So… I’m back.
It’s been a long hiatus. My father died, and I had to go deal with that. I still have to deal with that. I have to get his car titled and registered in my name, and I couldn’t find the pink slip. I got a check from one of his annuities, one I didn’t know about from a former employer I’d communicated with and I need to deal with that.
And I got the flu. AGAIN. Not just a runny nose, sneezing, aching flu, but a delirious, fever dream flu that left me wondering which way was up and unable to sleep for four days.
That’s the second time this year I’ve had THAT flu. So much for the flu shot.
And then … I got bitten by one of the spiders that infests our basement apartment. And that made me sick too.
I thought when I’d come back, maybe I’d have something pithy to say about the Trump Regime or about Leviticus. Or something lenten to say, about journeys of sacrifice, about the long and faithful walk to that place where we will die. Healing and teaching and raising the dead as we go.
I want you to meet Charlotte.
Charlotte is a stuffed bear. A little white stuffed bear with a pink nose and a red bow tie. A gift to Jennifer from my mother the first Christmas we were together, back in 1988. I think my mom bought the bear at a Hallmark, her very first gift to the young woman I brought home for December.
My dad was weird about having my girlfriend stay. I didn’t understand that then, but almost 30 years later, with foster daughters who have boyfriends, I understand that weirdness now.
Anyway … nearly 30 years. That is how long Charlotte has been with us.
Jennifer named the bear after me, though being clueless, I didn’t realize that fact until she explained it to me years later. She snuggled that bear when I wasn’t around, to feel safe, to remind herself of me. She kept that bear, in her dorm room at SF State, the semester she lived at home with her parents, and then all the years we were together.
And then, in 1995, as I was getting ready to go work in Dubai, I looked at Jennifer and said: “I need something to remind me of you. Can I take Charlotte with me?” It worked because Jennifer had something else to hold, a stuffed gorilla.
So, Charlotte went with me to Dubai. To Jeddah. Once, in Dubai, I found one of Jennifer’s long blond hairs on Charlotte. And I cried. Mostly, Jennifer hair is an annoyance, but this time, it was a reminder that I missed her, and that she was so far away.
In Jeddah, I remember waking up to a BBC news report about an attack on a compound in Riyadh, a compound much like the one I lived in, and crying. “I don’t want to die here,” I said, clutching this little stuffed bear tight.
Of course, we mostly don’t get to decide when and where we die.
She has been around the world, this little stuffed bear, in my backpack, and not merely in my luggage in the belly of a 747. I used her to mark my seat during a short layover in Tokyo when I left the plane to drink the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought (Japanese airport beer, which is an official brand name, if you must know) and almost didn’t make it back to the flight on time.
She’s magic, this little bear. Infused with love. That’s what Jennifer says.
So, last summer, after Kaylie Mendoza had been staying with us, but needed to move on to another transitional living arrangement, she asked if she could keep Charlotte. She’d already been sleeping with Charlotte, holding her close, taking comfort in holding this little bear tight.
But Charlotte’s adventure didn’t really begin until Kaylie took her to the halfway house in Spokane where she’s lived since last September.
Charlotte was stolen. Not once, not twice, but over and over and over again. Held hostage a time or two. “No one ever gave me stuffed bear,” one of Kaylie’s housemates rather jealously said to me as I was trying to convince her to give Charlotte back.
Kids took Charlotte. Clutched her. Held her. Cried when she was taken away. Again and again. One little girl who’d spend more than a month living outdoors made a fort of blankets in Kaylie’s closet and wouldn’t let go of Charlotte. At one point, when it looked like Charlotte was gone for good, I had to tell a scared and guilt-ridden Kaylie it was okay, that whoever had that little stuffed bear probably really needed her and if we never saw her again, it was okay.
I was sad about that. I don’t have many things as old as Charlotte. But I also meant that, too. Whoever had her … needed her.
Charlotte got covered with mud. Chocolate. Spaghetti sauce. Her bowtie came loose and had to be sewn back on. Her fur has worn thin in places.
I have her now. I washed her. She’s almost 30 years old, isn’t very white anymore, and the pink fuzz has worn off her nose. Her eyes aren’t shiny black anymore and have scratches. I will give her back to Kaylie today as she moves in to a new communal living and learning situation. And I wonder … what new adventures await this this stupid stuffed bear? Who will see the magic, the love, know that Charlotte is probably the best protector in the world (she fended off al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia!), and want to hold her, to fell and be protected and loved?
It’s a dumb thing to wonder about … a thing. Made in a factory somewhere in Asia or Mexico by underpaid and maybe abused workers who probably produced several thousand of them in an afternoon. She’s just fabric and stuffing. And nothing more.
Except … she’s love. And safety. And protection.
And people seem to know. Kids just …
They just seem to know.