Have you ever wondered about what happens to some teddy bears?
| We all start life a different way: some of us are made, others are born. Me, I was made at a small toy shop in Hong Kong. Then, I was packed up all neat and pretty and sent over to one of those giant chain stores in the good 'ol U. S. of A. You know the kind of store--shelves and shelves of everything from cardboard brand frosted corn flakes to fifty dollar tubes of toe fungus cream.
When I first arrived, the store employees gave me one of those nice cushy spots (with all my brothers and sisters) at the end of an aisle where I could see everything and everyone could see me. You see, as time goes on, toys come and toys go, but everyone still needs a teddy bear at some point in their life. I spent entire days dreaming of being chosen by some little girl or some little boy or going home with a new parent to their new born child. But as each week ended there were less of my brothers and sisters and I was not being chosen. All of my brothers and sisters were going home with this boy and that girl, this new mother and that new father. After so many weeks of not being chosen I began to wonder if I would ever be chosen at all. And then there finally comes a day, late in the afternoon, when i find a little girl staring at me with big blue eyes. She reaches out and picks me up, still staring with those big blue eyes. Then she gives me a long hug and I know that today I'm going home until HE comes around the corner; a little boy not much older than my new friend, but with the same big blue eyes.
"Teddy bears are dumb," he declares as I'm snatched away and thrown down the aisle. I find myself sliding as I hit the floor and I slide right underneath a shelf full of pool toys. And that's where I spent the rest of my summer--with the dust bunnies--watching people's shoes instead of their faces.
After the pool supplies went on clearance and were almost all sold the store decided to rearrange their shelving and there I was: one lonely dust-covered teddy bear. My finder gave me a half-hearted dusting off and then I was put on clearance and banished to the back of the store with the three-wheeled trucks, half-deflated kick balls, and wind-up toys that didn't wind-up anymore. First I was marked down to twenty-five percent off, then fifty, then seventy-five, but I discovered that no one wants a dirty dust covered teddy bear when there are so many newer and better toys available. I stayed on that shelf through Halloween, past Thanksgiving and right up until Christmas Eve. It was almost closing time and the store's lights had already been dimmed in preparation of all the employees going home to their Christmas trees with brand new toys underneath them. As the last call for all customers to proceed to the front with their purchases sounded over the loud speakers, a lady came limping around the corner. She walked slowly down the aisle looking at each almost broken toy very carefully. She was wearing a long orange coat that seemed older than her and showed that much wear. Her gloves were thin and one finger poked out of the glove on each hand. A black hat washed so many times it was gray sat crookedly on head. As the lady in the orange coat made it to my end of the aisle she stopped in front of me and gave me a long thoughtful stare. I had long ago given up hopes of going home with anyone at all so it came as a shock when she reached out her hand and I was put into her basket with a can of beans and a loaf of bread. We left the store then and got into a car that didn't want to start, began smoking as turned out of the parking lot and stopped and started the few miles we drove down the street. With all the jerking I was sure the little girl in the backseat would wake up, but she slept through it all and she stayed asleep as her mother carried her upstairs with the one bag from the store that I was in with the beans and bread. We entered an apartment that was not much bigger than the car we just left; a twin bed was pushed against one wall and a rickety table with two folding chairs was set against the other wall. A kitchen was behind the table and the only door in the room aside from the front door contained a bathroom. Taped to the wall next to the bed was a paper cutout of a Christmas tree.
The lady in the orange coat slowly undressed her daughter and then redressed her in fleece pajamas that seemed a few sizes too big. Then the little girl was placed on the one bed and the mattress groaned and creaked with what could be no more than 30 pounds. I was sure the little girl would wake up with that much noise, but her mother brushed away a stray lock of hair and gently placed a kiss on the child's forehead. Her daughter only sighed and rolled over.
