Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior by Multiple Authors

at 6:30 AM

Henley’s Scars

by February Grace

Henley is old now, and so am I.

At least, that’s the way I feel sometimes, when I look at him and remember all that we have been through together.

He was a gift from my grandmother to me when I was four; every stitch in his little body knitted with loving care. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t fancy like the teddy bears at the toy store; that his arms and legs didn’t bend, but were always curiously splayed out as if he was surprised by something, and had jumped in shock and frozen that way.

It never mattered to me that his left eye was a little bit bigger and lower set than the right, or that his fur was a curious shade of bright orange not naturally found on bears in the wild. All that mattered to me was that Grandma had made him, just for me, and told me that he was always going to be there.

He was always there, through many adventures and washing machine cycles and dryer tumbles, to clean him all up after I had a cold or tonsillitis or some other manner of childhood illness. I attributed super-hero powers to him in my small mind, imagining that only someone made of extraordinary material could survive the trip through such hot and violent machinery. I never seemed to notice that every time, he came out of the process a little older; that his stitches would be looser, his stuffing just a little flatter. Sometimes a stitch would pull and I would tearfully take him to my grandmother, who would lovingly find the closest-matching yarn she had in her stash at the time, get out a needle, and begin to sew over it.

That is how Henley got his scars, and to me, each one made him more perfect.

Each line was a little victory over unraveling; and I always marveled that she left no visible knots, even though knotting the yarn would have been a much faster way of finishing off the repair work.

No, she never took short cuts where he was concerned. She took great care with him, as she always did with me. And the older I get, the more I appreciate not only the craftsmanship that went into designing my little sunshine-colored companion, but the love and affection that went into maintaining him as a stable presence in my life.

No matter what went wrong, Henley was always there. I soaked his ‘fur’, worn and threadbare in spots even where there were no ‘scars’, with my tears on more occasions than I can count. He never seemed to mind.

When I went away from home, he was always my link back to it, to safety, to warmth and love in my grandmother’s arms; a magical place unequaled anywhere else, even in the embrace of my own mother.

Henley went on airplane rides with me and took long, hot summer vacations. He rode in the car, always seat-belted in securely beside me. He was my first thought in the morning, and my last at night, as I snuggled him close under my arm and never let him go.

Once or twice there was a real scare concerning his condition. The day I turned six, a large hole appeared and his stuffing began to leak out. Later that year his eyes began to fray, and I was terrified he would go blind.

Over the years those eyes were sewn back on many times, changing his expression slightly every so often, in ways that only I was aware of. Each new configuration of his features seemed to add to his wisdom, and so too, mine as I grew. Our imaginary conversations became more involved and complicated.

I hated it whenever anyone tried to tell me what Henley was thinking, or worse, saying. No one should ever put words in a teddy bear’s mouth, I declared; only they know what they’re really thinking and only their specific child can interpret it to the world.

My mother never liked it when Henley was interpreted as saying that he hated raisins in his oatmeal, and so did I.

Many times over the years, my friends tried to talk me out of carrying Henley around with me, or, when I got older, from displaying him on my bed. He was to be replaced, they said, first by dolls, then by electronics, and finally by a boy’s gifts — gaudy bears with rough synthetic coats and lifeless plastic eyes, won for me at carnival games and school Spring Flings.

I’d always end up giving such trophies away to younger siblings and their friends, feeling that to keep them would somehow be disloyal to my best friend, my one and only bright orange Henley, with his precious, artful scars.

I’m not ashamed to admit that Henley came with me on my honeymoon. Instead of making fun of me, the man I married understood that Henley was a member of the family and treated him as such. Henley has been photographed with landmarks and monuments alike, each picture lovingly arranged and appropriately captioned in his own special scrapbook.

Every trip he’d come back a little more worn, a little more frail. I never dreamed of attempting to repair him myself, though, no matter how old I got. That was a job that only one pair of skilled and loving hands could do.

So I would pack him up carefully and take him to see Grandma, and she would strain to see with aging eyes where the old stitches left off and begin to stitch in new thread, to give an old friend life again.

“We all have our scars, don’t we little guy?” she would say so gently, as she tucked in a little fresh stuffing to add to the old, sewed over the hole or weak spot, and always finished by giving him a little kiss on top of the head.

Every time she handed that bear back to me, I would feel the same love that I’d felt for him, and for her, when I was four.

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Genre - Short Story Anthology

Rating – PG13 (some strong language)

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