His sticky hands snag my fur, but I don’t mind.
Ben’s room has transformed into an island, and I am stranded at the base of an erupting volcano. The rug is lava, this cardboard box my vessel. I’ve been bound by the ruthless one-armed tyrannosaurus rex who has cast me in this shoddy boat and left me to fate. It is sinking, lower and lower into the molten rock.
“Oh no!” My boy voices my need for rescue with a falsetto squeal. “Help me, someone help me!” Ben maneuvers my head so it appears I’m yelling.
My boat is tipping; I am inches from the bubbling magma when suddenly an armored figurine straddling a stern faced lion flashes above me.
“Don’t worry,” Ben’s voice drops, becoming someone new. “It is I, Sir Silver Boots of the Enchanted Forest, here to save you.”
The knight and his magnificent beast whisk me from my doomed ship and carry me to safety on the soft edge of the bed. Ben unties the shoelace binding my paws and scoops me up in a tight embrace. “You almost drowned in the lava, Teddy! That was a close one!”
His voice is mine again. “Thank you, Sir Silver Boots! You saved me just in time!”
The knight and I exchange glances, both impressed with Ben’s imagination and each other’s acting abilities.
Our tacit debriefing is cut short when I am swept from the bed. Ben pins me under his elbow and races from the room. My world momentarily turns upside down, my head bobbling as we bound toward the kitchen.
Ben plants me in a chair and rummages the pantry shelves for sustenance. The sound alerts Mother, who comes and assists him with the trappings and wrappers of an afternoon snack. He requests one for me too, and Mother obliges, placing a cracker in front of me. Ben wiggles and sways in his seat, feeding me bites of cracker and sips of his juice. My muzzle is dusty with crumbs.
Later, Mother takes us to the park, where Ben and I spin and slide and climb on every rainbow-colored structure. The world is so vast and blue out here. I jostle in Ben’s clutches as he chases other children, laughing. Every white tooth gleams when he smiles.
At home, Mother picks splinters of mulch from my matted fur and dabs at my dirty paws. I often look a bit rough after our adventures, one time having lost my short tail entirely, but Mother never fails to mend and clean me, or search the house or car to find where Ben has misplaced me. My boy can be a bit careless, but it is the way of one so young.
When the day fades to night and Mother puts Ben to sleep, he pulls me to him and nestles me under his neck. I am wrapped in his familiar scent of sunshine and bubblegum toothpaste and his breath on my fur is soft and steady. He tosses and rolls in the night, sometimes crushing me under bony elbows and shoulder blades, but I don’t mind. He is my boy.
It is Saturday, when Dad doesn’t put on a suit or pick up his briefcase, but takes Ben on an adventure, just the two of them. I come too, of course. We enter a building with swirling carpet and air scented with butter, and make our way to a dark room with rows of cushioned folding chairs and a massive television screen at the front. Ben swings his legs in the too-big seat and rubs my threadbare tail. Dad buys popcorn, which my boy shares with me, staining my mouth with oil. I sit with him in the dark, through every flashing, mesmerizing scene. A red-eyed robot topples skyscrapers like building blocks as people run in every direction. Ben squeezes my paw and chews his lip. Just when it seems the robot tyrant is an unstoppable force of destruction, a crime-fighting, super hero dog descends from the clouds to fend off the robot and save the town. Ben jolts to his feet, cheering with a dozen other children, as I slide off his lap into the bucket of popcorn.
On the ride home, I rest against the buckle of Ben’s seat belt as he breathlessly relives the film. Jetting around the kitchen, Ben retells the story again for Mother, swinging me by one foot. He mimics the action from his favorite scenes, using my body as a prop. After dinner, Dad presents Ben with a box wrapped in crinkly paper. My boy unwraps it in a rush, rattles the room with his excited squeals, then tackles Dad in a hug. I am unable to see the contents from my slumped position on the couch, but I am familiar with the tradition of gift-giving and predict it’s a new toy. Mother procures scissors and the item is released from its zip-tie prison. Ben removes it with restrained reverence; it is the protagonist from the film—the canine super hero, adorned with a glimmering red cape and a flashy collar. The pup boasts of smooth, sleek fur, unmarked by time and off-screen adventure. Ben’s infectious joy lingers in the air long after he has disappeared into his room. His muffled voice wafts down the hall where I catch snippets of a story unfolding—a criminal’s malicious plans are thwarted by the witty dog with supernatural speed and strength. His happiness lulls me into contentment.
But my contentment distorts into dis-ease when dusk transforms the living room wall into a grid of shadows, signaling the day’s end. Where is my boy? The house has gone silent—no footsteps, no bristles against teeth, no small voice begging for five more minutes or a glass of water—only the steady hum of aging appliances. The shadows fall lower until they disappear into the dark woodgrain of the floor. Still, no one comes for me.
