Bunny, that is to say i, am a wallflower. i am one by nature, nurture, and most definitely now, by choice. i talk a lot at work. i have to. guests come in and i need to find out a little about them, gage their wants, but mostly their desires. i feed on that desire like a vampire. it’s my job. get their money for our store. but i also try to get them to get for themselves what they want. and when i do their heart ceremony, i sincerely try to make it memorable, to make the hard earned money that they are going to spend on a stuffed animal worth their while.
so i cannot help but see things that might go unnoticed in a fast paced world. yhe fast pace all comes screeching to a halt at the “Choose Me,” at the sound board, and most definitely at the stuffer where the lines can get a little long if there are larger crowds in the store.
working in the store, a lot of the time people treat Bunny, me, a little like a servant. people get used to servants. they will say and do things in front of a servant they would never do in say the check out line of the grocery store, or in front of family during holidays, or at a scout meeting or school carnival.
"it's a mad world."
this is what Bunny sees. sometimes it is warms her spirit. sometimes it frightens her soul. sometimes it breaks her heart.
the father spills all this out to me. he cries in the store. i run and get him a tissue. i listen to him. i talk him into making Build-A-Bear their thing. i talk him into buying a bear and putting his voice on a build-a-sound. he buys clothes and shoes, little glasses; he makes the bear look just like him. he buys gift cards that he plans on keeping for his daughter so that when he gets her on his once a month visit, he can bring her in to the store. he likes that this can be “their thing.” he leaves a little bit relieved. i feel drained. and worried. i’ve also talked him into talking to his lawyer to see if getting his daughter a cell so that he can text her would break any of the edicts set forth by the mother.
i was the party bear for a 6-year-old’s birthday party. she had 11 guests in the 5 and 6 age range. you really need to be on your game to keep them entertained while they wait for their animal to be stuffed. two little girls got up and stood directly in front of me demanding that i stuff their bears first, before the birthday girl. they did not feel they had to wait. they said that since they were Indian, they had a higher status than anyone else. they told me their father’s family was very rich and very important back in India therefore making them certainly more important than anyone at that party. they should go first.
i said, “no. please, go and sit down.” their mother was standing there and looked a little embarrassed. she told her daughters to go and sit down. these two little girls turned and cursed her. they told her she was white and did not understand. they said they were going to tell their father on her. i interrupted their cursing their mother and asked them, “is your father or anyone in your father’s family a doctor?” no, they were in banking. i said, “so no one in your family has cured a disease? no one has helped humanity in any way other than to handle money?" the girls looked stunned. i continued. "i have just seen the two of you disrespect your mother. i see nothing here that warrants you to get special treatment. come back to a party where you have helped someone or have been respectful to the mother who gave birth to you and i will make sure you go first.” they sat down. their mother thanked me later but for a couple of days after that i was stressed that their father might call to have me fired. he never did. i still work there.
i sat before a mother who smacked the back of her son’s head and told him he was stupid. it was because he wanted his bear to say “i love you” rather than have the roar put in. he didn’t like the roar. his mother made him get the roar.
i have stood before a mother who took an already stuffed tiger out of her 2-year-old son’s hands and told him he was too bad to have it. she told him he would “probably kill it. you’re that bad. you're stupid and bad.” she thrust the tiger into my arms and said, “take it back. he doesn’t deserve this.” the now sobbing child’s offense? he had accidently stepped on her foot that was wearing a very pretty sandal. she said it hurt and he probably messed up her expensive pedicure.
a mother took her 3-year-old out of his stroller and let him walk around the store. she stood in line at the stuffer. there was a lot of people in the store. suddenly this mother shrieked! “where’s Toby? where the fuck is my son? there are too many GD people in this fucking store! everyone get the fuck out so i can find my son!”
he was in his father’s arms not two feet from this woman. when the man got his wife to calm down and see that he was standing right there with their son she took the child from his father’s arms and said, “you fucking asshole! he needs to walk around.” she put her son back on the floor where he immediately went to his father to be picked up. she smacked her son’s bottom, hard, and pushed him away from them. “he needs to learn independence. stop picking him the fuck up!” as a collective, everyone in the store shook their heads.
so many stories i could tell, but i will close this with one.
a woman came in on the 2 year anniversary of my Dragon’s death. i worked that day. no one knew what that day meant to me. no one knew that inside i was struggling to breathe. the woman had her two daughters with her, 9 and 13. she wanted to buy a bear for each of them. there was something about the woman that was off. i sensed her disquiet. nothing she said. nothing on her face. she was loving and smiling, laughing with her daughters. girls day out.
i mentioned that maybe she would like to put her voice on a build-a-sound for each of the bears, that way her daughters would always have her voice with them. her face brightened, but still had an inscrutable quality to it. she wanted to do that so i took her off to the side, to a part of the store where it was quieter. she said to each of her daughter’s, “Mommy loves you so much. I will always be with you.” it hit me like a ton of bricks.
we stuffed the bears and put in what i call the “thumpy-thumpy heartbeat.” it is a little red heart that, when you press it, thumps for about 5 beats. it’s cool if you like the realism. i did a very poignant heart ceremony, more emotion than even i usually do. i felt i needed to.
when her daughters ran off to give their bears an “air bath,” the mother thanked me, hugged me and started to get very teary. she said, “the girls don’t know it yet, but i have to go back in for more breast cancer surgery. it will be the third time. i just don’t know. but thank you for this day. thank you for talking me into putting my voice in those bears. thank you so much for that heart ceremony.”
about 5 weeks later, their father came in to see me one day when i wasn’t working. he asked for my schedule. he wanted to talk only to me. no one knew why. he was very serious. everyone thought he was mad at me. so we waited for him to come in. when he walked in there was no other guest in the store. his eyes scanned us bear associates and his eyes stopped on me. he saw me with Bunny on my back. he walked up to the counter and said, “you did something extraordinary for my family. those bears, my wife was the one who went in for more cancer surgery. those bears mean everything to my girls now. my wife died on the table. i just wanted you to know that your talking to my wife, listening to her, it meant so much to her. my girls won’t let go of those bears except to go to school. i was wondering if i could buy more of those sound boxes and make more recordings of my wife’s voice i’ve collected. her cell phone message. from family movies. i don’t ever want my girls to not have a bear without her voice.”
i showed him how he could even make a re-recording of the one that was already in the bear, of the one she had made that day specifically for her girls. he bought 10 build-a-sounds. before he left he looked at me and said, “you understood what was happening, didn’t you? before she told you, she said you knew. what gave it away?”
i told him it was her eyes and her words. she had said, “I will always be with you.” i told him that "my husband had died and everyone tells me he will always be with me. if you say it, if you say that to someone, well, it’s not something you say unless you know you might be leaving.”
he nodded and shook my hand. “my girls and i, we’ll come back and see you soon.”
they have. i get hugs from the girls every time they come in. it also breaks my heart every time i see them. they are all hurting so badly, but then i understand that kind of pain. i understand any and every kind of pain. i see it all the time.