By Laurel Droz
“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7
I got a new car this week. It was time. The old one was ten years old and had a mounting list of problems. It would be foolish to throw more money at it and I was excited to get something with some of the new technological advancements of the past decade. Besides, newer is always better, right?
Tears caught me off guard as I cleaned out the old vehicle. Here there was a stain from a road trip we'd taken during which my son had spilled his drink. And over there was the marks of a crayon my daughter had used to adorn the cup holder when she was 3. Every scratch, every stain, every apparent flaw, was to me, a memory. I had gotten this car a week before my first child was born. I had driven it throughout a significant portion of my life. It had seen me safely through both the mundane errands and the sudden adventures life offers. Those moments and the remnants they had left had value.
The dealership didn't see it that way. They saw the discolored floor mats, the dinged paneling and the rusted lift gate not for the stories behind them but rather as things that make a used thing look, well, used. Dealerships don't pay extra for sentiment.
That evening I sat cuddled up on the couch with my 7-year-old son, Joshua. He held, as he most always does, his beloved “Monkey.” Monkey is an orangish-brown plush orangutan, balding in patches from years of love, a gentle smile stitched below two soulful brown eyes. It has the smell of something with a history to it, and you can't help but to inhale its distinct aroma when you pick it up—it smells, for lack of a better description, like home.
I, meanwhile, held a monkey of my own—a twin to the one Josh clutched, bought years and years after his made it's way to my house. It's not nearly as worn and doesn't have the same comforting scent, but it looks identical to how Monkey was when I inherited him from my grandmother nearly twenty years ago. I bought the new monkey when it became clear Josh would not be relinquishing Monkey, and I wanted one because before Josh took Monkey it had been mine.
It was the thing's eyes that first caught my attention. I was in Fort Myers, Florida, and my maternal grandmother was dying or dead. Her small apartment was stuffed with the hallmarks of old age—breathing tubes and other various medical equipment, knickknacks on shelves, afghans on a small couch. And then there was Monkey. It seemed out of place there, soft smile, soulful eyes that seemed to hold more depth than those of other stuffed animals. I ran shaky teenage fingers through long soft fur and found some small measure of comfort in a time that was an abyss of unease.
I forgot about Monkey until months later when I was unpacking the things that had belonged to my grandmother that had found their way into our basement. I was frustrated that we couldn't seem to unpack grief itself—couldn't find some high shelf to place it on and transition back into life as it had been before these things transpired. Instead it all sat there, tucked away, waiting to be dealt with. I was 16 and angry and I would open up every box myself if it meant things would just be okay. But I didn't get past that first box. I opened it and there was Monkey, its gaze meeting my own as I peeled back the sides of the package. I gingerly removed him from the box and clutched him tightly to my chest and I cried. The tears I had not shed at the hospital or in that hot apartment or in the funeral home poured over the soft body of that small monkey, weaving wet trails through pristine fur, marking it with grief outside the way grief had marked me in some way deeper.
And from then on, Monkey was mine.
It was mine when I went away to college, mine when I got married, mine when I moved into my home, mine when my children were born. And then one night, as my baby son lie crying, I offered my beloved Monkey to him in hopes it might grant him the same comfort I had found with it. It did, but from that night on Monkey wasn't mine.
Josh and Monkey traveled through the years as some alternate reality version of Calvin and Hobbes. They built Lego empires, they oversaw epic battles with Transformers, they snuggled tight for movies. Through every boo boo, every bad dream, every childhood anxiety, Monkey was there. And at some point I realized I should get a new monkey of my own, because Monkey was exactly where he was needed most, and that wasn't with me.
It took a while to track down the exact model of monkey that Monkey was, but eventually I found one, brand new, that had existed in a package in some warehouse for all these years. I excitedly told Josh about my find and when it arrived he stood humming with anticipation as I opened the package containing Monkey's twin. I took it out and stood dumbfounded that Monkey had ever looked this way. Soft, free from the damage life in the world brings, pristine, and entirely unlike the Monkey we knew and loved. Without thinking Josh and I both leaned into the new monkey and breathed it in. “This one doesn't smell right,” Josh sighed, clutching Monkey to his chest.
“No,” I agreed with a soft smile. “This one is too new. Yours smells like memories and looks like it's been well loved. This one just sat to the side. We'll have to put some time into mussing it up.”
It's been months since new monkey arrived, but the night of the new car I looked between the two monkeys and realized the one most would see as more damaged was still somehow better. And my new car is great, but I still feel ridiculously sentimental about the wear and tear earned by the car I drove before.
We have moments in which we respect this in objects sometimes; we recognize how a life lived leaves traces that, though they may reflect damage, also bear witness to memories. Those marks have merit.
I snuggled up closer to my son, our twin (but different) monkeys side by side. I took his small hand in mine and looked at how very new his own skin was. Free from the lines and scars and marks that come with life on earth. My own hands show their age. They bear witness to memories. They are imperfect, as is the rest of the skin I am in. And I wouldn't have it any other way. It means I have lived, and I have all the beautiful flaws to prove it.