On my first birthday, I met my forever best friend. He was small, chubby, and cute just like the toddler version of myself. But unlike me, he was an inanimate object—an animal stuffed toy that was gifted by one of my parents’ coworkers. A little dog the color of mocha, its ears the shade of milk chocolate, cream icing its belly and face, and red ribbons adorning its ears and neck. Guessing from my best friend’s features, especially his drooping ears, he might be a baby beagle. Among the gifts that were showered upon me that day, it was this little dog that captured the heart of little Ysabella. There was nothing extraordinary about him; he was just a cute stuffed animal, but it was enough for me to treasure him. From that moment on, he and I were inseparable.
Doggie, as we later named him, has been with me for 21 years now. With the absence of siblings, Doggie became my little brother—the brother I always longed for. In every childhood photograph of me sleeping, you can always find Doggie there. Sometimes he’s enveloped in my arms, sometimes a few inches away from my sleeping figure. Wherever I go, he goes.
During a trip to Baguio City, as we were on the night bus, I woke up from a nap and noticed that Doggie was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t on my lap, he wasn’t in my mother’s bags, and I was certain he wasn’t in my father’s backpack. I could not tell my parents, who were sleeping at that time, that we may have left Doggie behind in the taxi we took to the bus station. As a 10-year-old, I did not know what to do but think of my beloved stuffed animal being forgotten in a taxi. I have always treated Doggie as if he were alive and has feelings like a real dog. I thought about how sad he must be feeling from being left behind. I was on the verge of tears when I felt my foot hit something soft. I peered below my seat and there Doggie was! In my drowsy state, I may have forgotten that I was clutching Doggie while I was sleeping; I probably dropped him as I went deeper into my dreams. The panic that coursed through me at this particular moment shows how integral Doggie is to my well-being and, ultimately, my life.
Even in my teenage years, Doggie remained my number-one companion. During high school retreats, I made sure to bring Doggie with me, while my classmates brought their favorite pillows. Retreat houses were notorious for being home to ghosts, and although I wasn’t terrified of them, I still needed the comfort and security that Doggie provided.
In his 21 years of life, Doggie has been to many places: Baguio City, Bicol, Batangas, Puerto Galera, and more. But he has yet to visit Los Baños because, this time, I have decided to finally leave him behind. While packing my things for college, I knew that Doggie had to be left behind. Not because there wasn’t any space in my luggage, but because it was a deliberate decision. It was a difficult decision to make, but it was a necessary one that would help me grow into an adult. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed about being seen still sleeping with a stuffed animal by my roommates, but it was because of everything that Doggie represented.
Doggie is my youth. He has been with me in all stages of my life so far. He was there when I first scraped my knees after I fell off my bike; I was holding on to him while my mother dressed my wounds. Doggie was the first to know about my first-ever crush; I whispered my crush’s name one night before we went to sleep. He was always within reach when I got tired from studying for my college entrance exams; for a while, I would lay on my bed hugging him, and his presence is enough to reinvigorate me back to life.
I believe that as long as I hold on to Doggie, my beloved friend, I will remain too soft for this world. Softness is not necessarily a bad thing, but to survive the onslaught of life, I must learn to be hard, unyielding, and adamant. As long as Doggie and I are together, I would remain a child who is heavily reliant on her stuffed toy to take all the pain away. I needed to grow up and face the world by myself. I needed to learn how to sleep alone. I needed to learn how to weather storms on my own. I needed to be on my own.
Doggie’s presence would only remind me of home and give me the comfort of home. I didn’t need to be reminded of home, and I was trying to venture into the uncomfortable. I know that, whenever life becomes too hard, or I find myself hard-hearted, I can always go back home and bask in the tenderness of my family’s love. I didn’t think I needed a piece of home while I was away in college; I didn’t need Doggie because I can always go back home.
On my first night in my college dorm, I lay on a bed that was not my own, in a place far away from home. My arms have never felt so empty, but it was this emptiness that I needed to begin again. Emptiness means a space to be filled, and this is what I was. My arms were empty, but they were waiting and ready to embrace the changes that life has in store. For the first time in 19 years, I slept without my beloved stuffed animal. That night marked my foray into adulthood.
Ysabella Dominique Lonzame, 21, is a communication arts student from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She likes reading books and runs a bookstagram account (@bellamazingreads) where she occasionally writes reviews.
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