The girl named him Care Bear almost as soon as she opened the large box he’d been shipped in. (He wasn’t one of the trademarked cartoon merchandising tie-ins, but she was young and impressionable and not one to agonize over the naming process.) He was larger than she was. She was only four years old and he, now named and owned, was more than four feet tall. The child had always loved stuffed animals, and the mere sight of him sent her into giggles and smiles. She stroked his soft beige fur and poked at his hard black plastic eyes and climbed on him and hugged him and put him in the corner of her room, right by her bed. Many nights she fell asleep looking at him.
She grew older, and she changed, but he stayed the same. She played with him less now, but when she did it was gentle and sweet and she kissed him softly on his polyester fur cheek. He was still there by the bed, but now she usually fell asleep looking at her poster of Kirk Cameron.
When she got to high school, she moved Care Bear to the other end of the room. He now sat in the corner by the bookcase. Their interactions were extremely limited but still pleasant. She sometimes confided in him, telling him about the football player she secretly liked, although when she caught herself doing this she would shake her head and sigh at her own childish foolishness.
He went with her to college, and he became a pillow for the half-drunk college girls to lay on while they ironically watched soap operas on the afternoons they should have been in class learning about child psychology or Peruvian literature. The girl was now moving beyond childish things and she never played with him any more. She didn’t even notice the way his right foot smelled like beer from one of her roommates’ casual spills. Nor was she around when the same roommate and her boyfriend used the bear to elevate her hips during a particularly sloppy and fumbling round of intercourse.
When the girl–now a woman–got married, Care Bear was placed in the basement amid boxes of Christmas ornaments and old mass-market paperbacks. She only entered his storage room once or twice a year, but her eyes never settled on his dusty visage. Above him, the sounds of small feet trampled the floorboards. It was damp in the basement; a soft must seeped into his stuffing and some mold began to form on the inside lining of his beige skin. He sat, festering, in the dark.
One day, a new little girl turned on the flickering fluorescent bulb that lit the storage room. She looked around a bit before spotting him. Her eyes lit up and she tried to get to him, knocking over boxes and creating a large commotion. Soon, a woman–the little girl of long ago–arrived to collect the child. When she saw her daughter moving toward the toy she herself had loved as a child, a warm smile formed on her lips. She moved boxes aside and picked up Care Bear. He was moved from the basement to the little girl’s room.
But he had a dank smell now that could not be mitigated by Febreze. And, upon closer examination, a hole was discovered in the seam that ran up his back. Stuffing was poking through. When the woman tried to repair the wound, she found the mold on his insides.
That Tuesday, he was placed on the curb, propped against the bin full of diapers and rotting food. The woman and the little girl climbed into their car and drove off, smoke from the exhaust the last touch from the girl who had loved him three decades earlier. A cold rain fell and ran down his black plastic eyes like tears.