I have six stuffed animals on my bed. Five bears and one cuttlefish, which is my favorite fish. The bears are more or less because I’ve got a long history of loving the Cal Bears, so it only makes sense that I love bears, too. And, in my final year of college, I know that I’m going to need my fuzzy friends a lot more.
But let’s backtrack a little bit. Six, isn’t that excessive? And stuffed animals, in college? Stuffed animals, yes, and a onesie, and an affinity for children’s cartoons. It feels like the biggest differences between me now and me when I was 10 are that I’m now taller and can drive. I’m aware that there are definitely more actual differences, but the older I get, the more I find that I just can’t stomach the kinds of content that my peers frequent. No, I haven’t caught up with “Game of Thrones.” “Black Mirror” terrifies me, an avid computer-user, and I’m more likely to tell you the most recent “Steven Universe” fusion than who got voted off on this season of “Love Island.” In my mind, the world is hard enough as it is, and I can’t stomach fictional, non-cathartic disaster content. What I actually do watch is lighthearted, childish. The most mature pieces of content that I’ve recently consumed are probably “Avengers: Endgame,” during which I cried five times, and John Mulaney’s “Kid Gorgeous,” and lately I’ve been watching Disney movies from the golden and silver eras.
Reaching this point, however, created a weird dichotomy between what I want and what I think I should want. When I first got to college, I thought I’d have to say goodbye to my hoard of stuffed animals. At the time, I only had two stuffed animals that I truly loved, and one had been nearly destroyed after over a decade of hugging. I couldn’t bring either of them to college; I was convinced that I’d be a laughingstock. I didn’t really know why, I didn’t really know how to articulate my thoughts, but I knew that I shouldn’t bring them if I wanted to have a good reputation. While packing, though, I couldn’t commit to parting ways with my bear-y soft friend. I decided that I’d be bringing one fluffy friend: a stuffed bear that I’d named Steve, because of the Captain America shield pattern that his fur was printed with. I hid him away in my top bunk bed and hoped that no one would be able to look over the railing to see him sitting there.
There’s a fair amount of pressure to “grow up” as soon as one moves into their dorm. I entered college at the age of 17 but was going to turn 18 within the first month of school. Legally, I would be an adult, and I started telling myself that I had to act like one. I figured that my first year in college could be marked by me trying to fit the bill of what a picturesque adult was like, but with the acknowledgment that I had no idea what a “picturesque adult” actually looked like. I just knew that I couldn’t be a child — but, then again, what does “being a child” look like? I hid my onesie in the far corner of my closet and put away my more childish trinkets, similar to how I stuffed Steve into the farthest corner of my bed. But was that enough? And, the more I tried to uphold this image, the more my motivation to perform as an adult faded until it was gone before I actually reached legal adulthood.
After my first few nights in a new setting, I knew I’d need a more comforting environment. I forfeited the concept of home and the lingering familiarity that came with it when I moved, and the homesickness settled in heavily. In my freshman year, I craved comfort from anything that could provide it, hoping that I could stave off the inevitability of adulthood. I would come home, press my face into Steve’s fuzzy body, and hope that when I lifted my head I’d see my childhood bedroom again. In a place so removed from what’s familiar — often peoples’ first time living away from home — why should we be denying ourselves the tiny comforts that we have?
So, for my 18th birthday, the one thing I truly wanted was more stuffed animals. Specifically, stuffed bears. And, on my 18th birthday, I got three — one from my family and two from friends. Asking for stuffed animals felt like a complete reversal of my original thought process of performing adulthood, but actually getting stuffed animals felt like validation. If I wanted to be a little childish, then that was OK. The people who knew me best supported me enough to actively feed into my desire for comfort. I still have all of those plushies and more; I even have one in the desk of my office at The Daily Californian, just in case I need a good hug while on the job.
Comfort is hard to come by in college — I often seek comfort in the warmth of my bed or the pages of a book. Sometimes I find comfort at the bottom of a coffee mug or a pint of ice cream. My stuffed animals are definitely good comfort-providers. Each one feels a little more like home, but not like the home that I grew up in. They feel like I’m making my own new home, right here with me, my fuzzy friends, my onesie and perhaps a Disney movie.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].