The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive

I need to tell you about the owl I talk to as if it were a human.

It was the closest thing I got to crying, in therapy, when I said I had bought a stuffed owl to fill the space in my arms at night. I don’t cry in therapy, or haven’t yet, because I am relentlessly efficient with my feelings and explain, often without pausing for breath, how I have experienced, processed, taken action on, and reflected back upon whatever it is that is under discussion.

I haven’t told my therapist that I talk to the owl.

When I moved into my apartment I had to give it a name, first because everyone else’s apartment had some kind of clever nickname and second because I couldn’t start using the Wi-Fi until I named it. I picked The Owlery. In some kind of bizarre proof that the Law of Attraction works, I have found myself a year later ankle-deep in owl shit.

But although I have an owl shower curtain and an owl pencil holder and an owl mug, and I just ordered an owl kigurumi online so I can literally envelop myself in owlness, I only have one Leelee. It’s the rule. One stuffed animal on the bed, because I am at my core a monogamist.

She sat on the bed for about an hour before she became Leelee, which is somehow short for Aurelia which, of course, is a reference to ORLY OWL — look, I didn’t say all my material is good, especially the stuff I try out on the inanimate stuffed owl — and then I just started talking to her, although I had already been talking to her the entire time we tried to figure out her name. (She was almost Jane, and almost Daisy.)

I don’t tell my therapist that I talk to my stuffed owl because I don’t want to say that I’m more honest with the owl than I am in therapy.

I mean, good gracious, I’m not dishonest in therapy. But do I ever go on and on about “well, maybe this person was feeling this way, and maybe I feel this way, but should I really feel that way, and how do I feel about my feelings, and here are the six self-care things I’ve done this week”?

And then I come home and I lie down and I hold Leelee to my chest and say, “Leelee, why am I sad tonight?”

And Leelee says, “You are remembering a hurt that has still not yet healed. You are sad that you could not fix it then and you cannot fix it now. But it’s okay.”

I forgot to mention the stuffed owl talks back.

I mean, it’s me, of course. I know it’s me.

We don’t talk aloud and we don’t talk often but we do talk regularly, nearly always in bed before sleep. I am realizing now — just absolutely right now — that this is a substitute for prayer. I used to pray every night, because when I was eleven years old my hometown came very near to being destroyed in a flood, and I started praying then and figured it would be insulting to God to stop. But I didn’t ask God questions. I never thought to.

These conversations are one of the few things in my life that aren’t about planning. Sometimes I will say, “Leelee, what do I want more of in my life?” and Leelee will say, “Friends, singing, walking, outside, climbing, space in the day,” and that’s it, we don’t have to figure out how to get there. We say where we are, and what we want, and how it is different, and how that’s okay. And then I say “I love you,” and Leelee says “I love you too”, and we go to sleep.

You have no idea how profound it is to say I love you to yourself every night and mean it, because stuffed owls don’t lie. Or maybe you do. Maybe we all do this, or some of us do this, and we just don’t talk about it.

It would be fitting, at this point in the story, to write something like, “And then I turned to my stuffed owl and said, Leelee, how do you feel about being in the Yearbook Office?” but I can’t do that because that’s not what this is. It’s not actually me talking to an owl. It’s me asking myself questions and daring myself to find the quickest, closest, truest answer.

The answer I can say in a sentence.

The answer that feels like a release.

The answer that is always followed up with “But it’s okay.”

And “I love you.”