Yesterday morning Raphael leaped into bed to greet me (he is almost always the first one up, making him the prime candidate for drugging).
“MEM!” He bellowed, full of the joy of morning that somehow escapes me. “LOOK!” Under one arm he had his beloved stuffed monkey, Monkey. “Today is Monkey’s BIRTHDAY!”
“Is it now?” I muttered. “Well, then I guess a party’s in order.”
There’s precedence, you know. Max had a beloved teddy bear, named Teddy. Every January for three years Teddy had a birthday party. Any friend of the boys’ was invited, as long as they brought their own stuffed animal to share in the celebration.
It wasn’t just my love of cake fueling the Teddy mania. Teddy was a special bear.
I don’t know if I’ve told this story here before, but I’m going to tell you now where Teddy came from. It’s a miracle, and the sort of thing I need to remember.
It started back when Max was about two and a half. I was pregnant with Raphael, Tre was five and a half. My life was laid out before me, and I could see for miles.
Or so I thought.
My husband at the time came home from work one night with an odd story.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” he said, “I was sitting at the bar, having my shift drink, when this guy came in and sat down next to me. He just sat there, didn’t say anything. Then, just before he left, he pulled out this teddy bear.” He tossed me the bear, dressed in a blue knit sweater. I picked it up and gave it an experimental squeeze. It was soft. “And he said the weirdest thing. He said, ‘Here, take this. Some kid’s gonna need it.’ And then he just left.”
I looked at the bear in my hands.
“What should we do with it?”
“I dunno. Give it to the church or something, I guess.”
I nodded in agreement. In the meantime, I stuck it in the hall closet.
Well, you know how the hall closet is. It eats things. The bear disappeared into its depths, and I didn’t think about it again for some time.
Six months later the life thought I would have lay around me, in smoking ruins. Raphael was a baby, so that had gone as planned. Tre had turned six, Max had turned three…all as expected.
But my husband had turned into someone I didn’t know, hurt us all, and left.
Not just moved out – gone. No visits, no calls.
We were all stunned, moving through endless grey-toned days in silence.
One day I opened that hall closet to look for something, and the teddy bear fell out. Max was sitting nearby, and when he saw the bear hit the floor, he scooted over. He picked it up and investigated it as children do. He sniffed it, stuck his finger in its ear, looked under its sweater, and hugged it. He stared up at me and said levelly,
“This is my bear.”
It was not a question, and I nodded back.
“You bet it is.”
Teddy was precious to Max. He was so precious that Max didn’t lose him. Max loses everything, but Teddy he kept close. He made him beds on the stairs, elaborate lumps of blanket and stolen pillows. He told Teddy his secrets. When he was in trouble and sent to his room, it was Teddy who heard long tales about why it wasn't his fault.
Occasionally he’d ask,
“Now…where did I get Teddy?”
At first I said I didn’t remember. But then one day I sat him down and told him the story of his daddy, and the man who had brought him a bear for a kid who would need it.
“That kid was you. And I think that man was an angel.”
Max agreed he must have been. He liked hearing that story, every so often.
Teddy was at Max’s side during the hardest days of his life. I don't know exactly what wounds Max carries with him from those days, because they belong to him, but I know the feel of them. I know what they smell like, what they sound like. In the worst times Max was so angry and stressed that he thrashed and screamed with night terrors five times a night. I would come to his bed, scoop him up, wedge his bear against his chest, and hold him close. It was the best I could do for him during those nights that seemed like they’d never end. It wasn’t nearly, nearly enough.
Max still has night terrors occasionally, and when I hear him call out, petulant and angry, my immediate reaction is frightened rage. I cannot do this, I think, forgetting that I can, I have, and this is an anomaly, not the standard anymore.
No, the standard now is an entirely different one. Max is a happy kid – complex, to be sure, but I think that was inborn. He’s content and confident – so much so that he doesn’t even know where Teddy is today.
I’m pretty sure Teddy’s in a box. I think I’ll try to find him before we celebrate Monkey’s birthday.
I know Max doesn’t need Teddy anymore…
…but I’ll always be grateful that he had him when he did.