When I was little, I had a big stuffed dog named Scruffy. He was made of shaggy, greyish-brown fake fur, and had yellow glass eyes with life-like pupils. He was bigger than I was, about three and a half feet tall. I don’t know where he came from, and I don’t have much of a memory of him in his real form, because most of my life, he’s been unstuffed and folded up in a trunk.
I know that I slept with Scruffy in my bed until I was around five years old. At some point, Mum took him apart at the seams, took out his stuffing, and put him in the washer. Maybe I’d gotten sick on him, I don’t know. All that matters is that after giving him a good washing, in classic Mum style she gave up on her project and never restuffed him. Instead, she hid him away in the trunk until I was a little older and not quite as attached. Then, on rainy days or when I had run out of things to do, she’d sometimes let me go through her things in the trunk. Scruffy was in there, flattened and sad, and I’d run my fingers over his plastic nose and felt tongue, and ask her when he’d get his stuffing back. She’d make an excuse and put him away again, shutting the trunk and sending me off to read a book or play someplace else.
The only real memory I have of a fully-stuffed Scruffy is feeling secure as he watched my back at night, and the only reason I can dredge that up is because Scruffy literally occupied the space that I faced away from in bed, while my other favorite strongman, Clyde, occupied the front. Clyde was a monster. My Pet Monster, to be exact.
In 1986, AmToy released a plush toy, marketed primarily towards boys, called My Pet Monster. The toy’s marketing campaign was pretty advanced for the time, including a live-action, direct-to-video film AND a short-lived animated series. I’m not entirely sure how I first got turned on to My Pet Monster, but I remember feeling a desperate need to have my own monster to hang out with.
At the time, the other larger-than-life stuffed doll/toy on the market was My Buddy, and his spin-off, Kid Sister. If you grew up in the US in the ’80s and have a head for jingles, you’re probably singing the My Buddy commercial right about now. If not, let me remind you of how it went (*evil laughter*). A friend of mine had Kid Sister, and I thought her smushed-featured face was one of the scariest things I’d ever seen.
I remember that while I was campaigning for a My Pet Monster, the adults tried to suggest that I’d probably enjoy a traditional doll like Kid Sister more than an ugly, scary monster. However, I wasn’t buying it. I’m pretty sure that we can attribute me actually getting my own monster to Mum. While followthrough on craft projects and home decorating has never been her forte, she would have walked through fire to get me what I wanted as a kid, and the weirder the request, the more interested she was in making sure it happened. We didn’t have a ton of money, so it must have been a big purchase for her, maybe even made in conjunction with my grandparents, I don’t know. I just remember ripping off the gift wrap and being extremely psyched.
Clyde came into my life, and he wasn’t a fad. He was the other half of the bedtime sandwich, gamely protecting me from having my organs harvested by the REAL monsters (the kind that lay in wait, somehow both venomous and extremely cowardly, under the bed or in closets). He was the perfect size to hug, and was also visually and tactilely stimulating. I loved all of the textures and colors that made up my very own monster. He had a bulbous, rubber nose covered in warts, and a row of rubber, plaque-stained teeth. His hands were a durable, yet slick greenish-silver material that reminded me of faux leather upholstery, his body was made up of blue, red and magenta fake fur, and best of all, his tummy and horns were wide-wale corduroy. I loved his tummy most of all, but also spent a lot of time running my hands over his nose, exploring the contours of his warts. Clyde also came with removable plastic shackles that I could wear if I chose, plus his cardboard packaging folded out to become a dungeon scene (or at least in my imagination, that’s how it worked – I can’t find any proof of this online).
I don’t remember how I grew out of my relationship with Clyde, any more than how Scruffy came to be stuffingless and folded flat in the hall trunk. But even when Clyde was replaced with smaller, somewhat more conventional stuffed toys (teddy bears, rabbits, the odd stuffed dragon), I never outgrew my need to feel protected from the imaginary monsters under the bed and in the closet. Today there are boxes under my bed, and closet doors must be closed before I can sleep. The covers are drawn tight under my feet, my cats sleep on or around me, and I have a stuffed bunny on one side and a boyfriend on the other. When I get up at night to go to the bathroom, I keep my eyes averted from the darkened kitchen, and try to ignore the rattling sound in the hall closet. I NEVER look in the mirror in a darkened room. Almost 30 years later, and my imagination is still going strong. I guess that’s one more reason to be grateful to Mum; despite a boatload of irrational fears, I’d rather be outlandish than normal, any day.