It was a cold and dark morning. The sun was still fast sleep behind the misty mountaintops as we lined up outside of my middle school waiting for the Greyhound buses to arrive. On one side of me stood my mother, all wrapped up in a warm winter coat, trying her best to fight off the early morning chill. On the other side of me sat my suitcase, packed full with enough clothing to last me for the three-day, two-night field trip I was about to go on with my sixth grade class. In my arms was Mr. Bear. I had pulled his hood up onto his head in order to keep him warm, and I held him tightly against my chest. While most girls my age were embarrassed by their stuffed toys, I paraded mine around proudly. I had no shame and couldn’t care less if the others thought he was childish. There was no way that I was going to let him miss out on the exciting adventure I was about to have at the Atlanta Zoo.
When the busses finally arrived, the smell of exhaust filled my nostrils and nervousness began to creep through my veins. As a “grown-up” twelve year old, I felt as though it was childish for me to be feeling this way, so I did my best to put on a face of indifference as I shoved my suitcase into the bottom of the bus. My mother pulled me into a tight hug as the tears began to roll down her cheeks. “Your first time ever going away from home!” She said between sobs as I desperately tried to wiggle from her tight grasp. “Mom! People are beginning to stare!” I said as she held me tighter. “Let them stare!” She cried. “I don’t care! I’m going to miss you!”
When it was finally time to board the bus, I turned to look back at my mother. She was smiling as the tears continued to flow from her eyes. I smiled and waved back, trying my best to keep up my bravery charade. Once I was seated comfortably on the bus, I sat Mr. Bear snuggly in my lap and waved out the window to my mother one last time. Despite my valiant attempt to remain brave, a single tear still managed to escape from my eye as the bus began to make its way out of the parking lot.
February 9th, 2004 was the day that I turned ten years old. My childlike mind was full of excitement over the fact that I was finally turning a two-digit number. “Turning ten is a big deal,” I remember my dad telling me. “You’re no longer a little kid anymore. You’ve officially joined the big kids club!” This, of course, filled my little heart with pride, and my excitement for the day only grew stronger. My mother was busily preparing for my party. I had invited all of my close friends and was waiting impatiently at the door for their arrival.
Finally the time had come, and one by one cars begin pulling into the driveway. Sleepovers had always been my favorite way to celebrate my birthday, so my party guests entered my house lugging sleeping bags and pillows in preparation to spend the night. The kitchen table slowly began to fill with brightly wrapped boxes and big, shiny bags tied tightly with colorful bows and twisty ribbon. The kitchen held a variety of smells: the savory aroma of pepperoni pizza stacked high in cardboard boxes on the counter, the sweet and familiar smell of cookie cake that my mother had bought every year for my birthday, and the faint smell of my friends’ houses that lingered on their pillows and bags.
After scarfing down my last slice of cookie cake, I ran to my mother, begging her to let me open my presents now. After some convincing, she finally gathered everyone in the living room, and one by one I began to unbox or unbag the various gifts I had been given. To this day, I still love the sound of ripping wrapping paper and the slight crunch it makes as it falls to the floor. As usual, my mother would make me pause after opening each gift, pose for a quick picture, and then thank the person from whom the gift was from. Gift after gift was opened and this routine continued. Pause, pose, thank. Pause, pose, thank. Finally the sad moment had come in which I had reached my last present. This present was in a brightly colored bag with a tag reading, To Lindsey, Love Mom. Slowly and carefully, I tugged at the purple and blue ribbons, until the bag was open. After tearing through towers of tissue paper, I could finally catch a glimpse of the furry white ears that poked up through the opening. With a burst of excitement, I pulled out the fluffy, white bear with the purple, draw-string hoodie and quickly ran to my mother for a warm and loving embrace. It was in that moment that my “creative” ten year old mind decided that the most appropriate name for my new friend would be Mr. Bear.
