It’s a cliche, I know, but almost every child seems to have some form of ‘comfort blanket’. For some, it is literally that – a blanket, to which the kid snuggles up. For others, it may instead be a cuddly toy, piece of clothing, or whatever. You may know that in academic circles such comforts are known as ‘transitional objects‘, their purpose being to reassure the child whilst its mother is absent from its vision and to psychologically comfort it. The object in question effectively steps in and takes the mother’s place; it confirms to the child that she will return, but in the meantime, it has this source on which to rely.
As regular readers of this journal will appreciate, I was not a particularly typical child. Obviously I don’t remember being a baby, but I do remember that when other kids my age would have been expressing interest in cuddly and other types of toys, I regarded the whole thing with derision. The hilarious irony is that I love cuddly toys now. I suspect that I am unconsciously searching for a way to relive my ‘lost childhood’ (what a trite, nauseating phrase), but I do wonder why I would ever have considered such things with such an aversion. That I felt disgust then disgusts me now. Poor cuddly toys They never did anything to wrong me.
However, all rules are proven by their exceptions (though does the rule that rules are proven by exceptions include an exception? If so, does it not render itself a contradiction that cannot be trusted?). The exception to my general antipathy towards fluffy, cuddly things was a 1977 Fisher Price Cholly Ragdoll, whom I had named Mr Friendly (obviously I hadn’t really named him that. That’s the idiot choice of my so-called adult ((!)) mind. But I need to call him something here, and his actual name isn’t an option as it was fairly distinctive; I don’t want some familial prick Googling it on an off-chance and ending up here. So Mr Friendly it is). This is him (well, it’s not. It’s a picture of another doll from the same line; it isn’t the doll I had. But for now it’s the best I can do):
My version of the doll was such a permanent part of my physical being that by the time I stopped taking him everywhere, he was full of holes, his stuffing was long gone and he could dubiously boast a number of wear-and-tear style stains. The smile you see in the above picture was no longer there; someone had had to stitch him a new one at some point. The eyes were the originals, but had to be re-sewn every six months or so. The poor sod probably even smelt like a wet dog.
Mr Friendly’s over-worn status, though, proved my overwhelming and at the time unparalleled love for him. I remember the adults being both amused and bemused by the fact that I was, at best, ambivalent about other toys, but that this one had to be by my side wherever I went. I remember returning their perplexity with cynical sneers. They didn’t know how awesome, if I may use such a gruesome word, Mr Friendly actually was, because if Mr Friendly could speak, then he wouldn’t have wanted to give them the time of day.
I remember that he eventually disappeared from my life; this is one of the many parts of my childhood that is a total blank in my memory, so I don’t know how, or why. I think it must have been a gradual transition from having him there all the time to not doing so, because I don’t remember the biting sting of his loss the way I do when someone tried – however gently – to take him out of my hands. Whatever the case, a few years later, I was looking for something in one of the bedrooms, opened an ottoman, and saw his tatty but still-smiling face staring back at me.
My first reaction was one of being taken utterly aback. I should have been delighted, and most of me was – but it also felt even then that perhaps he peripherally marked something deeper about which I did not want to think. I hate saying and thinking that about him, but I have to: it’s the truth. Nevertheless, I was able to quickly push this befuddled surprise to the back of my mind, and regard him with the enduring and still hugely significant affection and love that he deserved.
He was a fixture – albeit a much more subtle one – of my life again for a while. I would say that he was within my easy reach (for example, on my bed, on the dressing table, or in an easily-accessible cupboard in my room) probably well into my teenage years, and it’s not impossible that this was the case even into my very early 20s. I don’t know what happened after this; part of me has a very vague memory of my mother asking if she could put him into the roofspace, but this could very well be phantom. Either way, I’m pretty sure he must indeed be in the roofspace (or other storage at Mum’s house), because there is almost certainly no way in hell that my mother would have binned him.
You know how things are in this life; it muddles on, you psychologically compartmentalise, think about Thing A and not Thing B, all the time letting existence distance you from certain things and/or certain people. Such have the last years been vis a vis Mr Friendly; I really haven’t thought about him much in a long time, and I feel tremendously guilty about that, because he – like other important figures in my life, be they technically alive or otherwise – deserves my steadfast remembrance. I now know how much comfort he must have provided me through some very troubling times. Even if I had not suffered any form of abuse, he was still of incredible importance to me. It’s not until you separate yourself from the compartmentalisation and look inside from the outside that you truly realise just how much you miss the thing/person/whatever. But I do. I do miss him.
On Sunday, Bippidee alluded to her oldest and most cherished protective/security toy, a teddy bear. I read her post and a passing memory of Mr Friendly fondly popped into my head. I wondered briefly where exactly he’d ended up, and recalled in smiling nostalgia my having found him in the ottoman that time. However, the reminiscence was brief, and rather than fixate upon it, I simply got on with the day (such as it was, sitting about on the sofa stuffing my face, but anyway).
