The leather covering his plastic nose is worn from 18 years of use. There is a hole in his neck I originally created as a hiding place for little tidbits of wonder, but it now serves as an exit for his fuzzy stuffing. When I hold him up, the bear’s limbs sag and sway with no resistance, no life left. He is just an ordinary white teddy bear with brown stitching for a mouth and smooth, dark eyes that kept my secrets. He is tattered and damaged, but I am glued to him for life. Even now, I can give my bear two to three squeezes and I’ll feel comforted. The reassurance comes from all the times I needed him to hold on to, to keep me on my feet – he pulled through every time.
My bear has remained unnamed since my grandfather gave him to me. I had just learned to ride a bicycle with training wheels. One day I was circling my grandparents’ cul-de-sac at a rapid pace. I focused so diligently on completing a full, 360 degree turn as fast as I could that I hit a medium sized rock. The igneous jammed itself between my tire and the pavement, forcing me to a quick halt. The next thing I knew, I was going over the handle bars, face first. My body was battered and bruised and it hurt to walk. The one thing that made me feel better was sitting on my grandpa’s lap with my back leaning against his belly, letting my head fall into the soft place between his shoulder and chin. But today, grandpa had a tee time to make, and I knew better than to make him late for tee off. I was left with my grandma, who tried her best to cheer my sulky mode with her famous sweet n’ salty molasses cookies, but even she, the best cook in the world, couldn’t cheer me up. When my grandpa came back later that evening he instantly knew I was upset by the way I ignored him. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him disappear into another room. When he reentered, my grandpa held his arms behind his back and tried to coax me to come to him, but I sat stubbornly, with a frown on my face and my bottom glued to the floor. After he realized I wasn’t budging, he brought his hands out from behind him. I saw the white ball of fuzz and instantly fell in love. I let the fuzziness encase me.
This bear I had received turned into a substitute grandpa, for when he wasn’t around. I named him right away, Marty. And the next day, when I woke up, I named him again, Mr. Teddy; and again, Coco. More names followed: Baloo, Harvey, Yogi, Ralphie, Bozo, Dumbo, Simba, Buddy, Kenya, and the list goes on. But no name stuck.
Huddled in a dark corner of our leaky basement I cradled my bear tightly in my arms. I squeezed him close to my chest hoping that he could replace my fear with strength and keep me from being swept away. Ben was crying, he was too young to understand what a hurricane was, but he could still feel the fear radiating off his sister. I put an arm around my little brother’s shoulders in an attempt to share some of my bear’s soothing abilities. Over the violent wind and deafening thunder, I could hear John and my dad upstairs. They must have been boarding the last two windows on the first floor. Hurricane Bob was taking its toll on our starter home. Ben and I listened as the white wooden fence bordering our front yard was torn out of the ground and smashed onto the pavement. I closed my eyes and buried my face deep enough in my bear’s soft fuzzy fur so that the fresh scent of Tide detergent tickled my nostrils. I held my little brother close and waited for the rest of the family to join us. The minutes felt like hours. My mom finally opened the basement door and a quick damp gust of wind brushed against our faces. When she spotted us I could see her tense face relax and break into a smile; her babies were safe.
There were only a couple of weeks left before I was to enter high school. My mom was in a summer cleaning frenzy, tearing apart the rooms, and creating even more clutter. The house was a mess. Old blankets were dug out of dark closets, broken toys thrown into a pile, rusted bikes tossed into the dumpster. My bear surfaced from under my bed. I had dug out a place for him between my diary and a Tupperware full of memorabilia old pages from elementary school, art masterpieces I had created at camps over the summer, and trophies from various achievements. I didn’t think my mom would look there because those were things I knew she wanted to keep to bring a sense of nostalgia when she became an old lady. But, my mom has a sixth sense allowing her to find anything I might be hiding. This special ability also allows her to: tell when I lie, open un-open-able jars of jam, make the best ham sandwiches, and always know what to do in a crisis. My bear could not dodge her superpowers and she pulled him out from under the bed. I watched as she held him in both of her hands and glanced disapprovingly at his torn ear and matted fur. She set my teddy bear down in a new pile, and then moved to clean out my dresser. That was my chance, I made a break for it. I wasn’t even going to let her think about trashing my bear. I reached with my right hand and planted with my right foot. The cut was sharp and the sprint away was quick. The grab and go was probably unnecessary because she didn’t ask about the bear the rest of her cleaning frenzy.
