Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Tale of Kevin

For the past year and a half, I’ve been sharing a bed with Kevin. Even though my wife and I have been married nearly 24 years, and we get along just fine, she’s okay with that. In fact, because I tend to snore pretty loud, she prefers I bed-down for the night with Kevin instead. That way she can get a good night’s sleep and not spend the next day searching the web for the cheapest divorce lawyer. So, I guess I don’t actually share a bed with Kevin; most nights we share the living room couch. That’s okay, because Kevin doesn’t take up a lot of room and doesn’t get all pissy when I snore like a busted chainsaw.

And when the family travels elsewhere, like to my mother-in-law’s house about six weekends a year, Kevin comes along because I’m now used to sleeping with him. If he’s not there for me to wrap my arms around, it’s hard for me to fall asleep. Sometimes my dependence on Kevin has my mother-in-law looking at me funny, but that’s okay. She’s seen me say and do weirder things, some of which probably made her wonder why her daughter ever married me.

I’m a middle school teacher, and earlier this year we had a ‘Pajama Day’ fundraiser, when staff and students could donate a couple of dollars and come to school in their pajamas (you know, grocery shopping attire for some of us). I brought Kevin along that day, and even though I live & work in Portland (hipster capital of the world), most of my students found my companion strange and amusing, especially at my age. As for me, I personally found it amusing that, in a town with more lesbians-per-capita than an Indigo Girls concert, some of them found my relationship so bizarre.

Even though Kevin is starting to get a bit dingy, and bathes far less than the rest of us (in fact, he’s never bathed), my wife, kids and dog (who sometimes chases him when I throw him down the hall) all like him very much.

In case you haven’t figured it out, Kevin is a stuffed animal. More specifically, he’s a stuffed Yeti, just like the one from the Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. My parents gave him to me when I was in the hospital in late 2010. I was initially admitted for what appeared to be pneumonia, but it ended up being something life-threatening which required open-heart surgery. I was in the hospital for two months, drifting in-and-out of medically-induced comas and eventually having to re-learn such simple tasks as getting out of bed and bathing myself (when you’ve got 30 staples in your chest, that shit‘s easier said than done).

Anyway, I was in the hospital during the winter holidays, miserable, in pain and feeling sorry for myself as I spent endless sleepless nights channel-surfing through 60 channels of what the hospital euphemistically called cable TV. Lots of people - family, friends, co-workers - would visit, often bringing gifts, cards and food packages. Karen, the publisher of my books, managed to send me a care package containing a stuffed cow and several hundred dollars which fellow authors graciously donated. My co-worker and dear friend, Laura, arrived with literally hundreds of cards, letters and gifts from students and colleagues. As someone who, for years, has cultivated an image as being the hard-ass teacher-from-hell, that kinda knocked my defenses down.

Then Kevin showed up in my mom’s arms, still neatly packaged in his Build-A-Bear box, wearing jammies and slippers. I smiled and said thanks, of course, then had her stack it with all the other gifts piling up in my hospital room. Like the monstrous Yeti in Rudolph, he had no name at that time. By the way, when I was a little kid, that Yeti scared the shit out of me every holiday season when the show aired.

During my lengthy rehab period, I was forced to get out of bed with the aid of a sturdy, heart-shaped pillow, which I had to hug to my chest whenever I moved around. I was also instructed to keep it close to my chest while sleeping or whenever my chest hurt.

Anyway, one day, out of boredom, I took Kevin out of his box and found his soft furry body to be far more comforting than the heart-pillow, so I soon took to using him in its place. I don’t know what prompted me to eventually give him a name, and why I chose Kevin. I guess I just thought it was a funny name to give an inanimate object.

When I was finally allowed to go home, I still needed a cane to walk around, still needed chest support while sleeping or getting out of bed. Kevin did latter the jobs just fine.

I was eventually able to ditch the cane, but I’d gotten so accustomed to having clutching Kevin to my chest that I found I was unable to go to sleep without him. Because I’ve always tossed and turned in my sleep, more often than not, Kevin would end up on the floor. Didn’t matter...I had to have him with me at bedtime.

A year and a half later, I still do. There have been occasions when I’ve torn the house apart looking for him before turning in for the night. He no longer wears the slippers and jammies he arrived in; he looks better without all that stuff. However, my wife did buy a pair of Build-A-Bear underpants for him last Christmas, which he still wears on occasion (usually when company comes over). He looks funny in underpants, and since I’ll likely never fulfill my lifelong dream of hanging around the house every day in my underpants, maybe I’m doing it vicariously through Kevin.

I think my irrational attachment to a stuffed toy has rubbed off on my family. And I don’t mean my kids. Hell, they both have enough stuffed animals to start their own colony of misfit toys. I mean my wife - not much younger than me - who decided she wanted a stuffed companion of her own as an anniversary gift. So, after a wonderful Sushi dinner to celebrate our 23rd anniversary, we went to Build-A-Bear, where she made and dressed a stuffed puppy, named Dave 2.

At any rate, here I am...a 48-year-old, married man with two children (one which has outgrown similar childhood friends), a mortgage, and a masters degree...with a stupid attachment to a stuffed animal, given to me on a whim during the most dire moment of my life. I’m not someone overly sentimental, nor do I consciously try to engage in charmingly-eccentric behavior. I’ve simply gotten used to Kevin always being around at bedtime.

How stupid is that?

He’s sitting next to me right now, resting from the photo session required for the picture you see above. He was initially snowy white, though not-so-much anymore. By the time I’m dead and he’s buried with me, Kevin will likely be brown enough to be more mistaken for a teddy bear than a snow monster. My wife suggested putting him in the washing machine once. But what if he sprang a leak and all his stuffing came out?

I dunno...I don’t think I could handle a deflated Kevin, and the last time I was at Build-A-Bear, there were no more Yetis to be found. Besides, even if there were, none of them would be Kevin, would they? We’ve literally been through too much together for me to simply replace him.

It ain’t like he’s some a goldfish you can just flush down the toilet and replace with another.

He’s Kevin, Dave’s Yeti.

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