Sometimes, an object says more than words ever could. I give you Charlotte.
Charlotte was once, like all of us, a brightly-colored, firmly-stuffed consumer product available for purchase at a mall. Then one day a 10-month old girl named Nora spotted her. Her reaction was explosive. Her eyes widened as she pointed, bounced, and laughed hysterically in her stroller. Nora’s grandparents, of course, purchased Charlotte and a heavenly match was made in the Disney store. Nora was in love and I like to think that Charlotte was too.
Like any really true love, Nora’s and Charlotte’s was apparent to everyone. It was also not always pretty. Where Nora went, she dragged Charlotte along with her. The bond between the two of them was instant and violent. The intensity and devotion of Nora’s love soon began taking its toll. Charlotte’s wrists withered within the vice of Nora’s loving fist. Yet, the two were becoming one and their relationship warmed everyone’s hearts. Soon, anyone who knew Nora knew Charlotte, and on the few occasions when Charlotte was misplaced, a mob of truly frightened people, grown-ups and children alike, would scour the cabinets, chairs, and laundry baskets to recover the hind-and-seek artist formerly known as Pooh. When she was found, the collective sigh of relief, would shatter windows.
Yes, Charlotte was meant to be a Pooh bear like billions of others, but Nora invested her friend with her own personality. Soon, the familiar, corporate-approved red vest disappeared, replaced, after a time, by a stained, tight-fitting ballerina outfit originally designed for God knows what. And Charlotte wore it well. Like her clothing, her name was also unsanctioned by Disney. “Pooh” was re-christened “Charlotte” in honor of the new baby at Nora’s daycare. In short, Charlotte was adopted, fully assimilating into the identity she and Nora had forged together. Life had come to Charlotte and, weird as it may sound, Charlotte came to life.
But life, like love, isn’t easy on any of us. The years passed, and though their bond would not wither under the strain of developing toddler-hood, Charlotte’s body would. She was made only of fabric and fluff, while Nora was flesh-and-blood and eventually had to grow teeth. As you might notice in the picture, Charlotte’s nose gradually flattened, a result of its remarkable and unintended utility as a teething ring. For a time, Charlotte’s nose could hardly be found outside Nora’s mouth. Nora would run about the house like a dog, jerking her head from side to side with a gleeful viciousness that stretched and soiled Charlotte’s former nose into a stigmata of her suffering. Charlotte limply waved through the air, battered, but happy to take Nora’s teething pain upon herself.
Then there is the dirt. We all become stained by something as we live and Charlotte is no different. Since she went everywhere with Nora, she, like her human friend, touched everything. Whether it was mud, markers, or masking tape, Charlotte’s life has been spent Joyfully scraping against the wonders of a child’s world, even as the experience wore her bright yellow skin down to a pale, dirty hue.
This is not a sad recollection. Charlotte, to my mind, has had the happiest life of any Pooh that has ever sprung from Disney’s Chinese assembly lines. She has not spent it in a box or on a shelf. She hasn’t followed the rules under which she was born. She hasn’t chosen neatness and perfection over experience. She has lived her life the way we were all meant to. With defiant joy.
Nora will be four very soon and Charlotte is still with her.
She’s still with us. I cannot look at her withered, feeble body and not see the sparkling life of my daughter, as it slowly accumulated on her over time. Charlotte’s life has been a beautiful one because it has captured the glorious brutality of living. She has experienced what it is to be human. Nora’s tears, her saliva, her vomit, as well as her playful joy are all frozen in time in the graying, bleak yellow of Charlotte’s cotton blend skin. Nora has a massive imagination and her exuberant love has required more than one needle-and-thread surgery. Someday, Charlotte will need to be put on a shelf and rewarded with her well-earned rest.
But not quite yet. Please not yet.
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