I stand in a room filled with all the things that I have ever taken comfort from. Books in which I have lost myself for days, their characters now like out-grown childhood playmates. Colorful bindings, which once beckoned, are now washed out versions of their original vibrance. Their faded colors seeming to mirror my memories of the happy times we once shared. The masks, so like me, handsome and polished on one side, tragic and angry on the other. Some laugh and jeer at me while others weep for me. How I long for the anonymity and freedom of wearing those same masks at Mardi Gras. They protected me then. But even they cannot be used to hide me from what I have done.
The worst of it is the animals. The stuffed animals mock me in their silence. They sit high upon their shelf looking down on me. Once we were the best of friends. We played baseball and camped out. We shared our deepest secrets in the strictest of confidence. When there was no one else to share in my laughter or my tears, they were always there. Now they sit lined up in judgment over all that has been said, a jury of my peers. This is the biggest betrayal.
Their non-blinking eyes wide in surprise at all the evidence that has been laid out before them. A trio of rabbits, with their mouths tight, strain not to yell out their verdict in rage. Murray X. Moose’s brown bead eyes glare down accusingly. The pigs turn their snouts up at me, disgusted by what they believe me to have done. Piglet’s fixed smile now seems to pity me. Many of the animals refuse to look at me, ashamed or embarrassed by the testimony that they have been forced to endure. Even the talker of the group, the three-eyed alien, is silent, as if he has disconnected his batteries in order to disown me. They all sit there pretending not to know me. They act as though we do not have a past together. They sit and await the closing statements.
I have stood here throughout this entire proceeding. I have watched witness after witness parade past me on the stand, each one with more evidence damning me. As I watch all those that I once counted on, testify against me, I come to recognize a feeling that I was not aware I possessed. As each of them tears me down in front of the jury, I feel hope slowly disappearing. It appeared as a faint glimmer that got dimmer and dimmer as the trial continued. That feeling vanished when I realized that everything I have ever loved has now turned against me. I thought I was past that. I thought I had resigned myself to my fate. Only now do I understand that I was not as willing to give everything up as I had thought.
Only Teddy supports me. He alone is willing to stand up for me in memory of all that we have been. His characteristic lack of expression, never questioning, always accepting, no matter what horrible thing I have done. Teddy remembers how it was before, how we were before. He doesn’t forget. He is a testament of what once was in his patched, candy-cane striped pajamas. He is the only one willing to go against all others to defend me. If any of them is capable of doing just that, he is. He has known me the longest and the best. Who better to stand with me to face the consequences of my actions? He is evidence in himself of my caring and unending faithfulness. My character witness with fiery orange eyes and matted brown fur. His testimony and support are probably all that even give me a chance.
Teddy calls me to the stand. It is finally my turn to tell my side, to explain my actions. This could be my chance to alter my fate and avoid further punishment. But how can I make them understand? How can I explain to those of polyester and cotton the actions of the flesh and blood? Are they able to grasp the differences between us that I have spent so many years trying to convince them do not exist?
What reason could I possibly have for what I have done? It was unforgivable, but necessary, a form of self-defense. I know that sounds like an excuse, a way to explain away the hurt that I have caused. Was it truly unavoidable, or did I want to do it? Some part of me must have, since I did the job so thoroughly and completely. But does my willing participation in it make me guilty? Remember, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that I too have been hurt by this. I too suffer because of my actions. You ask how can that be? I am alone and therefore already serving one sentence for this crime. Is it fair to give me another? I beg you to be merciful on me. Allow me to be let off with the punishment that is already in progress. Am I the only one here who feels that is penalty enough?
Perhaps you feel as if I am being much too lenient with myself. Maybe I am unable to see the whole picture as you believe you can. I am too close to the problem. But if I am, aren’t you? You were my playmates, my confidants. How can you separate yourselves from what I have become? You helped me to become who I am. Don’t you feel somewhat responsible? You, who once loved me, now act as strangers and therefore able to judge me. Fine, you wish to betray me. Now is your chance. I cannot deny what I did. I am ready for your verdict.
They appear to lean toward each other conspiratorially, attempting to keep secret what I already know. Stealing glances out of the corners of their plastic eyes, they whisper their final judgment to each other. Teddy and I watch them closely as they discuss the verdict. What is there to discuss? The evidence is overwhelming, the verdict already decided and the sentence begun.
I realize that none of them are looking directly at me during this phase. They seem uncomfortable that they are not able to leave the room in order to talk about me more openly. Stolen looks are all they will afford me and these are not very encouraging, full of either contempt or pity. The moose and alien feel sorry for me, as if I had no control over what I did. They seem to understand, but I know that empathy does not give them the ability to excuse what I have done. The bunnies and pigs are unable to conceal their hatred. They are the consummate victims in life and do not give me the slightest leeway. Doubtless their idea of punishment for me would be swift and merciless. The others can vote against that, if they desire, and allow me some mercy, however small it may be. They may think this would be doing me a favor, but I’m not sure that I agree. Perhaps quick and painless would be better than slow and unending.
They finally settle down and Teddy and I prepare to hear what had already been decided. Someone has entered the room and delayed the verdict. What possible reason could there be to suspend such an important proceeding? The intruder saunters into the room, heedless of what has been interrupted. Atropos doesn’t appear to realize the seriousness of the situation. Her graceful form slides around the corner of the dresser and starts around the perimeter of the small room. As she takes her time surveying the room, she looks up at all the animals. She seems to carefully study each one as she passes. Her tail swings back and forth freely, as if to say she has all the time in the world. I do not remember her ever taking this much time to get down to business.
After holding the court hostage for an eternity, she finally approaches me. She does not know why I have been sequestered in this room for what seems like days. She always has been well attuned to my feelings, so perhaps she has come to offer her support. She looks up at me with need in her slanted eyes. As I reach to pick her up, she neatly side-steps me. Once again I have overestimated her. She is not here to support me. She meows at me angrily and looks towards the door, pleading with me to break my imprisonment and follow her to the kitchen. She is probably out of food and only needed me to act as server for her dinner. If only she knew that I cannot leave. That I am unable to walk out of this room which once held the happiest times of my life, but now is nothing more than a jail cell. Realizing that we have nothing to offer each other, Atropos turns her back on me and leaves me to my solitude.
As she leaves the room and the soft patter of her paws fades to nothing, I come to the realization that she did not interrupt anything. She had been recruited by the animals to pass judgment. They were too afraid to voice the verdict and so passed the job on to another more suited to the task. After all this time, I now see that we did not know each other as well as I thought. To hide behind someone else, to have someone else do your dirty work is cowardly. Even with the terrible things I have done, I did them. It would have been much easier to pawn the task off on to another, but no. I knew that it was my job and my burden solely. You are not my peers. You have shown me that I never knew you at all.
I now understand that I am truly alone. All have abandoned me. Even my faithful Teddy has returned to join the others. His silence wounds me. He stood with me as long as he could, but the pull of his own kind proves to be stronger than his loyalty to me. I don’t know how long I can do this. Eventually the silence, the loneliness will be too much for me. My real trial is just beginning.