There was a 10-minute period — after 11pm, after the campfire, after we had devoured s’mores enough to hold us until next summer, after we hugged tearful goodbyes and lamented — again — how we live too far away, after we had gotten back to the hotel, after we had gotten into pajamas, after we had exchanged a bunch of angry words over his too-loud whining and my too-stern reprimanding, after we had apologized and hugged, after all of that — there was a 10-minute period in which his stuffed (“She is not stuffed; she’s real!”) dog went missing.
This dog, you have to know, is his sibling, his child, his confidante, his comfort, his best friend, his love, his family. This dog has feelings and thoughts and desires. She is everything he wants her to be, and like the Velveteen Rabbit, she has become Real to The Boy. And to be quite honest, his love for her has made her realish to us, too. Realish enough that in those ten minutes that she was missing, I felt tears well up in my own eyes. The thought of her being alone somewhere in a pile of dirty hotel laundry — the thought of him thinking of her being alone somewhere — brought me real and tangible grief.
We searched together by the light of the phone flashlight in the dark room while my wife slept. Under beds, under pillows, under piles of our own dirty laundry all packed and ready to go home. We pulled back the sheets and covers of both our beds, searched in the bathroom. I even looked in the nightstand drawer and was met with absolute emptiness — not even a bible.
“Please go ask the front desk, Mama,” he pleaded. And then, quietly moaning to himself, “Bella. Where are you?”
After I had walked down to speak to the front desk, after I had determined that there was absolutely nothing to do tonight, after I had firmly demanded that this be handled first thing, after I had come back to the room and had found him asleep in the exact position I had left him, after I sat down at the desk and stared blankly at the closed laptop, after all of that — I turned around to do one more certainly fruitless feel-around at the bottom of the beds.
I found her! Tucked mercifully into a pile of flat sheet excess at the bottom of his rollaway. I fumbled to free her and then roused my boy from sleep because he’d want to know she was with him. A wide smile broke through his grogginess as he embraced her and whispered almost incomprehensibly to her — things about loving her and being so happy she was back.
His ten-minute heartbreak cracked me wide open. A little blue dog and a little sad boy and a late night fraught with goodbyes and the kind of tiredness that comes from jumping on a trampoline in the dark with your cousins — it has cracked all of us wide open.