I have a recurring and intriguing image from one of my earliest memories. I was between 3-4 years old and life was pretty good. I was a cute little girl, curious about everything, infectious smile, chubby cheeks, big round green eyes, curly hair, tanned…tottering through my days in the sandbox in my back yard, annoying the neighbor kid who was between junior and senior high school, chasing my kitty cat, playing with the puppies, watching the tomatoes grow and hanging out in the sun.
We didn’t have air conditioning and summers were hot and sticky. I didn’t care and wandered endlessly around the property of the weird old house we rented from a woman my mother called “Hazel” [not her real name]. Apparently the word Hazel was some sort of derogatory thing due to the fact that my mother thought Hazel was a witch (not in the esoteric sense). I shrugged my mental shoulders and went on with my little life, watching bugs, digging in the dirt, looking at bare patches in the grass and endlessly studying whatever was there. It was all a big adventure and if there was more beyond my yard, I knew I’d better keep at it because there was probably a lot of discovering to be done.
Usually I had to take a nap in the afternoon, which mostly meant quiet time so my mother could have a break. Things were probably starting to become overwhelming for her as my dad’s family was nightmarish and the dysfunction of generations of alcoholism were probably surreal and terrifying in her eyes. She probably wondered what the hell she had done to her life, but I was oblivious because I was little. That was as it should have been.
Of course it didn’t stay that way. In fact, it was probably about this time in my life that things became more real than I could have imagined. My little girl psyche was stopped in its developmental tracks and damaged in ways that I couldn’t understand then and that I struggle to make sense of now.
One afternoon, it was time for me to take my nap and I was looking, looking, looking obsessively for my blue teddy bear. Teddy was fairly dirty and very well loved. He wasn’t in the yard or on the porch, he wasn’t among those stupid Barbies that I found to be odd and distorted-looking [what’s the point – seriously], he wasn’t in the extra bedroom of the creaky old house where soot shook out of the walls when the trains came through, he wasn’t under the pedestal sink that had exposed piping underneath in the cold bathroom, and he wasn’t in my bedroom which was dark but splashed with bright pinks and purples. He wasn’t anywhere! I was beside myself with worry. I asked my mother about Teddy’s whereabouts but no fruitful assistance was to be had.
I continued to look behind doors, under chairs, in corners, in closets, anywhere I could think of, but for some reason I kept coming back to the bathroom. The room had a large window over the tub which was framed in dark, oil-based paint and there was a lot of natural light in there. I reasoned that maybe because it was light I could find Teddy, so I kind of became fixated on the bathroom.
For several years I continued to look for Teddy. I was sure he’d pop up somewhere. In the back of my mind, I had the expectation that I would see him around a corner, under a pillow, or accidentally folded into a blanket, but he never appeared. After a while, I stopped looking because we had moved because the futility of the Teddy hunt had set in and a new reality had taken its place. It didn’t seem like a big thing because I had coped by not making it a big thing. After all, it was only a stuffed toy.
At several times during my adult life I see the snapshot in my mind of the hallway upstairs with the dark woods floors, chunky wood railing and stairs, and, of course, the bathroom, as I’m diligently looking for that bear. His limbs were a little thin at the joints from being hauled around by a random leg or arm. He never smiled but rather looked at me with sort of a stoic stare and a hint of a smile. I always had the feeling that Teddy really wanted to smile but chose to be reserved so he could be “the reasonable one” between us. I was OK with the arrangement because being whimsical me was a good gig. I felt loved and happy. In general, I didn’t assign too many more anthropomorphic qualities to Teddy because he was a stuffed animal and it didn’t seem logical, even at that age. I had already developed a good sense of me and the world around me and if there was one thing I understood, it was the difference between real and imagined.
Now I view memories of the lost teddy as some sort of a metaphor but I don’t entirely understand it. Thoughts of my blue teddy bear are happy and mourning the loss, I guess, never really happened. Perhaps it was beyond my little girl capabilities. Perhaps I didn’t feel the need to give too much importance to a lost toy. Nonetheless, I always held out hope somewhere in the back of my mind that I’d find Teddy and even though that is hardly realistic at my age, I’ve never really let it go. I don’t know why and haven’t bothered to analyze it much, but I still wonder. It’s more of a curiosity than anything; a curiosity about myself coupled with the images of the little girl who is perplexed because the bear just cannot be located, no matter how hard she tried.
Perhaps this is my little kid version of Waiting for Godot, which is a play by Samuel Beckett written between 1948 and 1949. In the play, the two main characters wait and wait and wait for a dude named Godot, but of course Godot never shows up. The characters go through various philosophizing exercises and several manifestations of doubt, hopelessness, and resurgences of silent, futile hope.
I think sometimes I should let those bittersweet images fade. I’m not sure why I feel that way. I’m not sure it matters. I would be thrilled to find him one day, whether it be in a replica or via a dream. I guess I believe, deep down somewhere, that Teddy is still out there waiting for me to find him, irrational though it may be. I guess I won’t really ever stop looking and maybe that kind of idealism or hope isn’t a bad thing.
Hope you’re good Teddy, wherever you are. I’ll see you again one of these days. I just know it. [smile]