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For my 5th birthday, my grandparents gave me a stuffed Gund puppy dog that I promptly named “Puppy”. An unoriginal yet practical name, Puppy was a fluffy, adorable, small stuffed dog with soft long hair and an expressionless face. He had two large, dark eyes and a hard, black plastic nose that had the texture of a real golden retriever’s.

Even though I appreciated the gift, somehow I misplaced Puppy during a trip to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina and I returned home to New Jersey without him. Soon after, I remember sobbing to my mother in a rare display of panic that I had lost Puppy and was desperate to find him. On the phone to my grandparents, my mother pleaded with them to search their home and after rummaging through their hall closet, under the snow jackets was Puppy’s small face, neither happy nor sad, that he had been left behind for months.

From that day forward, Puppy remained within close distance of me. At first, puppy accompanied me on long car trips to visit family members and family vacations. The summer before my 8th birthday, Puppy took on new role in my life: a guardian, a comfort, a best friend.

My parents’ bitter, traumatic separation led to a long, tedious divorce and through it all I depended on Puppy. His face, constant yet loving, helped me through my father’s awkward visitations- uncomfortable trips to bowling allies, Disneyland, and the movies. My father took pictures of me atop a horse while riding, a frequent Saturday afternoon activity of ours, with Puppy dangling in my 10-year-old arms. I chronicled my visitations with my father in my “little girl” journal and Puppy was a recurring character. I recorded my limited time spent with my father and my “little girl” rage at why life had changed so drastically since my father left.

At times, Puppy came to my child therapy sessions and acted as a mediator between the harsh realities of a divorce that my therapist needed me to face and my wild imagination that everything would return to “normal”. At times, when I didn’t know which parent I missed most, I would squeeze puppy tight and pretend that he would tell me, “Everything will be OK.”

Fluffy fur gradually turned into matted hair as the years went on. I started to notice the nicks and blemishes on puppy’s plastic nose and eyes. I would tell myself that each little tuft of matted hair was a hug I had given Puppy and I must have loved him too much.

When pre-adolescence faded into womanhood, Puppy’s place soon moved from the side of my hip, to a throw pillow on my bed, to the back of the closet, a place he had familiarized himself with shortly after he came into my life. And though I’m an adult now, he sits quietly in the back of my closet- alone and acquiescent, with that same expressionless face, waiting to be by my side if ever I need him again.

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