by Samantha Bratkon
On the November afternoon that I walked out of my job, I was moping on my bed when my mom came in and offered me an early Christmas present. After almost two years of sexism and harassment, I left a toxic work environment, holding back tears. When I answered “yes” to my mother’s question, she brought two overpriced plush pigs, modeled after some celebrity pets I followed on Instagram, into my room. I embraced them with a smile. Three years later I still look to those little guys when I’m upset.
As a child, I had an obsession with stuffed animals. I loved their animated faces and cuddly plush. I had mesh hammocks screwed into the corner of my bedroom walls, suspended above my bed, that held the friends who weren’t soft enough to snuggle with. The ones that I lost interest in move into trash bags in the attic. I had so many on my bed that my smaller-than-average body could barely fit.
When I was in the third grade my family went to an aquarium to celebrate my mom's birthday, but I was the one to bring home a present. I continued to take the plush black-footed penguin named Myrtle everywhere I went for an embarrassingly long time. (In middle school I kept him in my locker). For the remainder of my childhood and into early adulthood people overwhelmed me with penguin-themed gifts every Christmas and birthday. It didn’t seem to occur to them that I didn’t love ALL penguins, I loved MY stuffed penguin. He made my childhood less lonely. Thankfully now that I’m old enough to drink the penguin-themed gifts have subsided.
Since my brother died I have kept the bright orange seahorse that he won me, out of a 50 cent claw machine in the supermarket, on the bed in my room at my parent's house. I named him Hurricane after the overhyped storm that sent a drizzle through our neighborhood.
In my apartment after a fight with my then-boyfriend, I wrapped my body around the three-foot plush penguin I bought on our autumn trip to the aquarium. The stuffy was a reminder of my childhood friend. As I wept and my body convulsed, the brushed fabric caught every tear and the stuffing muffled the spasms.
As a young adult, I have an evolved appreciation for stuffed animals and the comfort that they provide to me. The fabric and stuffing console me in a way no pillow ever could.
My entire life I’ve suffered from nightmares. I have foggy memories of standing at the top of the stairs whispering down to my parents for their help, fearing that raising my voice to a louder volume would attract any monsters lurking nearby. One night I vomited into the corner of my bed but was so terrified by the dark that I decided to continue to sleep, strategically huddled on the opposite end.
One of my most treasured childhood memories is when after one of these infamous dreams, my foster brother came into my bedroom and surrounded me with stuffies until only my face was exposed. I slept feeling safe, knowing I had an entire army on my side when juvenile fear of loud noises and the dark came back to haunt me.
Now that I’ve grown up a bit, I am one of the few adults inflicted with adult night terrors. The condition usually affects children under the age of seven, myself included. Night terrors don’t occur during a deep sleep which is what distinguishes them from nightmares. It is also the reason why I never remember the images that result in me jerking awake at night in a cold sweat, creating an aura of horror that follows me through the days. Unfortunately, my bedtime horrors only subsided for a short period of time before re-introducing themselves into my nightly routine around the age of 15.
Another constant that has stayed with me is the comfort I find in stuffed animals after these occurrences. I don’t have the heart to get rid of pals still in trash bags in my parents attack. Now in my cramped apartment, I cuddle with my bear named “Jer” and feel a little safer.
So here’s to the fluffy friends who stand on the front lines of heartbreaks, who battle the monsters in the closet, and who continue to watch over me all night long--Thank you.