About two years ago, our littlest one, Lucy, fell down hard. It was a hot day and we were all at the zoo, walking to see the parrots. We aren’t exactly sure what happened. We think she tripped over her own shoes, but anyway, she went down. She whacked her head on the pavement with the force of a hammer driving a stubborn nail.
She was screaming when I picked her up. I could see the lump appearing. I handed her to her mother and flagged down a member of the zoo staff to tell them about the emergency. A couple of minutes later, a man with a moustache dressed in a black and white uniform with a mic clipped to his shirt came zooming up the path in a golf cart. There may have been a flashing light.
He looked her over. She’d be alright, he said.
Just put her in the stroller and make sure she doesn’t have any symptoms of more serious problems.
“Like what,” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “Like seeming very sleepy suddenly.”
We agreed, relieved but cautious, to keep an eye on her.
I buckled her into the stroller. Her mother and sister walked on ahead, heading, once again, to see the parrots.
Ten seconds later, I glanced down at the stroller. Lucy was asleep.
I began touching her to try to wake her, while shouting for her mother. I got her out of the stroller. Her eyelids fluttered open, then fell shut again. They seemed to weigh a million pounds.
Her mother took her and I once again called the emergency guy. He came back with his golf cart. Lucy was in a half-conscious state. Emergency guy asked her if she knew who Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend was.
In a bleary, groggy baby voice she croaked, “Minnie.”
I felt a bit of relief. Her mother was convinced she was about to die.
We all piled on the golf cart. We whizzed along the path to the offices where members of the Columbus ambulance squad were going to meet us.
By the time they got there, Lucy was cogent. She seemed ok. But, better safe than sorry we said when the ambulance crew arrived. They strapped my wife into a gurney with Lucy in her lap and loaded them together into the back of the emergency vehicle.
But, this is not the story of a child being injured. It’s really a story about a bear. And, maybe, by extension, about childhood, and thus, by extension, about the heart of real life.
I rode in a separate ambulance that day and so did not witness this, but I am told a member of the crew lifted the lid of a bench in the back of the ambulance Lucy was in. He inserted his hand into the bench and produced a stuffed bear. He gave it to the hurt little girl to make her feel better.
Before the afternoon was out, Lucy had dubbed her Rainbow Sparkle. The bear and the girls became fast companions. Where Lucy went, the bear went. Lucy went to the neigbors’, the bear was in her hand. Lucy went to eat, the bear was on the table. Lucy went to bed, the bear was under her head, a friend who doubles as a pillow.
About a year ago, it was clear Rainbow Sparkle had been through some hard loving. She was worn and saggy. Her once plump belly was limp. Her head lobbed helplessly to the side. We sent her to a seamstress neighbor for some surgery. She came back full and not quite good as new. Now, she’s all flabby again. Lucy says she likes her better that way.
The bear took a hiatus once. She went missing for a while. Each bedtime during this period was an occasion for tears. We spent a portion of each day bear hunting in our home, until I found her hidden, stuffed behind the little step ladder in the bathroom the shortest person in our family uses to reach the sink and wash her tiny hands.
Just last week, on the way out the door for a trip to Grammy and Papaw’s we discovered the bear was once again AWOL. We had to get on the road without her. When it was time to return to our home, there was still no sign of the bear.
Lucy slept her first night back without her friend/pillow and this morning, the hunt began again.
What creates such a bond? Why could no other toy substitute for Rainbow Sparkle, satisfy the bear shaped whole in our daughter’s soul?
It’s the story, of course. No other friend had come to live with her the day mommy thought she would die. To have this one, this special one, go missing was a blow.
We are shaped, more than we realize, by the attachments we form, not for rational reasons, but because of the story, the place, the circumstances in which life happens to us. We do not solely make ourselves, we are made by others and the things we cannot foresee. No one can predict a Rainbow Sparkle.
A little while ago, my phone rang as I was getting out of the car at the doctor’s office. My wife was calling to say Rainbow Sparkle had been found. Someone, and let’s be honest, we know who it was, had stuffed her inside a bench in the basement.
As part of her hunt, my wife had lifted the lid on the long narrow bench shaped, for all the world, like a coffin and pulled Rainbow Sparkle out of the dark, returning her to the light, to the world, to love and to a girl who will always remember her, even when she’s lost.
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