- there was the time I came home and he was missing, and I found out that Sasha had carried him out the doggy door and buried him in the back yard. I washed him and we were right back to normal. This bear has moved with me countless time. I’ve lost a lot of stuff in my life, things I’ve lost track of or discarded to lighten my load. You do an awful lot of load-lightening when you are the child and grandchild of compulsive hoarders. But that bear stayed.
My Dad’s been gone 10 years now, lost to the consequences that will inevitably come from losing the battle with the bottle. When I miss my Dad the most, I will pick up that bear and hug him and close my eyes tight and in my heart I know that in that very moment, my Dad can feel my love.
But my bear has seen his better days. Not too long ago he had a run-in with a 95 pound hooligan of a dog that doesn’t understand the sanctity of that bear. He lost his nose and part of the stuffing in his face. Now when I fall asleep I can’t just feel for his nose to know which was to turn him, because he sleeps with his back to me, and I spoon him.
I came to realize that I can’t let go of my bear. I don’t care how ugly he is, how offensive he might be to others. He is clean and washed regularly. He’s just missing some fur and half his face. Ok, he’s missing a lot of fur.
Last night I went to visit a good friend and she gave me my Christmas gift. I’d told her about the incident of dog vs. bear. Wrapped up was a brand new bear with a card that said this was no replacement, merely a body double.
It is only now, after 23 years of sleeping with this bear, that I realize just how many years and how many tears I have invested in him. And I know that he is getting old and raggedy and frail and I probably won’t be able to sleep with him every night of my life, but I know I will have that raggedy ass bear somewhere in my home and my heart for the rest of my life.
His body double will just help protect him and help him lead a longer life.
Thanks, Amy, for knowing exactly the right thing to do.