Something lost - and found

Published May 5, 2007


They spent that day at the mall.

Samantha, 4, climbed plastic tortoises in the play area at International Plaza in Tampa. Her little brother had his picture taken for his third birthday. They ate lunch in the food court, then rode home in the van.

Jennifer McCormick was in the kitchen packing a bag for a play date when Samantha shouted a question from her bedroom - a question that would change everything in the McCormick house:

"Where's Monkey?"

* * *

Jennifer would have chosen the giraffe. But in a candy store in New York City, Samantha reached for the monkey - a Ty Beanie Buddy with silky brown fur and bright black eyes. She was 6 months old at the time.

When it was time to talk, Samantha named him Monkey.

When it was time to walk, she walked to Monkey, who dangled from her mother's hands.

When it was time to learn about brushing her teeth, Samantha watched Monkey get his teeth brushed first.

Every night, Jennifer or dad Shaun tucked Samantha and Monkey into bed.

To the family, Monkey was more than cotton and stuffing. When they dressed up for Halloween as the cast from A Nightmare Before Christmas, Monkey was Zero the ghost dog. When they were the Munster family, Monkey was a bat.

Samantha always held Monkey in the same pose, with her thumb in her mouth and his tail up her nose.

She didn't care when Monkey got smelly, or when his fur got hard and matted, or when his eyes got scratched in the washing machine.

A couple of years ago her mother bought a backup monkey, in case Monkey ever got lost. Fake Monkey, Samantha called him.

When it was time to play games like hide and seek, she wanted the real thing. She would leave Monkey in the closet, then come back to find him.

He'd always be there.

* * *

On April 25, he wasn't anywhere.

Samantha cried, "I don't want somebody to throw Monkey in the garbage!"

Jennifer scrambled for a number for International Plaza. Nobody had seen Monkey.

He is still out there somewhere. Every night before bed, Samantha makes the family look for him. They look under the blankets, on the couch, in the van. Samantha sleeps in her parents' room now.

Jennifer does not sleep easily either. Things are changing for her. Daughter Caitlin is 11 going on 13; son Nicky, 3, is an independent little man with no attachment to stuffed animals.

In some ways Samantha is Jennifer's last baby. But if Monkey is gone, is she still a baby?

Kindergarten is just a summer away.

* * *

Last Tuesday, Jennifer extended her search to Craig's List.

On the Web site where people find apartments and buy used treadmills, she wrote this post:

Lost Stuffed Monkey

I know this is a long shot ...

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or 813 226-3354.

Fast Facts:

Have you seen Monkey?

E-mail Jennifer McCormick at noodles04@earthlink.net.

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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727)892-2924.