Okay, so this one's weird. But I think it's also sweet in its own way. I love writing dialogues, but I generally try to use more descriptions than conversations in my stories whenever possible. This story is a dialogue-driven exception to the rule. I hope you will enjoy reading it at least half as much as I enjoyed writing it. – JH
"BEAR ARMS GIVE TIGHTER HUGS"
Please don't misunderstand me. It isn't my custom to go around hugging wildlife. After all, I am a lady. But there comes a time in every woman's life when she has to admit that what she has is not all she needs. That moment came for me yesterday.
I'd been pretty miserable for a while, but didn't know exactly why. My life was no bed of roses, but it wasn't a pile of soggy hay either.
I was on the phone, pouring my heart out to my dear friend Phyllis, who's had her share of troubles, when she stopped me in mid-sentence and asked, "Have you tried hugging a bear?"
"I beg your pardon?" I asked, sure that I'd heard her wrong.
"A bear. Have you tried hugging one? You know, easy-peasy-squeezy-squeezy?"
"A bear? I'm telling you how my life is crap, and you're asking me if I've hugged a bear?"
"Do you mean a teddy bear? Because I –"
"No, of course I don't mean a teddy bear, Celia, I mean a real-live, claw-wielding, fish-eating grizzly bear."
"Did you take your lithium this morning?"
"Yes, Celia. Why?"
"Because you're talking crazy, Phyllis. Who goes around hugging grizzly bears?"
"Well, I do. Once a week. Doctor's orders."
"Are you seeing a witch doctor these days?"
"Why is what I'm asking you. Why would you want to hug a grizzly bear? More importantly, where would you go to do such an asinine thing?"
"Because there's nothing more comforting than the gentle yet firm embrace of a 500-pound fuzzy, cuddly grizzly bear. And, to answer your second question: the zoo."
"I know a guy."
"How long has this been going on, Celia?"
"And the bear doesn't hurt you?"
"He's as tame as a kitten."
"I wouldn't lie to you, Phyllis."
"And you do this because the bear –"
"Makes me feel like a million bucks. I've never been happier."
"Well, you certainly sound happy."
"I am, Celia. It's a wonderful feeling to know you're loved."
"Come on, Phyllis, don't tell me you think the bear loves you."
"Well, of course not, I don't mean 'love' like romantic love. I mean, like a mother's love. Like the sweet, nurturing love of a mama for her baby. Or cub, in this case."
"And you think this would help me too?"
"Well, it certainly can't hurt, Celia. You sound terrible. You want me to call my friend?"
"At the zoo?"
"Yeah, that's the one."
"Could I hug the bear today?"
"Gary is his name."
"Your friend at the zoo?"
"No, the bear."
"Oh. Well, do you think I could hug Gary today?"
"Yes, I'm sure he can work you in."
"Gary, or the guy?"
"Gary. He does this a lot, you know."
"A lot. But don't worry – he won't just treat you like a number. He really cares about everyone he hugs."
"Bears aren't sentient creatures."
"Whatever. Wait till you meet Gary."
"I can't wait."
"I'll call my guy."
"At the zoo?"
"And you'll call me back?"
"In a flash."
"Thanks, Phyllis. You're a real friend."
"No problem, Celia. This'll do the trick. I promise you."
And it did. I met Gary for the first time about two hours after hanging up with Phyllis. He was every bit as gentle and sweet as she described. It's true what Phyllis said. There's nothing more comforting than the firm hug of a heavily muscled grizzly bear. In Gary's arms, I felt safe, and yes, loved.
I'm going back on Thursday. I know it sounds crazy, but I can't get enough of that wonderful feeling. I actually have hope for my future now. Even if the rest of my life doesn't get any better, if things don't turn out the way I planned, I know I can cope. Because I have Gary.