“Mommy, I’m tired,” my son said last night. “Will you tuck me in?” We went upstairs and he crawled into bed. He adjusted his pillow, reaching his hand underneath, searching for something. He patted around, not finding what he was looking for, then he sat up in a sudden panic.
“Where did you have him last?” I asked.
“I hid him,” he said, looking around. He’d had a friend over earlier. They were playing a version of cops-and-robbers with Nerf guns. “I didn’t want anyone to see him.”
I reached down into the narrow space between bed and wall. There he was. My son clutched Bobby to his little chest and settled back. “I was so worried,” he said. “What would I do without him?”
Bobby is a blanket. A soft brown on one side, smooth blue satin on the other. He–not it–has a satin ruffle all around, which makes him a little bit babyish. Bobby had been a baby shower gift; my son has had him for all of his seven years. He sleeps with him, travels with him. When he was smaller, Bobby was transformed into a cape, a flag, a scarf, a hiding place, a repository for tears. He’s a beta-blocker, an anti-anxiety medication, a sleeping aid. But in the past few months, he’s also become a source of mild embarrassment.
“Will you tell me a story?” my son asked. Bobby was wrapped around his neck, and my son held an edge between his fingers and thumb, moving them back and forth the way one makes the sign for money.
So I told him about the bear that I had when I was little. A stuffed, cotton bear that my mother sewed from printed blue fabric. I couldn’t say “blue” properly when I got him, so he became Boo Bear. I told my son how Boo Bear and I were the best of friends. Inseparable. He went everywhere with me, slept with me in my crib and my playpen and all my beds until I was practically grown. By then, his cotton was worn so thin from hugs and kisses and tears and spins in the washing machine that when I held him too tightly, he would come apart. We had tried many times to fix him, but he was too fragile. I had to put him away.
My son, who’d been nearly asleep, turned to me in alarm. “You put him away?”
“I had to,” I said. “But it made me really sad.”
His big brown eyes grew wide and wet. He clutched Bobby tighter. “I don’t ever want to put Bobby away! I don’t care if he gets dirty or stained; I’ll never wash him again.” He cried, hard, into Bobby’s soft brown side. “What would happen to me if I lost him?”
“Oh baby,” I said, pulling him into my arms. “You won’t lose him. We’ll take good care of him, like we always have. And listen, I still have Boo Bear. I keep him somewhere safe, but he’s always with me. I’ll show him to you tomorrow.”
His crying slowed and then stopped. He sniffed and wiped his nose on the satin side. He rolled over, curling around the damp, soft wad of Bobby in his arms. In a moment, he was sleeping, protected and protecting. I lay there for a while, holding them both.
For the most part, I think that if a relationship has to be kept secret, it probably shouldn’t exist. But this is an exception. I hope my son hangs onto Bobby for a long, long time, even if it’s only at night, or when the going gets really tough. I know, though, the next time he has friends over—probably tomorrow—he’ll stuff Bobby underneath his pillow or in the cranny between bed and wall.
Someday, he’ll be ready to move on. Bobby will be thread-bare and fraying. I’ll wash him one more time, and put him away somewhere safe. Maybe someday my son will pull Bobby out and show him to his own child, the way I did with Boo Bear this morning, to prove that he’s still here.
I want my son to know that true love of something or someone is never gone. Not when it goes deep down into your soul. Not when it is so much a part of you that it’s calcified into your bones. Even when you have to put it away to keep it from getting any more damaged than it already is. It’s always there, wherever you keep it—worn, perhaps, but safe.