Later that day, though, I got into a bizarre but interesting conversation on Facebook. The person with whom I was corresponding enquired as to whether or not I had any stuffed/cuddly toys, and of course I responded in the affirmative. I cautiously wondered if she was seeking cheap/free goods from me for her young son, but alas cynicism does not always prove necessary. Instead, her intention was to direct me to ToyVoyagers, a rather niche (to say the least) but nonetheless brilliant website that chronicles the travels of toys on holiday. Being the sap that I apparently am these days, I was instantly transfixed.
But there was something in it that once again reminded me acutely, and this time more dramatically, of Mr Friendly. Perhaps it was the description of one particular stuffed animal that noted that he was “rescued” from the charity of a window shop that set me off; this made me feel sorry for him, and reminded me that I felt sorry that Mr Friendly was and is no longer in my life. Maybe it was just the general importance in the site users’ lives of their stuffed animals and toys. Who knows.
I thought of Mr Friendly, and I felt a lump rise in my throat. Of course, I actively tried to suppress it, even though the only person here other than me was A, who is well aware of my idiosyncrasies in this regard. I remember that he was in the kitchen washing dishes or something; I went in, and mentioned this to him, trying to retain a light tone of voice. My mind did not want to co-operate, of course, and I felt my eyes fill with salty, stingy tears. I wiped them away and tried to do whatever it was that I’d gone into the kitchen to do, but it was a futile effort. I broke down slightly, initially saying to A that it was “ridiculous” that “I [had] tears in my eyes over this.”
‘Slightly’ soon turned to ‘ridiculously’, however. I returned to the living room, sat down, and absolutely cried my eyes out. You might even say that I wept, with long, hollow, presumably piteous sobs and moans of sorrow accompanying my unwelcome tears. (I think the last time I cried on something approximating this level was on this post-therapy, pre-NHS-discharge occasion, but it might even have been worse than that). Yet even as all this took place, the rational part of my mind urged me to analyse the situation; write about it now, it demanded, reasonably enough I felt – but of course my upset prevented me from doing so. OK, then; at least try to articulate what you’re feeling. I tried.
It’s not something I can easily respond to. I can only say that I was overcome with a visceral, profound sorrow. Perhaps grief? Whatever it was, it was deep and overwhelming, but rather than just experience that, of course I became incensed with myself for feeling whatever it was I was feeling over something so ostensibly silly (leading to this mini-rant on Twitter – thank you for all your replies, lovely people. You do mean a lot to me). The anger though, perhaps mercifully, didn’t trump the great sadness and longing that I felt. I just wanted my little blue and white ragdoll. I wanted to love him again, to protect and attend to him, to rescue him from whatever dark consignment he’s been relegated to. I wanted to make up for the years of neglect that he’s suffered and never let him go again.
I don’t know how long I cried for – maybe 10 or 15 minutes? A and I then had an analytical conversation in which we tried to ascertain what exactly what this fuss had been about. Was it about the doll per se? Probably not, we reckoned, though in my mind it certainly feels like it is. Was the memory of him a trigger? Perhaps indirectly; he himself bears absolutely no negative connotations whatsoever, but clearly he was ‘there for me’ during many great trials.
Whatever the case, it has become my desire and indeed this week’s project to get him back. I’m pretty sure he’s in Mum’s roofspace, as I said, but the difficulty is that it is not easily accesible; it would be all too easy to go up there, then fall through the floorboards and die. Well, as someone who knows how to do herself in, I can testify that you almost certainly would not die in such circumstances, but it would mostly likely lead to pain and injury. The darkly amusing irony of all this is that it was almost certainly Paedo that put Mr Friendly in the roofspace in the first place, as he is one of the very few people that my mother will/has allow(ed) up there. Her reasoning is that he is light and nimble (or, rather, he was) and knew where to stand to avoid injury.
The long and the short of that is that I’m scared to go into the roofspace, even though I will eventually attempt it come hell or high water; Mr Friendly is worth it. In the meantime, whilst I work out how to do it without breaking my back, I have been perusing the internet to get a stand-in: an exact replica of Mr friendly (or, more accurately, a precise reproduction of what he looked like before he incurred so much wear and tear). These dolls are not easy to come by: after all, their manufacture was in the ’70s, and they are long since out of production. Nevertheless, occasionally one does seem to come up – and on this occasion, I would for once appear to be in luck. To that end, I am happy to report that I am currently bidding for a Mr Friendly replica stand-in on eBay
I discussed this with Paul today (or yesterday, or whatever it actually was), and as you may imagine, he opined that my reaction yesterday/on Sunday was not really about the doll. Intellectually, of course, I know this to be true. In terms of pure feeling, though, I still completely see it as being about Mr Friendly. Either way, I’m going to get him back, I’m also going to get a second him, and I’m going to take damn good care of them both.
Mr Friendly helped me endure the macabre quagmire that was my childhood. It is now time to return the favour.