I was about 7 years old when my parents tried to pull a fast one on me. By that point, my E.T. doll had been loved half to death. His shiny brown faux leather skin had been almost completely rubbed off—aside from the odd spot at his wrists, his toes—from all the times I’d clutched him close, hugged him tight, dragged him from bedroom to living room to play date and back home. His large head listed to one side, all the stuffing in his neck having migrated to his body, thanks to the choke hold I used when carrying him from place to place. Even his eyes showed signs of wear, the clear black of his pupils having faded to a blurry swirl.
On the day my parents tried to replace my E.T. doll with a brand new E.T. doll—one with all its skin and with piercing black eyes and with a stout, sturdy neck—I pitched a fit. How could they possibly think I wouldn’t discern the difference between an E.T. who had been loved and an E.T. who had clearly never experienced the crushing transfiguration caused by a young child’s embrace?
We continued on, E.T. and I. Inseparable. For years. I slept with him tucked into the crook of my elbow at night, long past the point of propriety. When stuffing began to burst from the seams in his long, gangly arms, my mom wrapped them tight with Band-Aids. When the weight of his head dangling from the taut, flimsy fabric of his neck caused it to rip, she jammed a pencil into the fluff filling his torso, let the other end poke into his head so that he could sit upright without nodding off. Then my mom wrapped a piece of soft, brown fabric around his neck and stitched it closed, cut the end into fringe so it looked like a scarf instead of a neck brace. I needed him to last, because I could not let go of the comfort he provided.
To others, E.T. now looks like a horror. But I still need him. I am 38, married, a mother, and I still need him. Sometimes, when I am feeling raw or devastated or overcome, I curl into myself in bed, cheeks wet, tissue crumpled in one fist, and it is almost reflexively that I reach out an arm, scrabble my fingers across the surface of my nightstand, find E.T., pull him into me as I always pulled him into me back when I still slept with him every night, my body an “S” around his. But now, I am careful. He is fragile, after all. But still, the cool, rough fabric of his under-skin against my arms soothes me, allows my breath to smooth out. Curling around E.T., holding him in the crook of my elbow, is like being young again. Being held.
Steph Auteri is a contributor to Book Riot and a journalist for such publications as the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and VICE. She has also been published in Poets & Writers, the Rumpus, Hippocampus Magazine, Brain, Child, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her reported memoir, A Dirty Word, just came out this past October. You can learn more at stephauteri.com and you can find her on both Twitter and Instagram at @stephauteri.
Photo by the author.