And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

And Happy New Year!

When my daughter Olivia came home for her first Christmas break from college, it absolutely stunned me that she returned without her three best friends since her very young childhood:

Maxie: a beanie baby-sized blue and white bear or dog, depending on who you talked to, representing some drug (apparently a giveaway from a pharmaceutical company), picked up at a rummage sale by Olivia’s grandmother when Olivia was about a year old. I honestly don’t remember why Maxie was named Maxie.

Norman: a kangaroo with a pouch, but a male name. During my first residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I earned my MFA, they held a fundraising auction of items donated by faculty and students. Olivia was born in October of 2000, and I left for my first residency in December of 2001, so Olivia was only 14 months old and I was full of grief and guilt over being so far away from her for 15 days. I missed her first steps, and by the time I came home, she was running. When the kangaroo came up for auction, my hand shot up so fast, I don’t think anyone dared bid against me. I named him Norman because that’s what he looked like, despite the joey-less pouch, and he sat on my bed in my dorm room for the rest of the residency and rode with his head sticking out of my backpack when I flew home.

Teddy: a homemade teddy bear with a cliché name, purchased during my second residency in Vermont.

These three have accompanied Olivia from her bedroom in our first house to this one, from sleepover to sleepover, to Oregon and Myrtle Beach, on college tours, and back. Wherever she goes, they go.

And she came home without them. They’re on her bed in her dorm room.

“Mom,” she said, when I expressed surprise at their absence, “do you want me to go back to get them?”

I’m not sure why I was so stricken. Maybe it’s just another sign of her growing up. Maybe it’s because I feel like she always has a source of comfort when they’re around, even if I’m not.

Maybe it’s because, at 59 years old, my own special stuffed animal, Rontu, is still in my closet. I’ve never grown up enough to leave him behind.

I was either seven or eight when I met Rontu. My mother took me to the S&H Green Stamp store to make some purchases, and while I waited for her, I wandered to the storefront window. On a rocking chair was a black and white stuffed dog with a big nose and floppy legs and jingle bells in his ears. I climbed into the window, sat in the chair, rocked, and listened to his bells ring. And fell in love.

I told my mother I wanted this dog. She said she didn’t have enough stamps. So I said I’d ask for him for Christmas. On Christmas Day, as soon as I picked up the box, I heard the jingle bells. No present was ever opened faster.

I named him Rontu, after the Aleut dog in my favorite book at that time, The Island Of The Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. Karana, the main character, nurses Rontu back to health after she shoots him in the chest with an arrow. She says that Rontu, in her language, means Fox Eyes. Well, my Rontu didn’t have fox eyes. He had cloth black and white eyes and jingle bells in his ears. And I loved him to distraction. It didn’t matter the time of day or night, he was there for me. When I cried, it was into his ears. When I was happy, I shook him and he sang with jingles. For the longest time, I played out an imaginary story in my head where scientists blended my ovarian eggs with a black and white dog’s sperm and Rontu was the result. He was my baby. I know, that’s weird. But my imagination has always been just slightly off the tracks. Ronto was way more than my baby. He was my partner, my security blanket, my forever companion.

He came with me to college. He sat on my bed during my first marriage. He was nearby on a chair for my second marriage. And now he resides in my closet, where I see him every day when I get dressed and I smile at him.

He’s fragile. Hardly any fur left. But he still jingles.

This week, I had the stomach flu. And it was a horrible version of it. During the worst of it, when Michael moved downstairs so I would have instant access to the bathroom and I was wracked with unstoppable nausea and body aches that wouldn’t let me straighten my body out, I got out Rontu and curled my body around him. My cats were annoying nursemaids, insisting on getting in my face or laying directly on a sore joint. Not so Rontu. He lay quietly pressed into my belly and I felt better. If I shifted even a little bit, he still jingled.

Sometimes, you can reunite with pure childhood happiness even in the middle of a bout of the stomach flu.

I hope, when Olivia returns to college, she swoops down on her three best friends and lets them know how she missed them. I hope they are, to her, what Rontu is to me.

Everyone needs a Rontu.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Rontu. Who must be about 51 or 52 years old.



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