Right now, Emily is lying on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, watching a show on Vikings.
Behind her sits a big, overstuffed, comfortable bean bag, intended specifically for her seating comfort while watching television.
It is occupied, instead, by a lumpy black and brown blob, a stuffed animal once resembling a gorilla and now having attained full-on Velveteen Rabbit realness. His fur is worn away in spots, one of his eyes is scarred and cloudy with some strange form of cataract, and his stuffing has been long since compacted and flattened.
His name is Larry Monkey, and if I don’t quite feel like he’s my second child, I at least feel the affection and regard for him that I would hold for a long-time pet.
Larry came into our lives in 2001, when Emily was about 16 months old. We were about to move, from an apartment in an old, built-in-1800 farmhouse in Salem, Massachusetts, to a 1970s ranch-style house in Keene, New Hampshire. It was a step down in terms of quaintness and history, but a huge step up in terms of changing from renters to owners. It was exciting and terrifying.
A day or so before we moved, Emily and I embarked on a massive shopping trip at KMart, to buy the things that wouldn’t be waiting for us in the new house: a garden hose, a fire extinguisher, a shower curtain, and so on. She was of an age where she had more than enough words to express her wishes (this is a child who had her first words at six months and had complete sentences by a year and, while awake, has not stopped talking since), but she had a hard time with annoying things like delayed gratification and patience. So any shopping trip was a bit unpredictable with her, though she came with me everywhere I went and we managed to make it work. She was never a tantrum-thrower (that happened more around age 5), she just had a lot of energy and words.
This time, however, she was mellow and happy. She sat in the basket of the shopping cart, chattering away at me, at fellow shoppers, at the items on the shelves, at the support poles holding up the ceiling; really anything that would listen. She didn’t ask to get out of the cart, and she didn’t get whiny or bored. So once the cart was full, we made a pass through the toy section to pick out a stuffed animal for her. I hadn’t promised it to her, but the whole trip was so enjoyable that I thought she’d earned it.
She immediately selected this black-and-brown, floppy gorilla, hugged him happily, and away we went.
Soon thereafter, we moved into the new house, but without Willem. That first month, he remained in Salem to finish up a summer job, and Emily and I moved to Keene to start unpacking and getting ready for the school year. It was just the two of us, in a brand-new place and an unknown town, and we did our best to unpack and decorate and settle in.
She was still sleeping in her crib at the time, and one day at the start of naptime, I heard her calling. But she wasn’t calling, “Mama,” she was saying something else. A word I couldn’t quite understand, from down the hall. So I walked down to check, and she was standing in her crib, looking at the floor, calling, “Larry… Larry.” (Her L’s were still more like W’s than L’s, but the name was clear enough.) We didn’t know anyone named Larry, so I was mystified. I followed her gaze to the floor, and saw the black-and-brown heap of gorilla crumbled on the carpet, just beyond her fat little grasp.
I picked him up, and said, “Is this Larry?”
She nodded vigorously. “That’s Larry Monkey. I need him.” I was amused, having no idea where she might have gotten the name (and still don’t know), and handed him over. She flopped him down on her mattress, flopped herself down on top of him, and promptly fell asleep.
It quickly became obvious that Larry was The One. Her comfort guy, her favorite. I’d been waiting for her to show some sort of strong attachment to any one stuffed animal, and had been surprised that it had taken her this long. I’m all for comfort items and loveys; in this cold, cruel world, we all need a little something that predictably makes us feel safe and warm. Clearly, Emily had just been waiting until she found her soulmate.
Her attachment to him, and preference over all other animals, was steadfast and strong. Once we were confident he was here to stay, we decided to go out and find a copy, just in case the unthinkable happened and Larry got lost. We weren’t sure whether we would rotate the two between each washing or just keep a backup in storage, but we knew we didn’t want to be caught without.
No problem, right? We got him at KMart, which means there must be several billion Larrys floating around, mass-produced in a sweatshop by starving children or some such. Right?
We visited the Keene KMart; no luck. Lots of stuffed animals, even a primate or two, but no Larrys. We returned to the Salem KMart; again, nothing. We shopped online. We emailed out a photo with requests for friends and family to check their local KMarts, all to no avail. (Though my mother-in-law did find a stuffed monkey that she described over the phone as being “just like Larry.” When it arrived, it was so completely different that I never even showed it to Emily. You know how you hear that you look just like someone, and then you see that someone and they look absolutely nothing like you? And you’re vaguely offended that anyone could even think such a thing? That’s how I felt about this imposter-Larry.)
Clearly, soon after we purchased Larry, someone rounded up all of the copies and detroyed them. Burned down the factory. Killed all the workers. No one is left alive who can reproduce this spineless lump of love.
It has made for some close calls, over time. Like the car ride when Emily thought Larry would like to hang his head out the window while barreling down the highway; when we realized what she was doing, all of the adults present screamed, “NOOOO!” in unison. Or the time when he spent the night in the video store, dropped in favor of a candy bar and forgotten until bedtime. That was a long, cold night.
When she was in kindergarten, Emily sat Larry down on the table, got out a pencil, paper and crayons, and proceeded to create a shockingly accurate representation of him. “I’m making a poster for him, just in case he ever gets lost,” she explained. “We read a story at school about a teddy bear who got lost, and I want to be ready, just in case.”
She’s eight now, and he is still a faithful companion. She doesn’t take him to school, or really even out of her room most of the time. She never was so intensely attached that she couldn’t leave the house without him. It’s more that he just brings her such joy and fulfillment that she seeks him out, whenever she is tired or scared or sick. He’s gotten his share of shots at the doctor – he always goes first – and has laid down next to her in the dentist chair, though he’s not good at opening very wide.
He’s a good guy, that Larry. I appreciate him.