Thursday, 27 September 2012

To Teddy or not Teddy: The Story of Thumper

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 When I first left for university deciding what to bring with me was difficult. Which of my (many) fashion books were essential? Could I fit all my clothes into the small wardrobe that came with my room? (The answer was to buy a clothes rail.) Would I need my items of neon fancy dress (yes) or an iron? (It turns out that shaking clothes is fine when you really, really hate ironing.) And importantly, was I going to bring Thumper with me?

Thumper and Me, Age 6

Thumper is a lumpy grey animal that was once a fluffy pink rabbit. The stuffing is coming out of her neck and her fur is matted - 'her' because she has been a 'she' all my life in the same way that I cannot remember a time when she wasn't in my bed.

As a 20 year-old woman, admitting to owning a stuffed rabbit called Thumper is perhaps a risk to my 'street-cred' (not that I'm sure that I had any). But I know that I am not alone. Throughout visiting friends at other universities I have found that despite different cities and different rooms they (nearly) all have one thing in common: a loveworn stuffed animal lurking under the covers.

I have always loved rabbits, and I have always loved Thumper. I can't even remember when she was given to me. She started her life on the shelf of a shop, with a ribbon around her neck and a bunch of flowers tied between her hands. The ribbon has long since been lost and as soon as she was given to me I cut loose the bunch of flowers (so that her arms were free to hug me).

Like all great and epic tales, the story of Thumper is not without tragedy. When I was about seven my favourite toy went missing. We were on holiday in York and one day after a trip out we returned to find we were one short: Thumper was nowhere to be found. I was inconsolable.

As a young child a soft toy is not just an animal-shaped cushion of fabric with plastic eyes and a stuffing heart. It is a shield against your nightmares and a tissue for your tears, with eyes that watch over you and a heart that loves you when your parents are asleep. When I lost Thumper I hadn't just lost my favourite toy, I had lost my friend and my belief that security would always be there just a reach away beneath the duvet. 

We searched and searched but Thumper was never found. My mum wiped away my tears and told me that Thumper had gone on an adventure and had found lots of other rabbits to play with. Then she went into York and found me an identical (if much cleaner) toy rabbit and explained that Thumper had missed me so much that she had hopped her way into a shopping centre where the shop owners had found her and cleaned her up (and taken off the plasters on her head from where we both fell over and bumped our heads, and retied her bow, and given her a new bunch of flowers) and that this new bunny in my arms was the very same Thumper that I loved.

Dad, me and a remarkably fluffy Thumper, post 'Thumper Incident'
I was not convinced, but I desperately wanted to be. My older sister could see how sad I was, so she helped me to make the new Thumper look and feel as much like mine as possible. Together we brushed dust into her fur (to make her look old like she used to) and cut her hair (that had been rubbed short against my sleeping face) and put plasters on her head and untied her ribbon and freed her arms from her flower chains. Eventually I gave in and hugged the new toy like she was my old friend. I had decided to believe my mum's story.

I know that it probably sounds ridiculous to admit it, but thinking about losing Thumper still makes me catch my breath. For years after The Thumper Incident I couldn't think about or go to York without feeling sad. It was an unspoken rule in the house (and still is to a certain extent) that we never talk about The Thumper Incident, and that under absolutely no circumstances would we mention the imposter in our midst. 

Of course, after all this time Thumper is my childhood toy in her own right, even if she isn't the exact same rabbit that I was given when I was two. She has followed me on my travels, listened diligently to my secrets (and kept them all) and her ears have dried my tears so many times that her fur is thickly woven with sadnesses past. Her ears alone can tell you the stories that her silent mouth can't, and after years of cuddling up to me she probably smells more like me than I do.

Me and Thumper, Age 9
I have obviously long-since stopped believing that she can really hear me, or that there is a live rabbit living within her stitched frame. But just because I have grown old enough to stop believing, that doesn't mean I have outgrown her. 

When I started university she came with me in my suitcases (along with the neon fancy dress). I was 18 years old, but I was leaving the warmth of my home and moving to London by myself, so Thumper was coming with me. I couldn't fit our cosy kitchen (that smells of flour and safety) into my bags, or my mum and her constantly nagged, 'are you warm enough?'s (which I secretly love), or my step-dad and his cooking and wisdom, or my big sister's laughter and strong hugs. So I brought my rabbit instead. 

Thumper and me today in my room in Dorset, Age 20
The Story of Thumper has now reached a very significant chapter, because my new flat is my first home that has not had Thumper in it. The decision to leave Thumper in Dorset has been an important one. I am 20 years old and this is my final year at university. Leaving Thumper behind doesn't just mean that I don't need a soft toy any more (because really I stopped needing one years ago), it means that for the first time I feel properly settled in London. It means that I have learnt to enjoy being on my own. It means that I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have before, and that I don't need the reassurance of a faded pair of rabbit ears. And that I am ready to grow up even more this year.

 All that said, this chapter doesn't signal the end of Thumper's story. She may not be in my flat in London, but she is safe in my childhood room in Dorset along with my collection of letters, a stack of diaries and a big cardboard box in the garage labelled 'Libby's Memories' in permanent marker. I know she will always be there to remind me of where I have come from and to dry my tears if I ever have need of those floppy ears.

In a way I guess Thumper is just like home. 

Thumper today in my room in Dorset


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