When I was three months old, my grandmother (“grammy” as we affectionately called her) gave me a white teddy bear for Christmas, outfitted with a matching red beanie and scarf. The bear and I quickly became inseparable, even if it took me a few months to grow to its size.
For reasons that will forever remain a mystery, I named him Bill. Not Teddy, or Buddy, or even Billy. Bill. An old man’s name. (Is his true name William? We will never know.) All I know about my thought process as a three-year-old was that I most likely chose that name at random, or based on a TV character long since forgotten.
Regardless of how Bill was named, he (it feels weird to call Bill an “it”) was far and away my favorite stuffed animal growing up, even after I lost his hat and scarf. Then again, the hat and scarf were a suffocation hazard, so maybe they were taken from me.
As the years passed, Bill became an integral part of my sleeping routine, even through – I’ll admit it – my early teenage years. He was like a body pillow after all – if you sleep with one, and then all of a sudden it’s taken away from you, you can’t sleep. Granted, I wasn’t as emotionally connected to him as I was when I was, say, seven, but he served a useful purpose, especially since I needed all the sleep I could get at that age.
Eventually though, I grew out of him. College was on the horizon, and it was a natural time to go our separate ways. Plus, I remembered my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Barber, telling our class that her son took Ralphie, his teddy bear, to college with him. I thought that was a bridge too far.
So, after seventeen years of friendship, I said goodbye to Bill in August 2004, when I moved away to start college at Northeastern University. Ok, I didn’t actually say goodbye – he’s not a human after all – but I did wistfully set him down on the shelf in the back of my room. It was also time for him to grow up, maybe even venture out in the world and get a job.
Even though I had grown out of needing him as a comfort object, he was not going into storage in our basement. I’m still scarred by how Old Bear was treated. Bill was not going to suffer the same fate. At least with the shelf I knew where he was at all times.
Over the next twelve years, I grew into an adult while he sat on the shelf collecting dust. I would stumble upon him occasionally, when I returned home from Boston and had to retrieve something in the back part of my room, but my attachment to him had waned. I had become accustomed to using an extra pillow for sleep while in college, so he was no longer needed. I had simply grown out of him.
After college, my disease symptoms began to manifest. Around five years ago, on one of the last trips I was able to make up the stairs to my bedroom, I saw him on the shelf, and began to feel a sense of longing. As the promises of my young adulthood were evaporating into uncertainty, he brought back memories of a happier, simpler time in my life. He may have turned gray from dirt and age (probably more so from dirt), but he remained as stoic as ever. The fabric covering had fallen off his black nose, but otherwise he was the same as he was two decades earlier. To my knowledge, he never did get a job.
Fast forward to last year, when I made the difficult decision to leave Boston and return home to Connecticut. I had recently graduated from the Boston College MBA program in May, but my life was in upheaval, without a full-time job and a body that was one fall away from serious injury.
I took up residence in my parents’ old bedroom on the ground floor. Unfortunately, I no longer had the strength to go up the staircase to my old room. It felt weird sleeping in a different bed, but I had no choice.
I found myself missing Bill. It was not because I was reverting back to being a child, rather, I really began to miss that time of my life he represented, back when I was mobile and carefree and without pain. It was difficult to accept that I couldn’t climb the stairs to my childhood room anymore.
Then, one day out of the blue, my mom brought him down to my new bedroom and stuck him at the foot of the bed. And you know what? He’s stayed there ever since. Let me explain, because I’m sure you have all sorts of questions about why a 30-year-old still has his teddy bear on his bed.
Quite simply, in my compromised physical state, he has assumed the role of neck prop, giving him a cherished second life. As I’ve talked about frequently on this site, I get a lot of headaches. Many times my headaches originate in my neck, which is tense and stiff all the time from weak, tight shoulder muscles.
For a while, I would add two, sometimes three pillows to try and stretch my neck, but they would always be too soft and my neck would inevitably sink into them, providing more aggravation than relief.
One day, desperate for anything to cradle my neck in place, I grabbed Bill in a fit of frustration and stuck him under my neck. Lo and behold, he was just what I needed. As a stuffed animal, denser than a pillow, he provided just the right resistance and give.
Since that day, he’s always remained nearby, ready to answer the call when I have a headache. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, he’s answered that call quite frequently.
Perhaps he held out all these years for the perfect job, knowing I would need him again.