The emotional ordeal that would progress to my irrational breakdown began as I tucked my youngest daughter into bed.
"Ella, where is Oonie?" I asked. "I haven't see him."
I said the words and panic dropped with a thud into my chest. I hadn't seen Oonie, my little girl's best stuffed friend since toddlerhood, in a few days. He always slept with her, but he simply hadn't been around to tuck in beside her, to kiss his dingy brown fur as she usually wished me to do. She had asked for him the night before, but I hadn't been able to find him where she said he would be. I hadn't worried about it then, but now a new thought struck.
"Ella, did you leave him at the football field?" The panic had now traveled into my voice, and Ella responded anxiously, "I don't know."
"Ella, where is Oonie?" I repeated futilely and stridently as I left abruptly to check the likely places in the house.
"Maybe he's in the car," she called after me.
"I'll check," volunteered my son Berto, who saw the building emotional storm in my features, but I knew he wasn't there. He would have been buckled into the passenger seat beside me, and I had not noticed him there for some time. No, Oonie had been left at the football field where Berto had played Saturday. It was now Tuesday, and with each passing moment my conviction that he was lost forever grew by distressing leaps and bounds.
Foolishly, I spilled my anxious thoughts and began to bemoan the fact that I ever let Ella take Oonie out of the car. Matthew, irritated by the uproar over a bear and baffled by my mood, reiterated, "She should never have taken him onto the football field. He should always stay in the car. Ridiculous." And he strode out the back door with a flashlight to search.
My eldest daughter Ana was following me around, waiting for me to read her a Nancy Drew book. I settled uneasily into the recliner, and I tried - I did try - but my thoughts were agitated and visions of Oonie being thrown in a dumpster by a grizzled and sour-faced custodian played before my eyes. The first tears began to spill over on the book, and when my husband returned from the backyard, responding, No, to my urgent inquiry about Oonie, I dropped it.
"Ana, I can't. I'm too worried about Oonie," I said, and then I wailed to Matthew, "He's in a dumpster somewhere. A janitor found him at the football field and he's so dirty, they just threw him away."
My man was losing patience with me; I could see it in his eyes before I dashed down the hall to the girls' room. Ella was crying. Crying noisily myself, I didn't comfort my little girl. I was completely failing in my parental shore-them-up responsibilities. I should have held Ella, assured her sedately that we'd find Oonie very soon, that we'd search the length of the football field and ask the school's custodian. I should have recited "that's life" platitudes and invented tales about someone finding Oonie and keeping him safe until we could reclaim him. Instead I flipped on the bedroom light and leaned over her to peer with blurry eyes into the shadows under her big sister's bed. Ana was the one who held her little sis as she whimpered, "I'm sad about Oonie."
Then, suddenly, my man appeared at the door, holding out at arm's length a raggedy, saggy, big beige-colored teddy bear. He was holding him out more toward Ella than me, but I am ashamed to say that I snatched him from my husband's hands and let out great sobs as I squeezed him against my chest and buried my face in his fur. After a few moments, aware of my selfishness, I relinquished him into my baby girl's arms, pressing him to her chest now, and held them both against me as I rocked.
"Where did you find him?" I asked softly.
"In Berto's room."
I remembered then how I had let her play in there with an old game the day before. I also remembered how Oonie had been invited to a tea party in the afternoon of that day and had sat with other stuffed friends. Why had I forgotten that?
Meanwhile Berto was lecturing his little sister on why "that bear" should never have been in his room to begin with - that if he trespassed again, he might just stay lost forever. But nothing could disturb Ella and me now; we'd already swum through the sea of agitation to the shore of restoration. I tucked her into bed with Oonie, whispered, "I'm sorry," several times against her cheek, and gave the bear a kiss without being asked.
When it was all over, I couldn't explain myself very well to Matthew. I just kept saying the same things over and over. It's Oonie. She's had him since she was a little baby. I lost my earring today: I didn't want to lose something else, too. Natie gave him to her. But maybe that explains more than I could say. My big brother Nate, who I so rarely get to see because he lives far across the land and sea in England, gave the big, squishy bear to curly-haired baby Ella. In due time he became that special one, the bear she slept with nearly every night after moving to a big kid bed, the bear she christened "Oonie" as a toddler, the bear she dressed up in all manner of strange garb and buckled into the car with motherly care...the bear the firemen found securely strapped into the passenger seat after our car accident.
Ella Belle's best bear, Oonie, will never, ever, ever go to a football game again.