“He said, ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”–Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
When my middle child, Jacob, was 13 months old, he was hospitalized for a weekend with an infection in his neck. On the pediatric ward, the staff gave him a stuffed cat as he was admitted to help ease the discomfort of blood draws, IV starts, and beeping monitors. Honestly, there wasn’t much to the cat. His fur was thin and he wasn’t as plush or sturdy as Jake’s stuffed animals at home. If you pushed on his belly, he would meow. But after a little bit of time, the meow turned to a yowl and then before you knew it the cat fell silent forever. Still, something about the cat was special to Jake and he made that cat his best friend. Before we knew it, “Kitty” became the ever-present lovey who smoothed the bumps and cuddled Jake to sleep.
Jake went almost nowhere without his buddy, which made us worry that Kitty would wind up lost one day. So we decided we needed a spare. Mind you, this is not a stuffed toy that we could simply run out and buy. No, months after our inpatient stay, we asked an insider to visit the pediatric floor and nab another for us. And just to be safe, when our youngest was born, I myself also walked from the maternity unit to the peds unit and asked for a second spare. The intentions were good but misguided. Deep down we knew that there could never be a replacement for Kitty.
Fortunately, Kitty survived runny noses, errant bites of food, Jake’s baby brother, outdoor excursions, family travels, and as few laundry cycles as we could tolerate. He benefits from goodnight kisses and talks in his own voice and language. He has had a loyal and loving personality conferred upon him, and is treated by the whole family with the utmost respect.
About four years after Kitty first came to live with us, we read the book, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. After that, Jake changed Kitty’s name to “Carmon.” (He meant Carmine, but, you know, 5 year-old phonetics. He has since corrected the spelling.)
In time, it became clear that not only does Jake love Carmine, but he feels affection from Carmine. This inspired me to create a series of pictures that illustrates their bond from the cat’s perspective. I made the first photo about three years ago to convey the protective, tender love Jake experiences from his oldest friend.
When Jake started kindergarten, Carmine had to stay behind. I shot this photo to tell the story of starting a new stage, leaving babyhood behind. Carmine and I shared the hesitation in letting our boy grow up.
When your lovey is as alive in your heart as any human being, you know that that lovey must wonder about the story of The Velveteen Rabbit and whether he will experience a similar fate.
“Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.” –Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Carmine has lived a charmed life. His eyes have been chewed. His nose and mouth have had to be re-stitched. He still wears the remnants of a string of yarn that was once a leash just long enough for Jake to lead him across the floor. This is Carmine today, still living in Jake’s bedroom and in his heart.
“Weeks passed and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but his Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit anymore, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about.” –Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
The story of Jacob and Carmine is one so sweet that I want to hang on to it as a way of remembering how sensitive and caring my little guy is. I have wondered many times when Carmine will become part of the past. In making these photographs, I ensure that even if he is left behind for good someday, he will never be forgotten.
That’s the story behind a whole slew of photographs of Jacob and his kitty. (I have other back stories in this series.) What’s your story?