Every night, before I put him to bed, my son and I play with his stuffed animals. He has, oh, 30 of them, all hanging out in the covers, all with their own distinct personalities and back stories. There’s Jerry Bear, a Jerry Rice 49er Beanie Baby I bought for $1 about 10 years ago. He’s a die-hard San Francisco fan who is convinced his team has won every single Super Bowl. There’s Big Snoopy, a gigantic Snoopy doll who has a deep voice and authoritative presence. There’s Paul (named for the late husband of the woman who gave him to us). He keeps waiting for the big Florida vacation that never comes. Monkey Funky is from a Ft. Lauderdale CVS, and was rescued from the prune juice aisle. Blue Guy is a flimsy elephant-type creature without a backbone. Tim is a clown fish my son won at a fair.
Of all the guys (we call them “The Guys”) my personal favorite was Snake 1. He was a blue, white and red snake Emmett won two summers ago at a boardwalk game in New Jersey. He was crappily made (thin, cheap fabric) and stiff—yet his personality shone. Snake 1 spoke with an odd British accent, always wanted hugs, but had an appetite for one of Emmett’s favorite dolls—a little guy named Cat/Dog, who was a cat on one side, a dog on the other. Whenever Cat/Dog would appear, mild, mellow Snake 1 would start to shake and twitch. Then he’d attack. Ultimately, Emmett would punch Snake 1 in the head, and he’d return to the foot of the bed.
We play these sorts of games every night. They mean something to me. And, gradually, the dolls’ characteristics meant something to me. They’re always the same, with the same voices and movements. It’s something I look forward to; something Emmett and I genuinely enjoy.
One night a few weeks ago, little white balls started leaking from Snake 1. A couple here, a couple there. Then more. My daughter, as aspiring seamstress, tried sewing Snake 1 up, and it worked for a day or two. Then, more balls. And more. And more. I don’t know where the balls are made, or what they contain, but they can’t be especially healthy. I told Emmett, “It might be time for Snake 1 to go.” He resisted. But the balls kept coming.
So, last week, when Emmett was at school, Snake 1 took a trip …
Ultimately, Snake 1 found himself in an outdoor garbage can—surrounded by banana peels and used tissues and globs of moldy pasta sauce. As we speak, he’s surely relaxing in his new home in a garbage dump, stuffing 1,002 different places, face flattered and unrecognizable. Were he real, he’d be wondering what the heck happened; how did his life take such an awful and unpredictable turn.
And, while I know he’s just a piece of fabric, crudely pieced together in some Third World sweat shop, something about this image (which reeks of Toy Story 3) breaks my heart.
Meanwhile, Cat/Dog sleeps soundly.