By Anthony Gibson
The same thing that made me special was also true for Rick. We weren’t like all of the other teddies in the drugstore bin. All I knew was that while the rest of them were frozen like little still-life, plush cadets – Rick and I were alive, beating with nerve and wonderment, the two of us coping with our conditions in our own way. I couldn’t tell you why or what plagued us. I wish I could say that my creator had whispered into my ear and delivered me some sort of gospel – granting me proof and clarity of a purpose. But I guess I was meant to always learn the hard way.
The thing was, Rick wasn’t a very nice bear. He had a penchant for ripping out the glassy eyes of the other teddies. Because of this, I did my best to avoid him – to hide the fact that I too was like him. I’d listen to the bears tear around me like I was in the eye of some demented plush tornado. To comfort myself, I’d stroke the few strands of silver, defected fur beneath my chin, and on the occasion when I could feel him drawing near, I’d carefully crawl through the sea of my polyester comrades and pray he wouldn’t solve the life in me.
There was a moment once, where he was too close for me to safely move out of the way. I kept still and lifeless like the others. When his eyes met mine, he looked right through me with a familiar longing. It hit me that behind each unhinged eye, he was searching for the same truth troubling my own existence – though something dark and oppressive colored his loneliness. He skipped on me that day and used my sturdy head to prop himself up to the next bear, whom he utterly ruined.
There were moments where us bears were up for selection – where human children and adults alike would filter through our sewn faces, determining which of us was worthy of their love. I did my best to keep near the top of the pile. I figured my deepest purpose in life was to give myself entirely to someone. To offer my cuddles to someone and share a warm joy, where inside my stitches they could find the purest, most unconditional love: teddy bear love. If I was a teddy, then I was love.
I never once noticed Rick at any selections. My guess was that he hid at the bottom of the bin for the sake of his own protection. Perhaps he didn’t feel like he was meant for someone like I was.
One day I routinely began my ascent to the top of the pile, preparing myself for another selection. Roughly one layer of plush before my button nose reached the top of the bin, I felt some of the lifeless teddies around me begin to shutter. Their movement grew more intense as if my own nerves radiated from my cotton core. I fought my body for stillness. I shook from fear to shock, and my awareness finally drew to the tight grip clenched around my left foot. Rick jerked my body down as he took his next paw and climbed up my body. I kicked him and pulled away. In a gust, I reached the top and clung to the edge of the bin. I stared down a strand of light reflecting off the linoleum floor and turned around to see a burst of bears erupt to Rick’s anger. He heaved with hate.
“So, you’ve been hiding from me.” His stitched smile turned sinister. I looked back down at the ground.
“Let me see what’s hiding in there.” He lunged forward, grabbing ahold of my head and gripping my right eye. As soon as the tension pulled at my face, a family walked up to the bin. From what I could hear, it was an adult with a child. Rick froze and released his grip from my eye. I was left with my head dangling over the edge, my body teetering out of balance.
“Mom, this one! Avery will love this!” The little child curled a hand around my body and hoisted me from the ledge.
“Okay babe, put it in the cart. You can surprise her with it tonight when she gets back from soccer practice.”
The child set me into the cart, and as they wheeled up to the check-out counter, I watched Rick lift himself against the rim of the bin. I followed his eyes until it was too difficult to distinguish his pain beyond my own experience of it. I was now free.
Her lavender pillow tickled my synthetic fur. The sensation crawled through my brown wisps and into my stitches. I fought the impulse to giggle so as to not give way to the surprise and wiggled my bottom against the fabric. Excitement swirled behind my sewn smile – dimples like the ends of a rainbow beside my button nose. No more lonesome nights in a gloomy drug store bin. I’d finally have someone – and she would have me.
From what I gathered from her brother, if I waited right there under the soft white light of her ceiling fan, the love of my life would open the door and greet me with a loving embrace.
I put my hand to my chin and smoothed out the strands, making sure they were neat. I considered the texture of my body, hoping she’d enjoy my touch and disregard the small patch of silver beneath my chin.
