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I remember the first day I made a child’s eyes glow with mirth. The precious smile that stretched wide between his dimpled cheeks is unforgettable. The boy bounced over to his mommy, crying, “Can I get this one? Can I? Please, please, puh-leeeeeaase?” The towhead, about three years old, was happily trembling.
“But you already have a teddy bear,” she replied. The boy, Sammy, was not satisfied. He wanted me. Desperately.
So, just as his mother jingled the bells above the door of the toy store, Sammy, with his innocent hands, grasped me by the arm and stuffed me, suffocating, under his fleecy Gap sweatshirt.
I was terrified. I had never been to the Outside. My friends and I always talked about what happens to those who are chosen to go to the Outside, but none of us knew what it was really like. We just perched on our dusty shelf next to the yo-yo’s and some blue bouncy balls.
It was soon I discovered the Outside involved many adventures. The time I spent under Sammy’s shirt was not a pleasant experience. I would rather not remember it. He smelled a bit like sour milk and diapers that need changing. It was brutal to be squished against his broiling tummy. I had never felt anything like it.
I don’t recall when Sammy’s mother actually discovered he had stealthily snuck me out the store, but she didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she knew it was a lost battle to try removing me from his tight grip.
His grasp never loosened. For the next year, Sammy did not take his hand off of my arm. Never. If Sammy took a shower, I showered too. If Sammy played in the sandbox, so did I. If Sammy wanted to swim in the ocean, I also took a dip. Yes, I even went to school with Sammy. He refused to let me go.
That first year was rough, but it was also magical. I loved the sweet feeling of being wanted, of being needed by someone. I loved how I made his chubby face gleam every minute of the day. I loved how he loved me.
I learned over the next five years that the Outside was fun. However, it did have its consequences. If Sammy even got the slightest bit of mud on my fur, his mother would put me in a horrible metal box that made lots of noise and gave me terrible dizziness. She called it The Washing Machine. It squirted water from every direction and pulsated through my stuffing until I was soapy and soggy. Sammy liked to press his nose against the icy glass window, his face plastered with a pout, and I would watch his eyes spin in circles, following me. Those were the worst times.
But there were good times as well. One day Sammy took me to a jungle of giant plastic poles, bridges, and towers that he called The Playground. The best part was when we went down the tall slide. Sammy sat at the very top and placed me on his small lap. Then he would show me the whole world. “See that tree over there, Teddy? It’s my favorite. Oh, Teddy! Look at the pretty birdie! It’s red. See, Teddy?” Finally, when Sammy was ready, he would count down from five and when he got to one, we flew down the slide with the utmost grace and poise. These were the best times.
Now Sammy is twelve. He’s growing up fast. He no longer grips my arm all day long, tugging me everywhere he goes. His hair is no longer bright blonde, but a lighter brunette color instead. He is almost as tall as his mommy now. I miss the old days when we played in the Outside and he talked to me. But I’m not sad because I know he still loves me. Every night, when it is late and Sammy has finished his homework, he slips into bed and searches the downy covers to find me. And when he does, he holds me close next to his warm skin and whispers, “Goodnight Teddy. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I say.