After placing her long orange coat over one of the folding chairs I was given special attention. I was taken to the sink in the kitchen and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed until almost all the dirt and dust was washed away. Then she took out a small towel and gently rubbed until I was completely dry. After so much time being ignored this wonderful lady made me feel brand new. When she was satisfied that I was as clean as I would become she gently carried me over to the Christmas tree and carefully placed me beneath it. Then I watched as the little girl's mother began unpacking a cardboard box she pulled out from beneath the bed. She slowly and neatly placed everything on the floor next to the bed: two pairs of socks, a few shirts, one pair of jeans and a handful of underwear. She then spent a good portion of the rest of the night coloring that old box red with a few worn down crayons. You know the kind where you can get half a dozen at a restaurant, but they're never quite the same color. Then the box was brought over to the Christmas tree where I sat so patiently. I was gently lifted up and put into the colored red Christmas-made cardboard box and top was closed. I was left with the darkness and my thoughts until Christmas morning.
When I saw the little girl's face light up as pulled me from the box the next morning, it made all my waiting, all my being passed over for newer, less dirty toys completely and utterly worth it. From that day on we were inseparable best friends. I would go to school with Marla. She would hold me tightly as she slept and I would keep the bad dreams away. I was the one that soaked up all the tears and snot when Marla was sad and I was the one she told all her hopes and dreams and secrets.
Over the years, as Marla aged, I aged too. Some of my threads would come loose; a little stuffing would fall out from time to time. At some point I even lost one of my shiny black eyes. But none of that mattered to Marla; she continued to love me through it all.
About the time Marla and I entered the fifth grade her school had a field trip to a National Cemetery. The kind where brave men and women that fought and died for our country are buried in eternal formation. Since Marla and I went everywhere it was only natural that I went on this field trip too. On that particular day Marla was assigned to be the buddy of the new girl in school, Abby. Abby had arrived three days ago, right in the middle of the school year. So this day seemed like the perfect time to try to get a best friend that wasn’t some beat-up old dirty teddy bear, namely myself. At least, that’s what Marla would whisper to me late at night when she couldn’t sleep. Not that I was a dirty old bear, but that all she wanted, more than anything in the whole wide world was a best friend. And that’s exactly what happened.
Kids can be awfully cruel to the new person in town and it was no different with Abby. Marla would have befriended Abby sooner, but her self-esteem was in tatters from growing up in poverty; being mercilessly teased for clothes that were always too big or too small and at least five years out of season. And even though Marla and her mother were no longer as poor as they once were the constant teasing had almost completely worn away Marla’s social abilities. But on that fateful field trip day everything changed for the better…at least for Marla it did because she and Abby quickly became friends.
It turned out that Marla would eventually have different plans for me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I was thrilled that Marla had a new friend and excited when Abby gave me a big hug, not caring that I was a dirty old bear. Marla and Abby took me along with the class as they walked through the cemetery and the teacher spoke of the battles and the wars that caused the cemetery to be built. We eventually came to one grave in particular-that of an unknown soldier. The teacher spoke about how he had been a hero and saved an entire platoon of men by giving up his own life. Unfortunately, no one knew his name because his dog tags were never found. Then, in an incredibly uncharacteristic move Marla raised her hand and asked a question that decided my future.
“So…he doesn’t have any family that visits him?”
“No,” the teacher replied, “only people like us who come to pay our respects.”
“No brothers or sisters or mommy or daddy?”
“I’m sorry Marla, but no one knows who he really is so any friends or relatives can’t be told that he’s here.”
Marla’s only answer was a tiny “oh” as she hugged me a little more tightly. The class then began to move away and Marla and Abby moved up to take a closer look at where the brave soldier was buried. I could see tears in Marla’s eyes as she knelt by the grave and began talking to the Unknown Soldier. As the words tumbled from her mouth I couldn’t believe my eras. She told the soldier that if he had been so brave then she could be brave too. She now had a real best friend and since the he didn’t have any family or friends that would visit her teddy bear would keep him company. The teddy bear that had been her best friend for a long time would now be his best friend because an unknown soldier that didn’t have any friends or family needed a best friend more than a little girl needed her teddy bear. Marla then gave me a kiss on the nose as I soaked up her tears one more time and she placed me next to the Unknown Soldier’s headstone before running to catch up with her class. Just before she reached them Marla turned around and blew me a kiss. That was the last time I ever saw Marla.