It Took Me a Long Time to Come Out as a ‘Plushie’ Lover

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Like all love, though, it is fraught. Once on a trip to the historic town of Hampi in southern India, I perched Nozy in between some temple sculptures, took a picture and wandered away. Hours later, on our way back to the car, we realized he was missing.

Bishan, aghast, yelled at me as if I had forgotten our toddler. We raced back to the temple with him muttering grimly that there was no way Nozy would be found in such a large complex filled with schoolchildren. We bought tickets afresh, rushed in breathlessly and there he was, squished between two sandstone lions, waiting patiently to be rescued.

“How irresponsible can you be?” said my sister later.

I lost my plushie-carrying rights that trip. But as I stood there teary-eyed, clutching a tiny stuffed monkey, my heart still thudding, I understood that love can grow in the most unlikely places, and that there is no love worth its name unless it feels vulnerable to loss.

In this time of Covid, fear of loss haunts us every day. The second wave in India battered us with bad news — friends and family falling sick, hospitals running out of oxygen, vaccine shortages. Every encounter with the outside world feels like a game of Russian roulette. The plushie world had felt like innocent fun when we stumbled upon it with Chewie’s first post in 2016. Now it feels like a refuge, a community holding together even as things fall apart around us.

In a world where social media is often toxic competition, the plushie world celebrates 100 followers with as much excitement as 1,000. The humans take a back seat, rarely posing with their plushie charges, referred to as “hooman,” “roommate,” “assistant” and occasionally “mummy” or “daddy,” but almost never by their names.

There are mask skeptics, Black Lives Matter activists, anxiety-ridden teenagers and a grandmother of six, but at the end of the day it’s all about Zuzu the meerkat and Azai the one-eyed dog. The human’s biographical details, politics and skin color remain vague, as if too much information might shatter this shimmering world held together by a delicate suspension of disbelief — an iridescent soap bubble floating through a golden afternoon.

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