by: Su Young Lee
As I stuffed the teddy bear in my suitcase last minute, my own mother made fun of me. She told me I was too old to be dragging it around, before breaking down into a teary speech involving something about her baby bird leaving the nest. These days, my teddy bear spends most of its time lodged between my bed and the wall except for the rare occasions I decide to make my bed properly.
I take comfort in hugging it from time to time, of course, as college can be a traumatizing experience. The familiar weight of the teddy bear in my arms and the feel of its fur are reassuring to me, though I have come to the conclusion that it is not my physical contact with the toy that reassures me. My teddy bear is simply a stand-in for human touch. I understand that it’s inanimate, but when I resort to hugging my teddy bear, it’s because it’s the only way I can feel in contact with the people it represents.
I have pondered over my attachment to this inanimate object, having received many mixed responses. My first night at NYU, I had traveled to the United States by myself for the first time with only two suitcases,without any proper blankets or pillows. I sat on my bare mattress, feeling alone in the unfamiliar city, country, and continent. It was anything but comfortable, the blue plastic mattress sticking to my skin in the heat of a late summer’s day. When my roommate glanced over at me with concern over my lack of bedding, she burst into laughter. “Why did you bring your teddy bear?”At the time I was embarrassed, but this feeling of shame was brief. I answered my roommate, telling her that I am fond of it.
The very term ‘soft toy’ suggests that it is something to be touched. And what is touch, if not an assertion of physical presence? Sure, you can see, hear, and smell a presence, but there is nothing like being able to hold something in your hands to reassure you of its existence. As an international student, my family is all the way in Korea, the country of my birth, and all my friends are in New Zealand, where I grew up. I could not be physically further from the important people in my life, as they are scattered on opposite sides of the world. My teddy bear is a reminder of my childhood and the friends and family whom I have left behind. When I feel its soft, albeit artificial fur, I am actually feeling the presence of the people who have breathed meaning, if not life, into my teddy bear. Though I have photos on my walls, it’s more comforting to have something in my hands rather than staring blankly at a visual replication of memories.
I remember the feel of the powdery dust on my fingers as I dug through an old cupboard, finding my teddy bear at the back of a hard wooden shelf where it had been since my older sister had abandoned it. I remember it being handed back to me, washed, soft, the fur faded to a yellow but fluffier, for the effects of time and wear. I remember feeling the tugs of my friends at sleepovers as they tried to steal my teddy bear from my hands while we laughed and whispered secrets into the night. I remember crying in the dark over college rejections, my face buried in the only thing my hands managed to grab, my teddy bear, before my mother burst into the room and held me tightly. Her warmth lingers in its lifeless arms. All these touches, I would like to believe, are somehow entwined in its tangled strands of fur.