They told me I had to go into the hospital for a few weeks. I wasn’t exactly sure what “diabetes” meant, but I knew it must involve vampires, because people were drawing my blood every few hours.
“You can pick any friend you’d like to bring with you to the hospital. Any one you want.”
My father held my hand as we walked into Ray Willis’ Toy Store and I looked at the rows and rows of cuddly and soft stuffed animals. My seven year old shoes clicked against the tiled floor as I examined the fare.
The soft ears of a gray elephant looked so nice. I could picture myself hiding behind them if I was scared. I saw an amber-eyed puppy dog with a pokey little nose. He looked like he could be my friend.
Then I saw it.
A huggable, marmalade-colored stuffed animal cat with bright eyes and a long, fluffy tail. He was sandwiched between a giraffe with the tongue sticking out and a stuffed octopus (can’t figure out why anyone would make one of those). I reached out with my little hands and grabbed him from the shelf.
“This one? Is this one okay?”
My father gave me the thumbs up. “That one looks good to me.”
Mom and Dad paid for Kitty and we started our drive up to the hospital for my overnight stay. Originally named “Tigger” but eventually falling victim to a less imaginative moniker of “Kitty,” I kept this stuffed animal at my side for every blood test and doctor visit. He was a loyal friend and received the occasional shot, too, when I wasn’t feeling brave enough to be the only one being injected.
I used to wag his tail and make him wiggle about, trying to convince people in the hospital elevators that he was real.
A boy on the bus in second grade tried to pull Kitty’s arm off and gave him a good rip. I cried to my mother, who was about to sew up the wound with orange thread, that she needed to use black thread so it would look like a stitch and I would know he was better. Ever-obliging, my mother stitched Kitty up and I admired his war wound with fascination.
Twenty years later and no longer the newly diagnosed little girl at the toy store, I’ve had this Kitty with me through it all. He used to look vibrant and fluffy, but now his fur is matted and mangy. He lived on my bed in college. He moved to my first apartment with me after college. Even when I felt “too grown up” to have a stuffed animal on display in my house, Kitty has managed to weasel his way into a bookcase or a closet shelf. Currently, he lives on top of my winter sweaters in my closet, looking at me with his matted fur and sad eyes from the mountain of wool and cotton.
He made me feel comforted. Admittedly, he still does.
He’s a testament to how long it’s been. And how far I’ve come.
(But Siah doesn’t like him too much.)