The door clicked shut behind the wheels of my carry-on. “YOU ARE LEAVING ME BEHIND!” the shriek pierced my brain loud and clear and my heart started pounding, as I fumbled with those credit card look alike’s that pass for door keys in most hotels, always making me pine for the heavy brass keys of old to be dropped with the concierge on the way out. Of course I was checking-out past my due time and my credit card-key had been deactivated. A mad rush to the front desk had the door promptly reopened and there he was, lying among the crumpled white sheets, all ready to go, had it not been for my forgetfulness.
I stuffed Pippo into my carry-on and, on the way to the airport, I vowed never to bring him on another trip with me. That had been too close a call.
Linus had a blanket and I had Pippo, with the slight difference that Linus probably outgrew his blanket at age 10 while I, at age 30, was still shuttling around the world with a teddy bear. And not just any teddy bear. Not a teddy bear from a long ago boyfriend or anything with a remotely romantic attachment to it. I actually stopped liking teddy bears at age 6, always recycling well-meaning boyfriends’ gifts of a stuffed toy nature as Pippo had no competition.
Old black and white photos celebrating my birth and my first few years prove that Pippo was indeed my first toy – his face bigger than mine sitting next to me on the high chair, his fur as shiny as my black hair, his eyes as alert and as big as mine. It wasn’t always a cozy relationship – abandoned for fancier toys for long stretches of time, Pippo would wait patiently in a corner of my room, awaiting my need for him to become my sleeping companion again. He always knew such need would arise and he would be there to fulfill it.
His relationship with my sister was contentious at best. To get back at my meanness, the little devil pulled Pippo’s eyes out during a particularly fierce fight and his world went black for many years. No matter. He still had me to tell him bedtime stories and recount my adventures once the lights went out. He made it to London with the few possessions I took when I left home and, at this point inured to his ragged appearance, Pippo had to depend, if not on the kindness of strangers, at least on that of friends and family.
It was a friend who, moved to pity, restored his sight with a bright new pair of fancy eyes from Harrods and it was my mother, during one of her visits, who sewed his dangling neck and hid the wound with a red scarf. His fur was still a bit worse for wear but he was very pleased with his new lease on life. Besides, his globetrotting days had started in earnest: wherever I slept, he slept (or nearby at least) and, as my job demanded a busy, if not constant, travelling schedule, Pippo got to know very many hotels around Europe and beyond, until that fateful day in Cologne, Germany, where my lack of sleep and tardiness left him screaming between the sheets.
Pippo was retired from flying, unless it involved a full-on relocation. He flew business class to Los Angeles with me when I moved, my only friend and calming presence in a city where I virtually didn’t know a soul. Gradually, he started spending more and more time at the foot of the bed, rather than in it,although, when alone, sometimes I still resort to the warmth of his presence on the pillow next to mine. In his 50 years, he has not uttered a single word of complaint. He knows his lot has been much better than most of his contemporaries. He still listens patiently, he spends his days on a comfy pillow on a beautiful chair and still gets to talk to me. We have both grown up and aged gracefully. His Harrods eyesight is still going strong and the red scarf gets washed periodically. I even thought of sending him for a make-over to a toy repair laboratory but he reminds me he is not a toy, and shouldn’t be treated as such. And he is right: fancy toys have long come and gone while he endures, gentle breeze from the window tousling his fur, memories of fun trips taken together to liven up his days. And, still, my bedtime stories.