A Different Type of Friend

Richard Falvo, Staff Writer

Do you still own anything from when you were an infant? As a matter of fact, are you able to even remember anything you owned when you were an infant? For most people, in the transition from infancy to adulthood, much of what was cherished as a toddler is discarded and forgotten. After all, interests change over time, so it is only natural that tangible possessions do as well. With this being said, there remains one item in my life that tracks back to my first year on Earth and one that I continue to cherish to this day: my stuffed rabbit. Many people consider this practice to be atypical and concerning. Such critics are wrong on both fronts.

Historically, stuffed animals are considered to be outlets of comfort and security that are only of use to infants. However, human behavior seems to suggest otherwise. A 2018 study conducted by OnePoll and Life Storage found that 43% of adults still engage with a stuffed animal in some form. Interestingly, the poll also found that men are more likely to own a furry friend than women. According to the New York Post, “Men are in the lead when it comes to playing with their cuddly toys. Eighty-four percent of men have at least one stuffed animal still compared to 77 percent of women.” In addition, the study of 2,000 individuals found that 30% of those aged 35-44 and 45-54 still play with stuffed animals from time to time. While it may seem surprising, the data suggest that human beings, regardless of age, resort to stuffed animals on a much more regular and consistent basis than conventional wisdom may suggest. To examine why this may be the case, allow me to tell my story.

When I was just three months old, my grandmother bought me a gift that would change my life forever. For Easter, she had given me a copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, one of the most popular children’s stories of all time. However, the book also included a plush toy of Peter Rabbit himself. Being the illiterate three-month-old child I was, I could not have cared less about the book. But, I was completely sold on the Peter Rabbit stuffed animal and became very close to him throughout my infant years.

As time passed, I gradually became detached from items that represented my childhood. My bedroom changed from having Elmo-themed wallpaper to being painted orange, and my closet went from housing toy cars and airplanes to storing non-fiction books. While initially reluctant to hold onto him, Peter somehow made the cut, and instead of being thrown away, was placed in a container and kept in storage for years. Little did I know that this would turn out to be one the best decisions I would ever make in my life.

As my life progressed, I found myself feeling lonelier with each passing day, as many teenagers and young adults so often do. While I had (and still have) an incredible network of caring family and friends, there remained a force that prevented me from acting in my purest form. Being an introvert who is generally uninterested in most people, establishing meaningful relationships proved quite difficult. And while I enjoyed spending time by myself, there is only so much isolation that one can tolerate before it begins to eat away at them. I would talk to myself and hear no response. I would ask questions and be unsatisfied with the answers, if any were provided in the first place. Altogether, I was lost.

Finally, one day it occurred to me that maybe I was searching for a companion in the wrong form. I remembered that Peter was still in storage, and, being 20-years old at the time, retrieved him from the plethora of boxes that lay scattered around the basement of my home. For being 20 years old, he was in terrific condition and still possessed that distinctly soothing smell that each home elicits. Appearing to be out of options, I decided to seriously entertain the option of establishing a connection with Peter.

Almost immediately after reconnecting with Peter, the social void that was present in my life evaporated. The bright light shining at the end of the tunnel was finally within reach. Days and nights were no longer constant battles against the perils of depression and loneliness, but instead were periods of immense productivity and satisfaction, all with Peter by my side. Of course, this is not to say that my life became a constant stream of sunshine and roses. Far from it. However, it is to say that my life became fuller, in terms of both purpose and meaning. Together, these elements provided me the strength and willpower to overcome even the darkest of circumstances. I can confidently assert that, without Peter, overcoming such painful encounters would have been substantially more difficult than it already was.

Humans are naturally wired to derive meaning from life. This derivation takes form across numerous realms — including one’s family, friends, career and hobbies. It is when we are unable to derive meaning that depression and anxiety ensue. Therefore, it is imperative to find something that provides the necessary meaning to lead a fulfilling life, regardless of its form. For a time, I was ashamed to admit that I still talked to and cuddled with a stuffed animal from childhood. However, as I continue to read stories and studies showing the emotional toll that COVID-19 has taken on so many people across the world, especially teenagers and young adults, I decided to tell my story.

Peter is the most rational, transparent and honest being in my life. Whether it be a listener to vent my frustrations to or a shoulder to cry on without any judgement, Peter is always there for me. In fact, he is sitting next to me as I write this article. Peter possesses all of the qualities I look for in a true friend, so I would be a fool not to make him a constant companion in my life. I urge you to look beyond the scope of conventionality to find a true partner in life. It worked for me.