A teddy bear, a totem to childhood cuddles, sits and stares at you all day long. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t do anything. Ever. Like some magnanimous Olympian, proud and huggable, he is that one unchanging part of the bedroom landscape. Carboot-sale. Spring-cleaning. That time it got out of hand. None can take the eternal teddy bear.
What’s his name? Names are important: they frame the portrait, bind the book, mould the clay. They named you after your grandfather; took his name, his history, his soul, and grafted it on to you. They expected you to know him. So you leeched his legacy and grew an orchard of family trees. Yet he fell like a domino into the sea, drowned in the deep, and with him drowned the stories, the meaning, the only dictionary left to look up.
What’s in a name? Teddy? The Platonic form of snuggliness. You were no inventor. You didn’t want to transplant identity like a kidney going to waste. You couldn’t bear to brand him with a name. He was to be his own man.
More man than you would ever be. Poor Teddy! His capital punishment was to be capitalized, named, defined, baptised in doubt. He is stuffed with the imagination of you who christened him. Teddy’s smile, like a sickle moon on its side, was your rock, your island, your only haven in a world of flesh and blood and death. He was a soft toy in a hard world. Where family wither and desert, decline like the Roman Empire, Teddy’s soft skin never ages, never wrinkles. When Teddy looked at you, his eyes were not bordered by the chasm of age. Teddy was ready to help whenever you needed him.
You clothed him in your worries. You washed him in your pain. You stuffed him with your bleeding heart. Bloated with misery, Teddy was a scarlet scab on the white flesh of your feelings. His eyes saw you love and hate. His eyes saw you close them. And all he could do was smile. Blankly. His name was your name. You left him there facing the wall, a blind little teddy bear.
Sixteenth birthday, drunk with age, you return to find tatty old teddy, bits of fluff sprouting like fungus from where you used to nuzzle him. He looks like a shrivelled goblin, a sunburnt orc. Those tear-stains are like tea-stains, brown and menacing. Your brain turns to Ribena and you remember taking Teddy to a picnic, sipping through a straw, munching triangle sandwiches. Now you swig from stronger stuff confusing trigonometry.
A forest of childhood mucus tattoos Teddy. The snot and spit of the dribbling you – all of it is imbibed in Teddy. He couldn’t clean himself. And you didn’t dare. Your mother never taught you; she was a teacher yet you treated her like a slave. You recall taking Teddy to the beach, digging a hole, with the vague hope of meeting a Panda Bear. When the cave-in came, you learned the principle of a sound foundation. That day you saw mother with her bedtime stories and volcano-making in a new light.
Housework was beyond you. You tried to make dinner. You flung Teddy in the frying pan. But Teddy wasn’t a thrill-seeker. Mother tried to clean him. The whirlpool in the washing machine would have cut him up into tiny little pieces and vomited him everywhere. It’s called spreading the load.
You screamed, sneaking Teddy to your room. No man is an island, you reassure him, pronouncing John Donne wrong. Curled up with teddy, book in hand, your life writing itself across the page, you realized that your name, your life, your being, was hidden in Teddy. He was your birth certificate and funeral stone.
But now Teddy is a soft-toy statute, grown dishevelled in age. As if Michaelangelo’s David bad transformed into that bloke Dave from the pub – the one who laughed at beardless you. Dave doesn’t shave, his brain is lost among a chinwag thicket. When Daddy took you to the pub, as a treat, to meet men, Teddy wasn’t allowed. And they talked of football and women, while you dreamt of Darwin divining in the Galapagos. You supposed evolution left this lot behind, and arrogance was kindled in a boy who read too many books, now surrounded by beer-bellied illiteracy. You told them you and Teddy were in a symbiotic relationship – he was your best and only friend.
You go red at thoughts of anthropomorphizing a teddy bear. The adorable Teddy you knew is fat with the best bitter of age. White fluff is oozing from his wounds. One eye springs like a jack-in-the-box from its socket and is stolen by the hoover. That vacuum, that emptiness, onto which mother is glued, an appendage to Dyson. You think, spouting Darwin. Daddy drinks, doubting Darwin. Thus a bent-backed stoicism is the only shelter when grinning to the growling of a machine.
Teddy’s smile has become forced. The delicate curve is now a series of jagged straight lines joined in a grim parabola. Your jotting and scribblings, your water colour and oils, become Watsons and Newtons. You left your imagination in the second year choice form. You have abandoned Teddy there, a tattered visage – an evolutionary throwback. You pick him up and try to hug him, and find you have no skill.
Teddy has become musty and ever so slightly damp. Incontinent even.
And Teddy meets the new teddy, a gift it seems, from she who made Teddy obsolete. Teddy is like Bourbon, by necessity, he didn’t survive the revolution. Teddy is a pirate, a Cyclops; a monster from the darkest corner of some forgotten nightmare. His single penetrating eye telescopes into you. Like some cold surgical instrument, cutting into you, mirroring Teddy’s battle-scars.
You remember the night you weighed less than Teddy. Lying in a bed in some glowering Glasgow hospital, on some gloomy New Year’s Eve. The fireworks burst like fairies into a fiery song and inside you another organ, explodes. They will drain you like a plumber to a sink, week after week, watching your insides leak out in tubes and pipes and vacuum packs. Bored, games played out the time. Operation. The buzz made Teddy giggle. Yet you were scared, one slip, checkmate…
And thus your stomach is coloured by crater; then yanked into a pink slash. Teddy’s knife was in sympathy to you. You can feel the tears in his skin. They throb with loneliness. He sat like sentinel on the shelf. He clung to your bedside. He waited for you. Now he is a lifeless ornament adorning your childhood memories. But ornaments don’t smile at you. His smile is but a decoration, a harsh embellishment on a face of adoration. Lifeless, delicate, gone. He is nothing more than an antique.
And you assess his value. The TV blares tuition fees. Can teddy come away with you or will he have to pay?
And then he is disappeared, cleared out with the rest, cast aside like a toy on Christmas day, for that is all he was – a toy you refused to name but ended up calling after yourself. It’s a natural rejection: Teddy goes extinct and you auction off your love. For this treasured keepsake, this teddy bear, if never used, never abused, loses the reason why you kept him.
One day, you will recycle his name into a son…
But for now, the child’s voice within you cries: “Teddy is deady.”
And the rhymes of a lost innocence are reproduced in an elegy to your teddy bear.