I’ve been thinking about things. I mean things in the sense of objects. This was brought on by Seymour, by writing about him.
I had a stuffed monkey of my own once. His name was Zip. I would put on puppet shows with him. I know this because there’s a photo of me doing it. However I don’t remember feeling affection for Zip, and I certainly didn’t talk to him or play with him. He was a prop, nothing more.
Seymour, despite his utilitarian role, is not a prop. Rather he’s a source of connection — to K’s childhood, to her mother, to every place she’s lived. In this respect, Seymour is not unique in K’s life. Our apartment is filled with K’s things. They take up every shelf we have, and if we had more shelves, they would take up those as well.
By contrast, I have few things, all of which are filed away, save for a few dozen books.
I keep a folder of photos in a drawer. I take them out now and then, but I would never put them on the shelves or walls. It would be distracting, and numbing too, in that something seen again and again recedes into the background.
When a space is cluttered, I feel unsettled, agitated. I used to feel that way in our apartment because of K’s things, but in time I’ve learned not to see them.
I often say that things — objects, possessions — have a psychic weight for me. This applies to precious things no less than junk. When something is precious, I want to protect it, preserve it. This is how I feel about the photos in my drawer, and it’s also why I keep them in a drawer, where I never need to see them.
My ideal space would contain few objects beyond the functional necessities. The idea would be to evoke and support a mindset of, for lack of a better term, meditative focus.
I recently asked K how she would feel in such a space. Her answer was immediate and certain: “Bored and lonely.”
I don’t doubt her. K’s things keep her company, and having company means a lot to her. Accordingly, her only complaint about our living room is that it doesn’t have space for an L-shaped couch, since that would open up more socializing options.
I’m not against socializing options but it’s the last place my mind goes when I think of ideal spaces.
Here I return to the photo of Zip. It was taken in the dining room of my childhood home, a dining room that had no dining room furniture because my parents couldn’t agree on what to buy: my father wanted to get whatever we could afford, while my mother insisted on waiting until we had enough money for nice things. Similarly our living room had no living room furniture, just plants. We called these rooms the dining room and living room, although precious little dining or living happened in either.
My parents’ standoff lasted my entire childhood. For my sister it was a source of shame and embarrassment, but for me it was a boon. I would hook a toy basketball net over the dining room door and play by myself for hours, imitating the signature moves of my basketball heroes.
K has a stuffed animal, a monkey, named Seymour. K’s mother gave her Seymour when K was eight, which makes him at least thirty-three now.
K sleeps with Seymour almost every night. She leans into him, wedging him into the crook of her arm and resting her chin on top of his head. If Seymour were a real monkey he would quickly suffocate from this. Indeed there’s no better way to suffocate a monkey than what K does to Seymour.
Seymour’s head is bigger than the rest of him. Wrapped in finely-woven terry cloth, it’s firm without being too firm to sleep on. Miraculously (a word I do not use lightly) Seymour’s head doesn’t smell. None of him does, although he has spent more than ten thousand nights (I did the math) jammed into K’s armpit and has never been washed. It’s like the miracle of Hanukkah but applied to stuffed monkeys.
The only time K sleeps without Seymour is when she’s away. She says she does this because he’s too big to bring anywhere, but I don’t think that’s the real reason. I think it’s embarrassment. I think it’s the idea of a forty-two year-old woman who can’t sleep a single night without her stuffed monkey.
On the other hand, K did bring Seymour to college. However, as she explains it, most of her college roommates had some ridiculous thing like Seymour, so it didn’t really matter.
After college K lived for a year in Israel, on a kibbutz, during which time Seymour remained at home (in a box!), I suspect because K didn’t want to be ridiculed by the hardcore kibbutzniks — no-nonsense types trained in the use of automatic weapons.
A confession: Sometimes, when K is away, I sleep with Seymour. I use the same method as K. It’s a nearly prone position, which normally hurts my back, but with Seymour’s head propping me up, I wake without pain.
Also, when K’s at home and I happen to get into bed before her, I sometimes hide Seymour under my body. Often K doesn’t realize he’s missing until she’s about to turn off the light, at which point she’ll sidle up to me in a manner indicating affection, or perhaps even desire, but then suddenly go for the monkey, crying, “Seymour is mine! My mommy gave him to me!”
When I asked K what people should know about Seymour, she said, “That I love him.” I love him too, in my way. He’s a survivor.
Although Seymour was made with great care, his manufacturer had no way of knowing that he would be suffocated all night, nearly every night, for thirty-three years. Because of this, and because time is kind to no one and nothing, Seymour is falling apart: his ears are split open; the paint of his pupils is chipping away; his goofy smile, a modest red thread, has been sewn to his face to prevent it from breaking (K: “I can’t make him frown anymore”); and he has dozens of small tears, many of which K’s mother repaired long ago with dental floss.
His paw pads are the worst. Seymour’s brand name was Corky, doubtless because his hind legs are stuffed with tiny bits of cork. Unfortunately his hind paw pads are prone to small tears through which the cork slowly leaks. In recent years K switched from dental floss to duct tape and then finally gave up and wrapped Seymour’s leakier paw in a piece of fabric cut from an old sheet. The paw still leaks but the fabric contains the cork. Eventually K intends to cut open Seymour’s paw pads and remove all the cork. This will solve the problem but at the price of eliminating the squishy crunchiness of Seymour’s hind legs.
Such is life, I suppose. You do what you can, until you can do no more. And in the best case, you succeed in bringing some comfort and joy to others, even if your own smile is permanently sewn to your face.
There was once a boy who lived with his parents in a house in the rocks. It wasn’t really a house, it was more like a cave, but it was a home and it was where they lived together.
One day there was a terrible flood and everything got washed away and the boy got washed away and he ended up in a place he’d never been.
He saw many things there but didn’t know what they were or how they had come to be. This frustrated him and made him confused and afraid, and so he kept trying to go back to the place he was from, but that place was underwater.
The boy’s name was Bill Gates, only he wasn’t the Bill Gates who is famous today. He was just a boy named Bill Gates who had lost everything, including his parents.
As the years passed, the boy slowly adjusted to the new place, so much so that he began to forget the place he was from, which each year seemed to sink farther underwater.
K: What happened to his parents?
M: He never saw them again.
K: So we don’t know if they’re alive?
K: Make something up.
M: What? That would be lying.
K: No, make it part of the story.
M: Sweetie, I’m telling you what happened. I know it’s sad but at least it’s the truth. The End.
I live in a secret room in an enormous building. I reach the room by crawling through a heating duct. The room has a mattress, a wooden chair, a candle in a dish, and nothing else. Someone lived in the room before me.
It’s the first day of school and I can’t find my classes.