The Elephant Is Staying9 August 2018
I unpack my things slowly from my backpack, pyjamas, pillow, The Elephant. This is the moment where I can feel my fingers trying to hide inside my long-sleeved shirt.
“Oh! He’s cute! What’s his name?”
She doesn’t judge me, but I still panic, knowing I’ll have to answer the question.
Still soft and clean, The Elephant unlike most bed buddies of adults who still sleep with stuffed toys, has not been here that long. It started with Holly, a Christmas-themed bear that I was gifted the December before I was born, her white fur turning grey from all our time spent together. I try not to forget her like I did when I was four, leaving her at a McDonalds party and refusing to sleep without her, as my mother recalls. And after Holly there was Harrod, as well as a range of others, each taking turns so as not to dirty them or damage their fur. But from the age of 15, it has always been The Elephant picked up from a secondhand toy sale at my local primary school’s carnival. There are even photos from the day we first met, hidden behind a private icon on my Facebook profile picture.
The term “transitional object” was coined by Donald Winnicott, a British psychologist, to refer to an object that newborns often develop attachments to within their first year of life. These objects often aid in the movement from one stage or state to another. But adopting one later in life, at the age of fifteen? I haven’t found a study on that yet.
In September 2012 I finally found the courage to break up with the boy I had been dating for two years. What I remember from these years is very little. I even have reason to believe a lot of my difficulty with maths is associated with this and the switching of schools. But what I do remember, is being scared and alone.
Requests that I touch him or he be allowed to touch me under tables in classrooms where we were supposed to be learning, repeatedly attempting to open up his skin so that he could give me his literal heart if I wouldn’t give him my hand, and calling me every conceivable name under the sun—at 14 I didn’t anticipate this. We are taught that abuse is adult, that consent is closer to crooked alley ways than it is to the boy with blue eyes.
I learnt a lot about being lonely with him.
A few days after our first anniversary we were at my local carnival together. He and my other high school friends had travelled down, knowing it was one of the best in the area. As a prolific op shopper and hoarder, my first two stops are always the book sale and the toy sale. Hidden underneath the piles of brightly coloured toys, I found this bear-sized floppy grey blob. Two small dark eyes and a grey trunk, I met The Elephant that day. Laughing with my friends that I should buy it, as they knew it was my favourite animal, I distinctly remember the boy’s distaste and let him plead with me to not buy it. I put The Elephant back. Hidden, underneath other toys much newer and nicer.
In the last hour of the carnival, all of the stalls dropped their prices, the rides stopped and with no reason for my high school friends to stick around, everyone left. He did. And I returned to the toy stall where I finally took The Elephant home.
Then onto school camps where that the boy followed me to despite our break up weeks earlier. Then onto summer school, a year twelve camp, and university camps where I’d long since left him behind. Every night, The Elephant is there. Until I start dating again.
I met the next boy on Tinder, obviously. And from the first date, Logan* and I got along perfectly. When things moved along to “Do you want to stay over?” a few months later, I considered my options, agreed and spent the night.
I left The Elephant at home.
I can’t conclusively say that this is the reason that things fell through. The reason that I threw up halfway through that first night, or his quick kiss goodbye the next time I stayed over, or the ghosting before he travelled overseas and came back to date the other girl he’d been seeing at the same time. There isn’t a methodology or research paper that would accept that plausibility.
The Elephant returns to my side, my exclusive bed buddy under my own roof and under my friend’s.
“They don’t really have a name,” I stumble. “They’re kind of a feeling?”
She tells me how poetic this is. I shrug it off, but as she reveals that she sometimes sleeps with her teddy when her boyfriend doesn’t spend the night, I feel a touch of recognition. I clutch The Elephant tighter. Warmth fills me with the ways that we cope with loneliness and security. With trauma.
*Names changed for privacy reasons