Born: My first acquisitions in this world are two stuffed bears, probably purchased by a friend or relative on the way to visit the maternity ward. One is named “Bunky” because that is what it says on the tag. The other has no such tag, so my parents call it “Teddy” by default.
Age Three: I have decided Bunky is a girl and Teddy is a boy. This feels natural as Bunky is small and Teddy is large, a conclusion which I now realize reveals volumes about how early heteronormative gender associations become ingrained in toddlers. They are my “kids,” and also somehow married (?). I drag them everywhere.
Five: Teddy’s fur rips after a particularly rough trip through the washing machine. My mother operates on him with a sewing kit. It is briefly unclear as to whether he will make it. I bite my nails and pace around the bedroom like an expectant father.
Nine: Both bears are almost* left in a motel room during a trip to Arizona. We have to go back to the room to investigate. Turns out they were in the suitcase the whole time. (*You cannot be “almost” left in a hotel room if you were, in fact, in a suitcase.)
Eighteen: Bunky and Teddy move to my new college dorm. I believe they are now retro enough that they’re back in vogue. Decrepit stuffed bears feel very normcore. I perch them right in the middle of my bed, on top of my pillow, and think nothing of it. It takes a while to make friends.
Twenty: I have a boyfriend. He thinks it is amusing to throw my bears across the room and watch me freak out, retrieve them, clutch them to my chest and apologize to them. I don’t realize it at the time, but this is an enormous red flag.
Twenty Two: The bears and I move to New York City, where they remain the centerpiece on my bed, except now I do not have a jaunty Lou Reed dorm room poster to cancel them out. They’re beginning to feel like replicas of insanity rather than security, but I can’t let them go. I don’t tote them around these days, but I require their existence more than ever. “Why don’t you just leave them in your childhood bedroom?” a friend asks. I try not to think about the fact that, on occasion, my father will ask “how Bunky and Teddy are doing” when we talk on the phone.
Twenty Three: The boyfriend/bear tormentor and I break up, because he is an asshole.
Twenty Four: I move apartments; so do the bears. I stress over work; the bears are there. I invite friends for grown-ass dinner parties; the bears sit in the bedroom. One day I ask my best friend point-blank if it’s weird that it’s still going on. “No!” she replies, “I mean…it’s probably fine?” I tell her I’m concerned I have a latent personality disorder. She tells me that people who really have personality disorders don’t wonder about it. Later that night I google “sleeping with stuffed animals as an adult.” I do not find any real insight, but I do find a lot of unorthodox pornography.
Twenty Five: Bunky and Teddy have not bathed since 1992. But I cannot wash them, because they will die.
Twenty Six: I can’t find Teddy one day. I realize he’s been shoved behind my bed for a month and a half. I have forgotten that he existed for six weeks. I sit on my bed and wonder if this is a sign I’ve lost my humanity. I hug him tight and yell “I’M SORRY!!!” to an empty room. He says nothing, because he cannot talk. We’ll get past this, I think.
Twenty Seven: My coworker takes his daughter to Build-A-Bear Workshop for her birthday. I wonder what Bunky and Teddy would think of a commercialized bear workshop. They would HATE it. They are bear elitists, like vinyl record purists or coffee snobs. I agree with them. I am glad I did not have to build my bears in a midtown chain store; they literally fell into my lap, like tiny weird crusty soulmates.
What I Know Now: 1) It is okay to sometimes forget about your stuffed bears; your stuffed bears will forgive you. 2) Boys never really “get” the bears, but if one day a boy cares enough for me to be nice to them, I will be impressed. 3) The bears are more important than boys anyway. 4) Bunky and Teddy look like shit and they smell like puke and yes, our dynamic might be weird. 5) I’ll love them until we all die. As their mom, I hope I go first.
Hannah VanderPoel is a writer and filmmaker in New York City. She works at MTV. Previous credits include Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and HBO. You can follow her on Twitter @hanvanderpoel.
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