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first person

Illustration by Adam De Souza

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Dear Fluffy,

I hated you before I even met you. You joined our family when my son was 5, a promise made by my wife to cheer him up about something he was upset about. She drove to the toy store that very day. She insisted that she had to keep her promise. I was convinced she was spoiling him. I was angry and I projected my anger on you, a stuffed toy tiger with amber eyes that sparkled when they caught the right light at the right time.

My son loved you. Even though you are far away from us now, he still does. He probably always will. He kept you by his side and did not spend a single night without you these past five years. When your seams tore, we sewed them up. Sometimes, when you got a bit stinky, he asked us to wash you and give you a bath. You came out warm from the dryer, smelling fresh and soft.

His devotion to you, dear Fluffy, made me angry. I love my son dearly but I wanted him to let go of you. Despite knowing how important it was to let him leave you gradually, I encouraged him to take breaks. I didn’t want him to depend on you, and I did not always respect his love for you. I wanted him to be independent and sometimes I pushed him harder than I should have. I’m so sorry Fluffy. I feel horrible for that.

You joined us on many journeys. When I was little, I did not travel much. I vowed to travel the world with my children so they could see the beauty that surrounds us with their innocent eyes. I hoped that they would appreciate the adventures we would have together as a family; that every destination would become part of a collection of cherished memories. I hoped that they would gain something from every monument, every hike, every beach-side splash and every sun-drenched meal. I also hoped they would learn from the harder parts of travelling. I hoped that by learning to be vulnerable and flexible, they would develop skills that would last them a lifetime.

We left for our latest trip when news of this virus was slowly building. I asked around and felt it was safe to travel to a destination that was deemed low-risk. We departed for Jordan and visited the most awe-inspiring sites in the world, from the red rocks of Petra to the multicoloured sand of Wadi Rum. We spent the night in a tent under a million stars. We watched sunrises and sunsets. Did he tell you how much he loved it? His eyes widened while we approached the massive stone-carved buildings of Petra. He laughed so loud when we hit bumps on our jeep tour over sand dunes. His smile was so huge when we serendipitously came across a baby camel. We were building our collection.

Then the world screeched to a grinding halt. Isn’t it amazing, Fluffy? That everything could change so quickly? That something we can’t even see with our naked eyes could instill fear in the most fearless? All of a sudden, bridges are shut down and walls are built. Everything closes. Everyone hides. Panic becomes contagious.

We knew we needed to get home immediately. We spent hours on hold while you watched and listened to us, nestled in the hotel linens. My son snuggled with you and you comforted him during every stressful moment. We changed our flights and were feeling weary but safe when we heard a knock at our door. The hotel delivered a letter printed in faded ink on textured letterhead. We had to leave the country. All flights were going to stop in 48 hours.

I panicked, Fluffy. Sweat beaded on my forehead. I looked desperately for flights out of Jordan. I searched for any sign of hope. We booked thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of flights to get home. We prayed and hoped and prayed again. When we got on the plane, we all breathed sighs of relief.

But we lost you, Fluffy. We left you in our hotel in Aqaba, Jordan.

At home, my son can’t sleep. He cries until his face is red and wet with tears. He keeps saying how much he needs you. How he can’t live without you. I cried, too, Fluffy. Our family misses you. You can never be replaced.

The world has changed, Fluffy. Perhaps you are in a better place now. Perhaps you were too good for what awaits us. Perhaps some other child will find you and you will bring him comfort like you brought us.

I don’t hate you, Fluffy. The truth is I probably never did. I rushed us out of that hotel so we could just get home. You brought so much love to our family. In your honour, I will try harder to be a better dad and husband. Life is precious, Fluffy. Time is precious, too. I don’t want to spend a single second hating anyone or anything. I want to share love and be loved. I want us to be healthy. I want to be safe. I want us all to be safe.

Javeed Sukhera lives in London, Ont.