I was jolted awake by the loud ringer on the house phone, the one my mom had programmed so she could hear it even if she was in the garage. I instinctively looked at my clock: 4 a.m. As my heart dropped into my gut I remembered what had happened over the past few nights. My mouth was sticky when I tried to swallow a golf ball sized lump that had formed in my throat. I could hear my dad’s groggy, deep voice answer the blaring phone through my bedroom walls. I froze as the minutes passed, trying not to let myself think the worst. My dad’s footsteps fell heavy on the stairs as he made his way up to my room. I lay still, squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block what was to come. I could see the outline of his graceful frame in the early morning light as he walked into my room. He sat at the foot of my bed and looked at me with his deep green eyes. I could see the sadness etched into his face, or maybe it was the lack of sleep. Either way, he was trying to tell me something. I sat up. He held me in his arms and I asked if it was painful. His brow furrowed and he pressed his lips together to form a thin, white line.
That Sunday in September of my freshman year of High School was one of the most bare, vacant days I have ever had. I felt empty and alone. For the first time in my life, death was made real to me. I couldn’t imagine what my grandpa felt. His worst fear had come true. His only love had died before he had. I thought about him and the bear he had given me that acted as a temporary replacement for when he wasn’t there when I needed him. I wanted him to have the same feeling I had when I held the bear – as if it were some kind of repayment. Later that day, my entire family drove to his house to be together. We laughed about all the times my grandma had chased us through the house yelling about the “no shoes on the carpet” rule. And we cried about the times she had devoted herself to humanitarian work, sacrificing herself for others. I couldn’t get my mind off my bear; he was in the car. I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to give my grandfather back the years of comfort he had given to me. Towards the end of the night, I saw my grandfather sitting in my grandma’s favorite chair, the one she sat in every morning doing her crossword puzzle as she sipped a freshly brewed cup of coffee. He gripped his glasses tightly. I had finally caught him alone. I ran outside into the chilly fall night, and when I reached the car I opened the door. I walked slowly up the driveway clenching my teddy bear in my usual fashion: with my face buried in his soft white fuzz. I sat down on the cold cement stoop. I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. I couldn’t bring myself to give my grandpa my bear. Maybe it was because of all the times I had fought to keep him. Maybe it was because of the times my bear had been there for me when my grandpa hadn’t. Or, maybe it was because of all the times to come. I knew that I would need the bear in the future, and I wasn’t ready to give him up.
My dad had stalled as long as he could and because of a 5:00 flight, he had to finally pull up to the campus. If I could have had any wish at that very moment, I would have wished to fly back with my dad and never have to go to college. I was 2,000 miles away from home and I didn’t know a single soul around me. I was scared. I walked him to the tan rental car parked a couple of buildings from my dorm. He wrapped me in his arms like he had done a thousand times before and I did my best to hold back the tears burning at the corners of my eyes. Either he told me everything was going to be fine, or I imagined him telling me that, and he turned his back to me and lowered himself into the driver’s seat. I squeezed my arms to my chest and half-heartedly waved as he put the car into reverse. I watched him back away when suddenly the car jolted to a stop and he rolled down the passenger window. I could see him turn and reach into the backseat. I realized at that moment that my teddy bear had changed from being a childhood comfort to a symbol of growth and a memory of home. He held my ratty teddy bear without a name in his hands and smiled at me.