In mid-afternoon I hunch over boxes stacked in my closet. A teal, second-hand bathrobe three sizes too large drapes from my shoulders. White light streams through the mini-blinds of my bedroom at crepuscular angles that terminate in columns on the wall. My work—lit not by that which God spoke into existence, but rather filaments devised by science inside a dusty desk lamp—unfolds on the surface before me. I am a scientist.
With small but steady hands, the care of a surgeon, I bring my Swiss Army knife to the center of my latest subject: a faded green rabbit of matted velveteen, with listless, ethered eyes. This creature has participated in my games each of my boyhood’s eleven years. We shared tea on a picnic blanket in the living room three summers ago. We enjoyed the Margery Williams book of his namesake at bedtime for years before that. Among my other inanimate animal friends, he may be my oldest. He understands what must happen now.
It’s the closest I can come to putting myself under the microscope.
The knife ruptures each stitch in the fabric, and when the cut is finished, I proceed to examine the interior. Disappointment drifts into my laboratory like a cloud in front of the sun as I sort clumps of piebald cotton. This is not my first failed experiment, previously having disemboweled lesser playthings and cooked insects in Mattel’s wildly contrived Creepy Crawlers oven. I have failed numerous times at discovering what I aimed for.
Science obviates sums larger than a confluence of parts, and yet even with my rubber gloves on and my makeshift scalpel I cannot locate the source of my loyalty to this toy. This is my desperate attempt to trace and extract an irrational affection I am unwilling to bear but cannot escape. Proceeding into adolescence, I thrash in fear of loving other boys. In a year I will concoct a rosary to pray these feelings away. When that doesn’t work, I will transcribe guilt into a journal I secret away in the closet—on a shelf above what was once an operating table for stuffed animals. In years to come, I will discreetly seek reparative therapy; I will fall silently into suffocative love with two close friends, and for a time darken under storm clouds of disappointment when no identifiable logic can undo my desire.
But for now, I seek something tangible in the tangle of soft fabric and thread. Perhaps a maladjusted valve in the rabbit’s heart might explain my inability to set aside a plaything meant for a baby, not a young man approaching middle school. I am fumbling for a momentary solution.
The smell of dust burning on the desk lamp that lights my work reminds me how long I have been playing in my closet. With the husk of an unstuffed animal before me on the operating table, the only knowledge dawning is how I have transgressed a holy pact. Fear of being the sissy who still plays with stuffed animals has driven me to mutilate, if no longer a friend, an artifact of my own history.
I reach for dental floss, for the sewing needle. The velveteen cadaver will now wear lumps of disorganized innards, disrupted by pubescent turbulence—frantic to strip itself of childish things, of girly behaviors, of shame—a force not like science at all, which searches humbly for the objective. Is not fazed by emotional confusion.
I am no scientist as I thread the floss through the needle and crisscross it through the animal’s synthetic flesh. Compassionate and contrite, perhaps I am an artist, with my hand-me-down smock and appreciation for asymmetry. It will be years before I can tell for sure, but I do get an early start, stitching my toy prick by prick. His limp smile has already forgiven my trespass, like he knows I am the one truly injured by an artless compulsion to conform. By adulthood, certainly, I myself will be lumpy and rearranged; but, mercifully, all my insides will be intact, even after incision after incision after incision has been made to try to remove the very substance of my interior.