Last night I awoke from a sound sleep, aware that I was being watched. I was sleeping on my back, so I turned my head towards the door, wondering who could be in my bedroom. I could feel the weight of Clementine on my feet, so I knew it wasn’t my cat.
There was no silhouette in the dim light from the living room and although I couldn’t hear any movement or breathing I was certain that I was being observed. I reached over and switched on my bedside lamp, and again looked towards the hallway and living room. No one. I whipped my head around to see if perhaps someone had crept around the end of my bed and was standing by the desk, but no one was there.
As I began to shake my head, wondering at my sanity I finally saw my observers. Sitting on the covers in front of me were three teddy bears and a stuffed lobster. I knew they hadn’t been there when I’d fallen asleep. The lobster lived on the DVD player in the living room and although the bears had been in the bedroom, none had been on top of the covers. To be completely honest, Snuff had been on the floor where he had fallen several days prior and the Oatmeals (Sr. and Jr.) had become stuck between the mattress and headboard. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my stuffed animals, I’m just not a very good caretaker of them.
I stared at the stuffed animals. They stared back. Clementine snored gently at the end of the bed. After a few minutes, I figured I’d try a joke. “I guess you’re all wondering why I called you here tonight….”
One of the lobster’s plush claws waved menacingly at me so I stopped talking. The rational part of my mind was saying, “it’s fabric and stuffing, it can’t hurt you” but one of the more excitable members of the committee in my head said “yeah, but plush lobsters don’t move by themselves, so you’d better let them make the next move.” I stayed quiet and silently told my rational mind to pretend it was a dream and go back to sleep.
I hazarded a small, hesitant smile. Snuff, a small dark brown bear with a permanent smile sewn on his face shifted slightly and said, “That’s better. You didn’t call us here, and in fact you haven’t paid any attention to us at all in months. Sure when things are going bad you might grab us bears and pour out your pitiful woes, but since you got that beast (he pointed at Clementine) you’ve been ignoring us.”
I stammered out an apology, trying to be as sincere as I could be, all the while wondering why I was justifying myself to fabric. As I finished the lobster waved a claw again. “Insincere – I can tell you’re just humoring us. You take us all for granted. Stuffed animals are what got you through some of the worst times in your life. Who did you nearly strangle every night when you were scared of the dark when you were a toddler? Goggy and Kitty, that’s who. Who was finally able to convince you that the liquid vitamins weren’t poison? Bear, and he still has the stain in his mouth to prove it.”
Snuff interrupted the lobster. “Who did you turn to when Susan, Kimmy and Margaret were all mad at you at the same time? When your first boyfriend broke up with you? How about when what’s-his-name announced that he didn’t love you and was getting engaged to someone else? Who did you hold onto so hard he could scarcely breathe when you had that horrible post-partum depression? When your mother died, who was soaked with your tears? It was us – your mostly ignored stuffed animals! And what happened to us? Your mother threw Goggy and Kitty in the rubbish bin when they were too dirty and raggedy and you’d stopped paying attention to them. Bear got buried in the bottom of a box of books and left in the attic for years. He’s still trying to fluff out his fur.” Snuff stopped talking and all four of them looked at me with fixed glassy stares.
As Snuff had talked I remembered each of those incidents vividly. I felt the anguish, but felt as well the soft fluffy reassurance I’d received from my stuffed animals. I recalled the gradual lessening of my pain and grief as I had held onto those uncomplaining fluffy friends and told them my troubles. As these thoughts raced through my mind, my mouth slowly dropped open. I looked at these four stalwart friends and made a true, heartfelt apology. “You’re right, Snuff. I turned to you all when things hurt so much I couldn’t even talk to another human being, and you all gave so much to me. But when I didn’t need you, I ignored you. At best, you were arranged against a pillow or put on a shelf.”
Oatmeal Jr. spoke up in a small voice. “To your credit you did share your happiness with Goggy, Kitty and Bear when you were very young. You see, small children know everything they can see and touch can communicate directly to them. It’s only when they get older that humans stop listening to us and everything around them.” He smiled a small, sad smile.
While Oatmeal was speaking I recalled how differently I had lived as a small child. I’d talked to the flowers and the ants and knew they talked back to me. My best friends had been my stuffed animals. We’d played for hours on end. As I grew older and spent more time with older children and watched how they and adults interacted with the world I’d somehow lost the ability to hear those voices. I still talked to flowers, trees, animals and birds, but didn’t expect any sort of response.
I made eye contact with each of the stuffed animals. “I am so sorry that I did this to all of you, and to Bear and Kitty and Goggy and every other stuffed animal I ever loved. I guess somehow I lost myself. What can I do? How can I ever make it right for all of you?”
Snuff looked at me and made his request. They all knew I’d start writing my next book for NaNoWriMo in a couple weeks. The book should be about them, about all the stuff animals in my life and the adventures they would have wanted to have if they were flesh and bone instead of fabric and stuffing.
Before I could even formulate an answer Clementine stretched and put in her two cents. “Nope, this year’s book is about me. The whole month of June she wrote about LT and Rudy – I don’t think I was mentioned more than once, if that. I got so mad I shredded the first draft of it when she printed it out. She got the message and promised to make November’s book about me. She even started writing the introductory stuff in the blog already. Sorry, folks, take a number.” Clem stretched again, extending all her claws. She snagged the covers in the claws of one front paw, making a point of ripping them brutally out of the fabric.
The lobster twitched his feelers. They all knew that Clementine could tear them to pieces. They’d seen her shred pompoms and yarn balls and tear apart fabric mice. “Ah. Well, certainly if you have a prior claim for this time, we’d never expect the book to be about us….” His voice trailed off.
I looked at the assembled plush. They and all the stuffed animals in my life had given so much to me, how could I ignore this request? “I’ll figure it out. I’ll write about you all somehow. Clem does have a claim on November. I’ll tell your stories, and I’ll try to listen for the voices in everything in my life.” As I said this I looked sideways at my lamp, wondering if it would also speak up and complain about being left in an attic and storage unit for 35 years. It appeared non-committal, so I figured I was safe from small appliances at least.
My stuffed animals smiled at me and then Clem said, “Turn off the light and go back to sleep. It’s late and we have a busy day tomorrow.” That made more sense to me than most of the last half-hour’s events so I turned off the light and dropped back into sleep.
This morning I was awakened by a phone call and didn’t even think about stuffed animals for probably an hour and a half. I was getting dressed when I noticed Lobsty, my stuffed lobster was on the bed. For a moment I wondered if I’d picked him up while I was wandering around with the phone in my hand and then I remembered something about my stuffed animals and cats talking to me in the middle of the night and slowly the whole sequence came back to me. I shook my head...usually my dreams aren’t quite that clear or linear. They tend to jump around and lack sensible dialogue. This was clear, sensible, but entirely fantastic. I carefully picked up Lobsty and ran my finger over his back, the same way I’d immobilize a live lobster (just in case). I said good morning and looked carefully into those black glass eyes, but didn’t feel any recognition or acknowledgement. Clem sauntered into the room and I put down Lobsty and picked her up and greeted her. She purred and snuggled into my arms, normal morning happy cat behavior. She didn’t say good morning back or anything like that. I’m pretty sure it was a dream, but just in case, I figured I’d start making good on my promise to Snuff and the others.