A satisfying click in the lock. The thud of your suitcase as you drop it at the foot of your bed. The satisfied sigh that escapes your lips. The sounds are loud and welcome in your empty home.
You fall asleep, giving in to the mid-afternoon drowsiness. When you wake up, you begin the dull task of unpacking. You remove the haphazardly packed shirts and pants, the sweater your sister bought you (which you only wear when you visit), and of course—
Wait. Where is he?
You always, without fail, pack Brown Bear, the stuffed teddy you’ve had since childhood, though perhaps stuffed is no longer the correct word. Once plump and plush with golden-brown fur, your old friend is looking thinner and greyer now. You loved his soft fur when you were very young. He was the most handsome bear.
He’s threadbare now, after years of love.
And he’s not in your suitcase.
No need to panic, not yet. You finish emptying the bag, making sure to unzip all the pockets. Still nothing.
Maybe he’s in the car. You go out to the driveway and fumble to fit your key in the lock (the evening light is dim, that’s all). A car has compartments, just like the suitcase. You open the trunk, the glove box, and peer under the seats. No bear.
Your heart beats a little faster now; you feel it in your fingertips. You return to your room.
You pulled him out with your clothes, you must have. He’s lost in the tangle of t-shirts and jeans. You laugh as you realize this, and begin sifting through the pile on the bed. Yet, there is no fur among the cotton and denim.
Lost, you think, for the first time. Something floating inside you—hope, perhaps—sinks a few feet.
The bear comes on every trip. You don’t even think about it, because it’s as straightforward as packing your toothbrush. You no longer drag him place to place by the paw the way you used to, thwacking him on corners, but he’s accompanied you on every move, and every trip home. You remember how you put him in your backpack on the first day of school with his head poking out the top so he could breathe. You would feel foolish doing that now (though you still leave the suitcase slightly unzipped).
You sit on the floor. You cross your legs. You remember when you first moved into an apartment of your own, without roommates. The first night, when everything was still in boxes, and you were alone, and you hadn’t put sheets on the bed yet, and you were sitting on the floor, you held your bear. His fur had already begun to thin, then. He wasn’t as soft or as golden-brown as you remembered. But he was something familiar to cling to in your new apartment, your new life.
You get up and half-heartedly go through your suitcase again. You vainly search your room, hoping that you put him back on the bookshelf and just forgot. You did not.
It occurs to you that you can’t remember ever losing him before. He’d gone missing, sure, for an hour or so, but you never lost him. Except now you have this horrible feeling that he fell out when you repacked your bag in the airport, and it’s a horrible feeling because you are certain.
That night, you lie in bed but can’t fall asleep. You are alone. More alone than you’ve ever felt in this house, though you’ve always lived here by yourself.
It’s only a bear, though. Isn’t it? A relic of your childhood you’ve never let go. A sentimental object.
A piece of home. A travelling companion. A familiar face.
A tether to the small child you once were, back when you were both soft and plump and new.
You realize you are now untethered.
Even though there is a lump in your throat, and a vague ache in your heart, something inside you rises. Something breaks free of the bottom and floats to the surface. There is no time to examine it now. You are already drifting off to sleep.
You awake late the next morning. The pile of clothes is half on the bed, half on the floor. You resolve to make yourself a cup of coffee before dealing with it.
The phone in the kitchen is blinking. 1 New Voicemail.
“Hi, it’s me. Just wanted to let you know that Brown Bear is still here. I found Lyra sleeping with him, you know how much she loves him.”
Sometimes you think Lyra looks forward to seeing Brown Bear more than you. You know that is the way of children, so you don’t begrudge her for it.
“Anyway, I’ll put him in the mail and send him along. It was really nice visit. I hope you had a safe trip home. Bye.”
The message ends and you press a button to delete it, cutting off the automated voice. You tap the side of the phone with your thumb.
Your bear is not lost. He’s just not with you.
Does that mean you’re still tethered?
There is still something floating, buoyant, inside you. It raises the corners of your lips, and then escapes when you exhale.
You dial. Your sister answers the phone and says she was just about to head to the post office.
“It’s okay,” you say. “Lyra can keep him.”
It’s only a bear, after all. Only a memory.
“I’ll see him when I visit.”