When my boyfriend texted me “I got you something” two and a half years ago, in spite of the fact that we had just met two weeks prior, I didn’t have an inkling of an idea of what it could be.
But when he told me to close my eyes and hold out my hands, and I felt something soft and velvety touch my palms, I knew exactly what it was.
It was a stuffed bluefin tuna.
I’ve always been one to develop a closer bond with sentimental items than with people, carrying my blanket “Blankie” around with me until I was twelve and collecting Webkinz throughout my childhood.
Tuna was not just our inside joke, however. Ever since my best friend misplaced a vowel in “Tina” in seventh grade, she called me Tuna throughout high school, and I even made it my Snapchat handle. My boyfriend joined in when he asked for my Snapchat and I had to tell him the embarrassing username that began with “Tuna.”
I always loathed both nicknames until he started calling me Tuna, though. It felt like my pet name. When I asked what we should name the stuffed animal, my boyfriend didn’t hesitate to answer.
“He looks like a Tuna.”
From then on, Tuna and I, or Tuna Squared, became inseparable. I cuddled him tightly every night in bed, and I positioned him like a doll and sent pictures of him in ridiculous poses to my boyfriend.
When my boyfriend and I weren’t together, we would take turns keeping Tuna for the week.
We crafted a story in our head, giving an inanimate object a life of its own. His favorite food was mango. He could play the guitar like a prodigy, despite only having fins. His birthday was Sep. 4, which we still celebrate every year.
Living in a dorm where I wasn’t allowed to own a pet, my stuffed animal was my furry companion — a girl’s best friend.
In June 2019, we stumbled upon a balloon game at the Wildwood Boardwalk. Having subpar aim, I only hit two out of the three balloons with the darts, but my boyfriend hit the target on all three of his.
The grand prize was a toy llama with dark fur and sparkly gray eyes. Our first “family picture,” not including Tuna of course, was a selfie of the three of us under the neon-lit ferris wheel.
I no longer had to hog Tuna when my boyfriend and I watched TV on the couch, nor did we have to fight over who would get to have him when we were apart.
Whenever I traveled, whether it be as close as Pittsburgh or as far as California, I always had one of them in my bag as emotional support. Oddly enough, it was like having a piece of my boyfriend that I could cling onto if I felt stressed or scared.
Similar to my childhood Blankie, my stuffed animals provide a sense of security and comfort. But unlike my old toys, they have a greater meaning because they were given to me by my boyfriend and we’ve since created many memories with them.
I never understood why “crazy cat ladies” always want more cats until I started collecting stuffed animals. Now, our “gang” also consists of a hedgehog, a chick, a monkey and a giraffe.
After a long night of standing on my feet for eight hours at work or an exhausting day of virtual classes, nothing brings me greater relief than slipping under the blankets and falling asleep with my stuffed animals snuggled in my arms.
No matter how cold it is in my apartment, somehow they are always warm.