Few people if any would describe me as sentimental. I’m known for being pragmatic, sometimes ruthlessly so. Every puzzle piece in my life must serve a purpose, and once it ceases to do so I start working out its exit strategy.
I try to play the same role in other people’s lives. I believe when we meet people and develop a relationship of any kind, we should leave them better than we found them. Too few of us are only there to take and take, and give nothing substantial in return.
Even so, there is one semi-sentimental attachment in my life I hang on to. His name is Sergio. He is dark-skinned, with big brown eyes, of medium build… and he’s a teddy bear. This Christmas makes it five years since he’s been in my life.
I’m so hopelessly attached to this bear that when I quit my job in Jamaica and came to America to be a nomadic writer, I brought teddy with me. Best believe I wrapped him in a towel and stuffed him in my suitcase.
“You really brought that thing up here with you?” Mom said teasingly, when I pulled him out and stuck him on my bed.
“Yes,” I answered unabashedly. “Of course I did!”
She smiled to herself, shook her head, and left the room. My mother understands perfectly well why Sergio isn’t going anywhere. He serves a unique purpose in my life that nothing else can.
So what is that purpose exactly?
Teddy is a constant reminder to me of how far I’ve come. Whenever times get tough and my whole life seems to be falling apart, I see teddy at bedtime and I remember that there was a time when life was much worse.
2011: The year when I was faced with the possibility of dropping out of college in the summer, because we couldn’t afford it anymore.
Mom had lost her job and my college degree had already drained her savings. We were barely getting by. But when I decided I still wanted to visit her in America during the Christmas season, she bought the ticket anyway.
Though she was glad to see me, she was also disappointed in herself and maybe a little embarrassed as she told me she didn’t have the money to provide me with a good vacation. No more of those fancy lasagna TV dinners I loved. We couldn’t go out much. And we probably wouldn’t celebrate Christmas that year.
I was appalled. I already knew we were broke, and I knew full well we were lucky to have found the money for my last year of college. With all that on the table, I wondered why on Earth she thought I cared a fig about Christmas presents.
I was an easy-to-please-21-year-old. Give me access to WiFi and I would sit in a corner all day listening to music, writing, photo-manipulating, and playing video games. I barely even remembered to eat half the time.
Nevertheless, she needed the reassurance. “I don’t care,” I told her. “I didn’t come here for that.”
Tears brimmed in her eyes, and I changed the topic to something more pleasant. I told her I was expecting all A grades for the fall semester, and that I couldn’t wait to finish the new house I was building from scratch in The Sims.
The unpleasantness then took a backseat as we played catch-up on what I’d been up to since my last visit in the summer.
As Christmas grew closer, Mom grew more and more anxious. The Christmas of 2010, I’d gotten an iPod. The Christmas before that, I got a new laptop. And every Christmas, I got $100 to spend on whatever I wanted.
This year Mom had none of that to offer.
Finally, it was a few days before Christmas. She had scraped together some funds and asked me what I wanted for the big day. I shrugged and told her I didn’t want anything. She pressed, but all she got for her efforts was silence.
Later that week, we did some last-minute shopping at a local dollar store. While I walked the aisles, I came across Sergio and all his brothers. I plucked him from the shelf, stuck him under my arm, and carried him around the store.
Mom found me a few aisles over looking at electronic toothbrushes.
“Do these work?” I asked about the brushes.
“Do you want one?”
“No.” I put it back.
“Do you want the bear?” she asked next.
“No, it’s okay.” I then stuck him back on the shelf to prove my point.
I don’t remember if we even had a tree that year. But I remember being presented with Sergio, an electronic toothbrush, and $40 the following morning.
My mom was worried I wouldn’t like them. She apologised extensively, promising me she would get me better presents when she found a new job. But I was ecstatic to have the bear; and $40 was $40 more than I expected to have.
I’ve ditched the iPod, killed three laptops, and been through several phones in the past six years. Yet my dollar store teddy is still sitting on my bed, and has lived in two countries with me.
Some people say Christmas is not about presents. It’s about family and friends and getting together. Yeah, sure. Christmas is definitely about the presents – if you know which ones to give. Even if it’s just a teddy from the dollar store, or the gift of companionship…
Happy Holidays, guys. May all your Christmas wishes come true!