Before I Forget

Half of the time I don’t even know where the hell I am at. A combination of anti-depressants and blood pressure regulators put me in a dense medicated fog every morning when I first wake up. Hiding my eyes from the morning sun does little to prevent the thoughts from racing through my head in a spastic jittery blur. It felt as if my brain was doing somersaults in my skull, or perhaps attempting to force itself down my spinal cord; twisting, jumping, spinning, like a plump tomato being forced down into the bowels of a juicer. It typically takes around thirty minutes before the thoughts eventually subside, so I developed some coping mechanisms to help distract me.

I managed to pass the time by sheepishly browsing over the white ceiling tiles in my room. 9 tiles wide, 12 tiles long, 108 in total; though to be honest I had never counted them all individually. One particular tile always attracted my attention due to a random nickel-sized hole drilled into it. Supposedly the previous owners of our house had used my room as a nursery, so I tend to think the hole was from a mobile that dangled over a wooden crib.

‘What an ugly room for a baby’ I dazedly thought.

Having my fill of counting tiles, and with my thoughts slowing to a crawl, I rolled over onto my side and aimlessly fumbled with my laptop’s power button. 10:43am.

I could hear my younger brother making his way down the stairs on the other side of my bedroom door; carefully taking each step one at a time, a quirk that he had done since he was a little kid. Debating whether I should get up now or continue lying in bed for a few more minutes, I tossed myself onto my back once more. Despite my lackluster attempts to fully cover the windows with blankets and garbage bags, the sunlight always managed to peek through the cracks I had missed; illuminating slivers of the room with a harsh yellow glow. I hastily sat up in bed with an abrupt lunge, and proceeded to run my hands through my hair in a half stupor. Tangled knots never received any mercy from me, as the broken bits of hair fell away from my fingertips in defeat. The pungent taste of bile rolled around in my mouth as I slid my tongue along the interior of my mouth guard. Gritting my teeth in anticipation, I pried myself upwards on to my feet amidst an orchestra of crackling joints. Morning.

I cautiously descended the staircase, taking care to brace myself against the walls of the stairwell; streaks of dirt and grease lightly stained the blue paneling from the numerous times I had done so prior. Our family dog, a golden retriever named Tank, happily awaited my arrival at the base; a saliva filled smile upon his face as I lightly patted his head. Half awake, I made my way into the bathroom and adorned my seat on the porcelain throne, kicking my shorts off in the process. Painful headaches tend to follow after the sporadic thoughts ease up, and this time was no different from the rest. It felt like a metal pipe was being pushed slowly through the side of my skull. I held my forehead and stared down at the crusty blue carpeting of the bathroom.

Some of the unique stains populating the carpet held notable experiences; such as the light maroon droplets near the sink from when my brother had an explosive nosebleed, to the off-green blotch near the toilet from a vomiting episode I had during a battle with food poisoning. I watched the carpet with eyes slowly glazing over. Portions of it began to dance and wave like foam-filled blue currents of the ocean; their ascending and receding bulges providing a brief reprieve from my headache. I ran my feet along the floor pretending as if they were submerged in a pool of water. Sometimes you have to lose yourself temporarily in order to keep yourself stable. Making my exit from the pleasant comatose state, I jerked my head back up with a sigh, coming face to face with my reflection in the massive eight foot mirror above the sinks. The beautiful shimmer of stars twirled in the corners of my eyes, most likely due to the sudden burst of oxygen to my head.

Staring blankly back at my reflection, I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath as I noticed my hair flipped on to one side of my head, prominent purple bags weighing down below my eyes, and the sparkling skim layer of grease plastered on my face.

‘That’s a look’, I thought with a smile.