“Choose a specific object that you’ve encountered throughout your life,” I read aloud from the paper that holds my assignment. “Write a brief series of descriptions of moments in which the object has played a role.” My mind begins to race. What is something that is important to me? I do a quick scan of the room, when suddenly, it hits me. My eyes begin to focus as I hone in on the object that has been with me since I was only ten years old: my stuffed bear. Once upon a time, this bear had been all white, fresh and new. However, now he’s beginning to grey with age. He’s wearing a purple draw-string hoodie with the words “LOVE U” right in the center in all caps. The strings that hang from his hoodie are beginning to fray, and his once fluffy fur is now matted and dirty from long nights and playful afternoons spent outside in the dirt. To others, this bear may seem like just another ratty old children’s toy, but to me, he is so much more.
As I slowly and carefully pick up my bear, memories of moments both happy and sad fill my mind. His familiar fur greets my fingers and sends my mind on a memory-filled rollercoaster. His dark round eyes stare back at me, and his face holds a comforting expression of understanding. How many nights have I hugged this bear, tearfully believing that he was the only one who truly understood me? How many times have I carried him along with me on long family vacations and reluctantly left him behind to wait in the hotel room as we went out to dinner? What is it about this bear, this stuffed animal that has brought me so much happiness? As I hold him in my arms as I have done so many times before, my mind begins to replay the day in which I first laid eyes on him.
Today is the day of my Baptism. Nine year old me wiggles impatiently as my mother tries desperately to brush the knots out of my thick, tangled hair. I am wearing the shirt that she made me specifically for this occasion. It has a bright red heart painted on it and reads “I gave my heart to Jesus”. My nine year old mind is full of wonder and excitement.
Me: So, tell me. How this is going to play out again?
Mom: Lindsey, I have already told you what’s going to happen. And besides that, you’ve seen it done many times before!
Me: Just tell me one more time…please? I promise I won’t ask again!
Mom: (Sighs) Okay. You’ll stand in line at the top of the stairs that lead into the tub. Pastor Roy will give his speech about how all of you have chosen to accept Jesus, and then one by one he will ask you to step down into the water with him.
Me: Will it be cold?
Mom: No, it’s warm like bath water. But remember to step in carefully because if you slip, you’ll fall in and it will be embarrassing.
Me: Okay….then what?
Mom: You’ll stand in front of him sideways and he will take your hands. That’s when he’ll announce to everyone that you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.
I grip my face dramatically in an attempt to impersonate the victims on the late night horror movies I wasn’t supposed watch, and then let out my best and most award-winning gasp of terror.
Me: HE’S GOING TO TAKE MY HANDS?!?
Mom: Lindsey, for the love of God, you know what I mean!!
Me: You said it, not me….So after he gruesomely takes my hands from me, then does he dunk me?
Mom: Lindsey, stop fooling around. This is a serious matter! And no, not yet.
Me: Well then when does he dunk me?
She sighs and continues to yank at the stubborn knots in my thick red hair.
Mom: Not until after he asks you if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Me: But wouldn’t he have just said that to everyone? Why would he tell everyone that I already have and then ask me?
Mom: (Clearly beginning to lose her patience) I don’t know, Lindsey! That’s just how it works!
Me: (Pause)…..And then he dunks me?
Mom: (Sighs) No. not yet. Not until you say yes…
Me: (Interrupting) But what if I say no?
She abruptly stops brushing my hair and sternly looks me in the eyes.
Mom: Why on Earth would you say that?!
Me: (Laughing) It sure would shock him! Ha! He wouldn’t see that coming!
Mom: (Angrily) Lindsey!
Me: Okay, geez I’m only kidding!
She stares at me, arms crossed over her chest, looking un-amused.
Me: Soooo…I’ll say yes…and then he’ll dunk me!
Mom: No. Then he’ll say I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…
Me: (Interrupting yet again) And theeeeen he’ll dunk me!
Mom: Not yet! He’ll ask quietly if you want to hold your nose…
Me: Which I’ll say yes….
Mom: And then….
Me: (excitedly) He’ll dunk me!
My eyes opened. I was completely and totally shrouded in darkness. Fear struck my heart as I reached out, searching for something, anything, to hold on to. In my mind, the monsters began to form. They growled from beneath my “big girl” bed and snarled from inside my closet. My heart was racing and my palms began to sweat. I could feel the railing that surrounded my bed, protecting me from their reach, but my fear grew stronger and stronger. I felt the sobs rising up through my throat until I released them with a vicious scream! My wailing continued until the light flicked on and the soothing voice I had come to know so well enveloped me in warmth and love.