As an infant, the giraffe (Ginger) was Helena's constant companion. The elephant (Fred) would occasionally substitute. Perhaps she herself now identifies them with her babyhood. Whatever the reason, they've been left behind.
She entered into a string of relationships, a serial monogamist, with occasional one-night stands. One dog, another, a litter of kittens, then the little pink bear.
At age 2 and a half she found Nyo-Nyo, a bigger bear, blue. He'd been given to her shortly after her birth by my mother. He'd been bought originally for another Helena, my grandmother, who'd been ill and wanting a teddybear, but this bear never made it to her bedside. He'd been sitting in my mother's closet for years.
Nyo-Nyo, and his record for longest-lasting love, was usurped by a lion.
His name is Poilly — that is, poil ([pwal]), the French for animal hide, with the English "-y" suffix, for a uniquely franglais name (think "Furry" with a bilingual twist).
He's just a baby. Helena tells me he's a boy lion, just 1 year old. (He is in actuality older than that, and came to us direct from South Africa, courtesy of my sister.)
Certainly Helena's relationship with Poilly is the most intense to date. Partly, I'm sure, this is due to her age — a heightened imagination and capacity for role-playing (or script-writing), or a greater need for transference. The fact that he's a handpuppet enhances these factors — his expressiveness matches hers.
Poilly goes with Helena to daycare more days than not. He eats at the table with us. It goes without saying he shares Helena's bed. He's a constant companion, accompanying us on all sorts of excursions. He flew with us to Washington. He joined us for Christmas at my mother's house.
It surprised me, then, that for that 7-hour car trip, Helena insisted he sit apart from her. She doesn't want to vomit on him, she explained (she has a history of carsickness on these long hauls). She was not sick in the car; Poilly was spared.
But Helena did have a stomach flu the other week, catching us all off guard in the middle of the night. Poilly was an innocent victim, absorbing all her ills.
Poilly was carted away with the first round of blankets and towels. She asked after him — Poilly's having a bath, I said — but soon forgot him. Helena needed her mother's comfort even more than his that night.
She asked for him the following day, exchanged pleasantries with him, and let him be, still preferring her mother's comfort, I thought. But days passed; Poilly, it seems, was abandoned.
She coddled a bunny for a few days.
Sadly, after a proper laundering (sponge-cleaning simply wouldn't do), Poilly's glorious mane had been transformed into a frizzy afro. He looks, well, funny, and I feel sorry for him.
I confronted Helena on the issue. I considered the ickiness factor, and assured her he was thoroughly clean, no need to worry about les microbes. But no, it's his hair, she confessed; he looks funny.
I don't know if my moralizing had an affect — it's not nice to treat your friends that way, I said — or if she's simply getting used to his new look. Poilly's back in her good graces, joining us for supper and various other activities. They're sleeping together again, but I don't think they'll ever be the same.