I wake up alone for the first time since before Ben’s birth, where I had waited, nestled in a bag of crisp tissue paper with a bow around my neck, anticipating the moment I would meet my child—my boy, Ben. My fur was a vibrant chestnut then, soft and full. I’d be unrecognizable now—a tangled mass of jaundiced beige, but I wouldn’t trade a single day with Ben to return to my former glory. I will be remembered by my boy long after I’ve been worn down to nothing. Our time together will survive in his heart even when I’ve disintegrated into synthetic tufts.
However, right now my limbs are splayed out on this stiff sofa in the same position they were when Ben tossed me here the day before. It seems my boy has forgotten about me.
A dripping sound from the kitchen—Mother is awake now. She shuffles into the room with a steaming mug and settles onto the cushion next to me. Her lips hover near the ceramic rim, purple half-moons frame tired eyes. Finally noticing my presence, she situates me upright against a pillow. Her touch warms my patchy fur and I long to be held. I miss my boy.
The day passes as any other; my boy with his boundless energy zips from one activity to another—from breakfast and story time to soccer and playdates, but I remain unnoticed in the novelty of his recent gift. Rather than carrying me under his arm or nuzzling me against his pillowy cheek, he chooses the movie star pup for companionship. But I try not to mind; my boy is happy and that pleases me.
Eventually, Mother carries me back to Ben’s room and lays me gently on his bed where I sit and wait for my boy to come back to me.
I hear rowdy footsteps. A herd of boys bursts into the room, where Ben and his friends begin a frenzied search for fort building supplies. The blanket on the bed is ripped out from under me and I am flung to the top of a dresser, where I slide and fall into a dark crevice between the dresser and the wall. As the chaos of the fort building calms, and the front door opens and closes as each friend returns home, I wait for my boy to come and find me. But night comes and I remain wedged in this space, unseen.
Sunlight curves from the floor to the ceiling then slips away entirely with the passing of each day. I’ve lost count of the cycles of light—the days passed since I last breathed my boy’s familiar scent, felt his small hands tangled in my fur. I hear his rustling in the night—so close, but impossibly out of reach. I wonder if the caped dog is making Ben happy—if he enjoys Ben’s elaborate games and stories, if he keeps bad dreams at bay.
My body has grown dry and stiff, flattened between this dresser and the wall. My hard nose scrapes the paint and I’ve memorized every fleck and bump in the wall’s texture.
The trajectory of sunlight shifts and the nights come quicker, the air grows cooler. I treasure the sounds of my boy in his room, crafting new worlds and imagining grand adventures. His sweet voice is like music and in the stillest hours of night, I can just hear his steady breathing.
Some toys have never known love, and so I count myself among the lucky ones. I have known the love of the most beautiful soul—was there for him when his hands were too small and clumsy to even hold me. I watched his murky eyes change into the deep pools of electric blue they are today. I’ve heard his every cry, witnessed the spectrum of his complex emotions, and felt the radiance of his bright, pure spirit. If anything, I am grateful. My deep sadness comes only from knowing how much more there is to see and learn about my beautiful boy, and how distant I am from any of it.
I lay unmoving, reflecting on my full life like I have every day since my fall, listening to my boy romp around his room, when something bumps the dresser and the ensuing crash jars me from my musings. In the narrow crack of light, I see shards of glass littering the floor and the edge of a lampshade lying on its side.
Ben calls out and soon I hear Mother's footsteps. Broom bristles scrape against glass, and a vacuum roars to life, clearing the sharp slivers.
Then, wood scrapes wood, light pours into the darkness, and my body falls and thuds against the floor. A fragment of milky glass snags my fur, but I don’t mind.
Because I can see my boy. And he sees me.
Tears well in his electric blue eyes and every white tooth gleams when he smiles.
Ben carefully plucks the piece from my fur and embraces my limp body. I hope he never lets go. His cheeks are warm and soft against my hard nose, and he smells like sunshine and bubblegum toothpaste.
I can see my old playtime friends lying on the rug. They acknowledge my return with smiling faces. And at their center, that movie star hero-dog with his red cape and flashy collar. My boy sets me down and kneels before the dog, and for a moment, time stands still.
I've been gone too long. Of course he's replaced me. When he needed a friend, I was no where to be found.
But then, he removes the canine hero's iconic accessory, that glimmering red cape, and fastens it around my thin, scruffy neck.
And I feel like the bear in the gift bag all those years ago—sleek and new, with a lifetime of love to give to my child—my boy, Ben.
My paws lift as my boy scoops me up, and together we race though every room, soaring as one. My boy's warm hands feel larger, his eyes seem older—but I know his love for me hasn't changed; it's the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.