After concluding my business amidst the land of hand soaps and toiletries, I tossed my shorts back on and made my way into kitchen; the smell of artificial pomegranate and mango wafting from my damp hands. I greeted my brother with our typical good morning grunt of acknowledgement, like two disoriented cavemen saying hello as they pass by one another. As he busily fiddled with a package of apple cinnamon oatmeal that refused to open, I prepared a cup of decaf coffee; the hum of the Kuerig machine coming to life and awakening my senses. I walked over to the cabinets above the stove in search of a worthy mug, nearly tripping over Tank in the process, who apparently took pleasure in lying down in the most unorthodox locations. He happily squeaked his stuffed duck lodged in his mouth, perhaps finding my near-death experience entertaining. Browsing over the numerous glasses at my disposal, I settled on a large black mug covered in images of my mother’s rabbits, hastily tossing it into the brewer.

The sweet pitter patter of dripping coffee had always been a pleasant chime to my ears. Leaning against the kitchen counter, I scrolled through the potential activities that I could accomplish that day in my head: work a little on my art, perhaps research more on the cognitive effects of loneliness, take a trip into to town to pick up some odds and ends from Goodwill? Not that I would actually do any of these activities in the end, but it’s the thought that counts.

With a fresh cup of caffeine in hand, I dragged my feet into the living room and slipped into my step father’s chocolate brown recliner; the tantalizing warmth of the mug radiating into my fingers. Lying my head against the back of the chair, I glanced up to see the ceiling fan begin spinning as my brother made his way into the room with a steaming bowl of oatmeal, promptly taking a seat in the sofa next to me. I clanked my fingernails against the side of my mug, slowly taking a sip while looking out the window.

The corn had grown surprisingly fast this year, taking the liberty of blocking out all signs of civilization with an abrupt eight foot tall perimeter of green. I don’t normally mind the years when we become stranded in a sea of corncobs; after all, the solitude had always been relatively pleasant. However, this time was different, I felt far more isolated than normal. The occasional car flying by helped to reassure me that life was still present, but for the most part time stood completely still. The cornstalks swayed in unison with each passing breeze; perhaps waving for me to join them, perhaps trying to signal to me that I was not entirely alone. I took another sip of coffee and closed the blinds.



1 in a Million

If you happened to be strolling through any mall, you may have passed by a Build-A-Bear Workshop; a brightly colored children’s wonderland where you are given the opportunity to build your very own stuffed animal friend; for a price of course. Much of the store’s interior is laced with an assortment of fuzzy critters for you to choose, as well as optional clothing and accessories for your new friend. Near the back sits the magical fluff machine, a bulbous yellow contraption that brings your new friend to life by means of filling its head full of cotton. For any child, the mysticism of this experience, the experience of ‘metaphorically’ bringing a friend to life, is one filled with excitement and wonder; planting the seed for a long-lasting relationship with their creation. It comes to a surprise to me then, when I happen to be scouring through the piles of stuffed animals at my local thrift store, how often I stumble upon these former friends; tossed away by the child for one reason or another.

Like many children, I grew up with a hodgepodge of stuffed animals at my feet; providing comfort on the darkest nights, and an open ear for my deepest secrets. Never one to judge my actions, stuffed animals became a stable foundation for me in a relatively unstable living environment.  From an objective standpoint, stuffed animals are objects with a high functional capacity. They are used to console, to celebrate, to play, to enjoy. They are objects that embody experiences; past, present, and future; both good and bad. They are vessels that neither record nor document, yet when we see a stuffed animal we understand that it has been through an experience. At some point throughout its lifespan, it has felt the touch of human hands, the compassionate eyes of a child, or the tears of grief. It is these experiences that I am increasingly drawn to. When I browse over the piles of brightly colored fluff at thrift stores, I do not see cuddly critters; rather, I see records of time, past relationships, experiences that are familiar, yet not of my own doing.

Recently I have been acquiring these thrown away friends; partly out of sympathy, and partly out of a growing interest in documenting them. Like an unrecognizable language scribbled on a cave wall, I know not the journies they have been through, but I can feel them trying to be heard.

(WIP) Matthew Dangler, 1 in a Million, thrift store stuffed animals, 2018.