I wanted to be the perfect bear for her and do anything she wanted to do. I was up for anything, and as I sat there pondering our lives together, I heard a door open outside of the room. There were a few muffled voices that I couldn’t make out. After a minute or so, I heard steps begin to creak up the staircase.
Hopeful it was her, I listened to the quiet dip of the floorboards as each step drew her closer. I could barely contain myself. I wanted to jump right out of the bed, skip the surprise her brother laid out for me, and melt into her arms. Her pillow began to tickle again as the butterflies stirred inside my stuffed body.
A shadow swayed inside the thin line of light glowing just below the closed door. It had to be her. I needed it to be. My stomach churned into a slurry of anxious joy. My eyes were glued to the knob. I kept getting images of us in a ball pit – the sweet smell of the technicolor plastic, my head nestled into the bend of her arm.
Finally, the knob began to twist. I fought myself for stillness. The door opened, slowly revealing her. There she was – brown hair sticking to the sweat on her face, mismatched socks inside of worn-out sneakers, blue gym bag hanging over her shoulder and a cell phone in her right hand. She was perfect. I knew this was it. The fated moment of our lives. She would leap into bed, throw me into the air, and snuggle me into eternity.
She stood there, still in the hallway, staring down into her phone. She looked up at the ceiling fan. I kept still. Her eyes sifted through the contents of the room. I fought all the impulse to shout. My nerves boiled my insides. The pressure built behind my smile – and then, she saw me. I fell forward and screamed, “I LOVE YOU!” My face lifted from the duvet. She dropped her bag and her back slammed against the wall behind her with a sucking force. Her shrieks filled the house.
“It’s lovely to meet you!” I wiggled my way into a seated position and threw my arms into the air, ready for my embrace.
“Mom!” Her chest heaved with terror and she threw her phone, grazing my left ear. I flinched and wiggled forward.
“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.” Desperate for something, anything, I continued twisting forward, smiling as wide as my stitching allowed.
She darted towards me and slammed my face with a fist. I flew back against her headboard as she burst out of the room.
I was left alone and empty. No, requite of love. No soft snuggle into the night. I stared down into the duvet. Why didn’t she love me? I put my sad excuse for paws to my face, dragging them below my chin. If she didn’t love me, then maybe there was no point. Maybe I never really had a purpose.
I ripped out a few strands of my defected silver hair in a last-ditch effort to deserve her love. My eyes began to burn – the adhesive holding my eyes together began to drip down my face. I continued to rip away my fur. I didn’t even stop at the silver strands. At this point, I wanted to remove any proof that I was once a cuddly, loving teddy. I didn’t deserve to look like something someone would love. Soon my eyes drooped down to my chin, my fur like patches of shrub fighting a desert night. My body, limp and sullied.
It didn’t take long for her to return to the room with her mother. They stared into the mess of my vegetative state. Her mother rushed over to the window and flung it open. She punched out the screen and returned to the bed. I felt the two of them linger over my body. Her mother pinched my ear and as she lifted me toward the open window, I took one final look at Avery. My eyes barely clung to my face, but I saw her. I saw the hate reflect against the tears in her eyes, and I knew then that there was never actually any hope for a bear like me.
As I flew through the air, I couldn’t help but think of Rick – how he was probably right to keep to the bottom of the bin. My face planted in the asphalt and over the course of the cold and lonely night, my eyes still stuck to me, retrofitted to new parts of my face. I propped myself up and watched my shadow walk inside of the orange streetlight. Me, the only little thing in the big and quiet street.
Seeing my body move as a shadow, the loose fibers fleeing my patchy self and hanging in the air around me, I couldn’t believe I was still alive. Mangled and stripped of my only purpose, I couldn’t wrap my head around the point to which my body still moved. My legs surged forward as if my shadow spoke to me to say: this is what we do. Maybe I was still for love after all, and for someone’s loving. I would be okay, I decided – the night and my shadow leading the way.