December 10, 2011



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.

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.