Written by: Matt McGraw
Artwork: Jack Eisenhorn
I remember the first time my boy saw me. I was sitting on a shelf in a store, a shelf I’d been sitting on for a long, long time. People would pass by. Big people, little people, girls and boys. I always dreamed that one of them would stop and notice me. Sometimes one would slow, inspect me for a second or two, and then move on down the row. Animals all around me would get picked up by happy children and carried away from the shelves.
But never me. It hurt a little to not be loved. To be passed over and left behind, not good for anything but collecting dust. But I knew deep down that one day someone would stop for me. And that day it finally happened. He was walking down the aisle holding his mother’s hand. He was looking at every animal in the row and was just about to pass by when he stopped, staring at me. If I had a heart, and not just a bunch of fluff, it would have started pounding in my chest. He said something to his mother and she stood there thinking. Then she said something back. His eyes lit up like a firework and I knew. As he lifted me off the shelf and held me in his arms, beaming at me, I felt happier than I ever thought I’d be. I wasn’t just something sitting there and collecting dust any longer. This was my boy now and I loved him, and for the first time ever, I was loved back.
We went on adventures together, my boy and I. Some days we were pirates, other days we were astronauts. We explored jungles and deserts, cities and other worlds. We battled monsters and aliens and bank robbers, and were never afraid. No matter how far we went or how much we discovered, we always had each other. When I’d get rips or tears, my boy would take me to his mother, and she’d sew me up. I wouldn’t even cry.
At night, my boy and I would wait until his mother went to bed, and then we would stay up and play in our pillow fort. He would read us stories with his flashlight and I would always listen. Eventually he would get tired and we would go to bed. He’d hug me tight and say goodnight and drift off to sleep. Sometimes he would be scared of monsters and would hold me even tighter. I’d stand guard while he slept. I was a little afraid, but I loved my boy and that made me feel brave.
One day there was a new man around the house. My boy’s mother liked him a lot, but my boy and I weren’t sure. He would be mean sometimes when she wasn’t around. We would be playing with blocks or toy soldiers and he would walk right through them, knocking them down, and smirk. Sometimes he would yell at my boy for no reason and make him upset. The first time he did that, I didn’t like him anymore. One night we had snuck out of bed to play in our pillow fort, when the man came in and started yelling. He smelled funny, and acted meaner than usual. He tried to grab me out of my boy’s hands but my boy wouldn’t let go. The man tugged and I felt my arm come loose and watched the man stumble back, my arm still clasped in his grubby claw. My boy started screaming at the man and crying. The man yelled back, his face beet-red. He slapped my boy, hard enough that he fell down. We lay there in a ball, both hurt and scared. Then the man turned to face the door and saw my boy’s mother standing there. She stood there in shock, mouth agape. Then they both started screaming. She rushed into the room and picked up my boy and I, putting us in our bed and shoving the man out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
We didn’t sleep that night, my boy and I. We huddled there under the covers pulled over our heads and held each other as we listened to the yelling from beyond the door. My boy cried a lot that night, and his tears dripped onto the spot where my arm used to be. It hurt, but it hurt a lot more to see my boy so scared. I hated that man for what he had done to me, but much more for what he had done to the one person I truly loved. But still, I didn’t cry.
Eventually, the front door slammed and my boy’s mother came in and wept and held us tight. She kissed my boy and sang to him and rocked him back and forth until he finally felt better. I loved her for that. The next morning she cleaned up the house and sewed my arm back on. She still looked tired , but happier than she had in quite awhile. We never saw the man again.
Time passed and years went by. My boy started to get bigger. We didn’t go on adventures as much as we used to and would watch TV or play video games instead. I was never very good at controlling the joystick and my boy would always win, but I didn’t mind too much. It made him happy, so I was happy too. He would go off during some days and I’d have to sit on his bed and wait for the big yellow bus to bring him back, but I didn’t mind. He would come back and his eyes would light up when he saw me again. He still brought me places and held me at night, especially when he was scared. I was always the brave one after all.
Soon my boy got much bigger. He would go off and I’d have to wait a lot longer for him to get back. He wouldn’t look as excited to see me when he got back either, and we never went on adventures anymore. Other boys would come play in his room sometimes, and when they did, he would put me on a high shelf instead of my usual spot on the bed. I didn’t like the shelf because it reminded me of the store, but every night when they had gone away, he would take me down and fall asleep holding me, and I’d know I was still loved.
Eventually though, he stopped taking me anywhere at all. I would sit on the shelf all the time, even at night. My boy wasn’t afraid of monsters anymore, so he didn’t need me to be brave. He was gone most of the time, and when he was in his room, he would just be staring at a screen. I missed the old days when we would do everything together and was lonely a lot. Every once in awhile though, he would look up at me on the shelf, and his eyes would light up a little. At night I would watch over him from my perch as he slept, and think of those rare moments where he would show me he still cared, and wonder why he didn’t hug me anymore like he used to.
After a few more years, I didn’t even see him at night. Months would go by, and there would be no sign of my boy. I sat on my shelf like I used to before I was loved, and collected dust. I was lonely all the time. I worried that the big yellow bus had taken him away for good. I missed my boy and wondered what happened between us, wondered if I had done something that had driven him away from me. I didn’t cry, but I certainly felt like it.
When my boy eventually came home, he looked much older. He had a young woman with him. I couldn’t help wondering if she had been my replacement, because his eyes lit up every time he looked at her, the way they used to when he looked at me. He took all the things in his room and started to put them in boxes. Eventually, he got to my shelf. He stopped and looked up at me. His eyes shone as he reached up to take me off the shelf. For the briefest moment, I was reminded of that day so long ago when he first saw me in that dusty little store. The day he became my boy.
And then into the box I went.
I was scared, but I tried my hardest to be brave as I jostled around in the pitch-black box. I didn’t know where I was going, was my boy taking me somewhere? Would I ever see him again? Didn’t he remember all that we had done together, all I had meant to him, all he meant to me? I sat in the box and suddenly missed my shelf in his room where I would at least see my boy occasionally, something I never thought I would get to do again.
Suddenly, the box stopped jostling after what seemed like eternity. I waited in anticipation of what might happen next. There was a tearing sound as the tape was ripped off, and light poured in as the top opened. Familiar hands reached in and pulled me out, hands I had known since they were very small, but that were now large and powerful. I looked up at my boy in confusion as he smiled and walked into a room with pink walls. He turned me around, and then I saw.
A little girl, even younger than my boy had been when he first saw me, sat in the crib I was placed in, staring at me. I stared back. She was so small; almost my size, and her eyes reminded me so clearly of my boy’s. Then she smiled at me, her eyes lighting up just as his always had, and she fell forward and hugged me. Sitting there in her miniature arms, I looked up at my boy’s beaming face, and I realized what I had been waiting for, all that time on his shelf. I realized that I no longer had just a boy, but a girl as well. I realized just how much I was loved.
If I had been able to cry, I certainly would have.