What is Real?

One of the themes of the book I just finished in February was the concept from The Velveteen Rabbit of someone or something becoming Real after enough time has passed. I even titled Part IV “The Velveteen Ragdoll,” since that’s when our shero finally finds someone from the outside world who loves her just the way she is. As it goes in the oft-quoted passage where the Rabbit and the Skin Horse are talking about the subject, usually the only toys who become Real are the ones who are built to withstand lots of love and wear. It doesn’t happen to toys who break or bend easily, and by the time you are Real, you’re far from your original pristine state, but it doesn’t matter to the person who made you Real, since once you are Real, you can only be ugly to those who don’t understand. And once you are Real, it lasts for always, even if the person who made you Real no longer plays with you.

My stuffed cat Davy (named for Davy Jones), whom my paternal grandmother made for me in 1988, is Real. Davy’s “twin” Davina meanwhile looks just as fat, fresh, and new as the day she was made from the female red tabby cat pattern. (I was only eight and still had the childish idea that twins, even toys or dolls, had to have rhyming or matching names.) Davy is worn rather thin, yellow from age, and has some loose threads and little tears from how worn thin he is. Some years ago, I queried a doll and stuffed animal hospital about fixing him up as best as possible, but was told that they couldn’t work with him since he’s not a plush stuffed animal. Davy was the stuffed animal I asked to be brought to me when I was in the ER after I was run over by a car when I was twenty-three. My father was kinda surprised I asked for Davy instead of a stuffed animal like my soft, cuddly Husky dog Keith (named for Keith Moon), but one of the nurses and a young doctor who did the CAT scan and chatted with me about Sixties music could tell why I’d asked for him. From his worn state, they could tell he’d been through quite a bit of history with me and meant more than any other stuffed animal that was still perfect and new.

I have something else that’s Real that I wanted very much after my accident, but I wasn’t able to have access to it for a couple of months, and even after I was in a position to have it again, I couldn’t touch it for months because it was tainted by happiness. Every afternoon after work, I would come home, throw Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme onto the turntable and change out of my work clothes into cooler summer clothes, while waiting for dinner to be called. The afternoon after my accident, after I got out of the ER (the doctors never even treated or covered up the first- and second-degree burns on my stomach and abdomen, one of many reasons I don’t have the greatest opinion of this particular local hospital), I was pretty much carried into the house and deposited on the downstairs davenport, with a huge thirty-pound cast on my right leg. I could barely move with that monstrous thing on. Needless to say, I couldn’t even go upstairs to where my records and turntable were. Even after I had an external fixator put on and I was able to somewhat maneuver myself into a chair right in front of the record player, I couldn’t touch that record. It just reminded me too much of the happy state of mind that no longer existed, since I’d always played it when I got home from work, when I was able to walk.

For the record, I did not make this record Real. It was in a pitiful state when I finally got my own turntable when I was twenty-two and asked my parents if I could take it and some other records from their relatively small collection. They haven’t had their own turntable in years, so they let me take them for my own. There is no paper sleeve for this record. The outer cover is only held together at the top, and a tiny bit on the top of one of the sides. Otherwise it’s flapping free on three of its four sides. I do not know if one of my parents got it that worn, and if so, how, or if it was already like that when whichever of them got it. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it’s been one of my Top 5 favorite albums for ages and that I love and accept it unconditionally in whatever shabby state it’s in. Remember, once something has been made Real, it lasts for always and doesn’t get undone. If I were to give it to a record store, I am sure it would get tossed in with the typical junk in the free crate, but to me it’s the ugly child only a mother could love. The record itself still plays beautifully, in spite of the extremely worn exterior. There’s some heavy surface noise and static at the beginning, but other than that, it plays like a charm.

I wanted so badly to listen to that record when I got home from my accident, since it’s so comforting, with all of the softness of a lullaby, the type of music I plan to play to my future kid(s) while in utero, the type of music I want them to be escorted into the world to. (I want a homebirth or at least a birth in the local natural childbirth center, so I’ll be able to bring my own music and have autonomy over what happens, unless chas v’shalom there’s a bona fide emergency that requires transference to a hospital or an OB’s care.) And I kept myself away from it when I most needed it, even when I was back with playing my records again. I was punishing myself, and for no good reason. It’s the same deal with how I gave up too soon when I was initially querying two of my books a decade ago. There was no reason to stop.

I might have had a number of books published by now, including my Russian novel that I worked on so hard and lovingly for eight and a half years. I can never make up for so much lost, wasted time, but at least I can learn from my mistakes and not give up so easily this time. I denied myself one of my favorite albums the same way I denied myself the chance to be discovered and start making a name for myself when I was still in my early twenties.

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