Column: An unbearable awakening

A story of a gift, lost then found


Parker Nolan

Lily is overjoyed at the sight of her lost panda. "But I do remember that there was darkness, and then there was joy."

I am emotional. But nothing describes me like the gift that made me cry.

It was dark.

And then there was joy.

I was unwrapping presents by a fireplace and imagined the fragrance that should be in the fall Texas air: fresh cut grass and swirling smoke as the cicadas roared on weak leaves.

Time flew, and strong hands, probably my dad’s, handed me the last gift–a small brown box, strangely weighted and warm, sealed simply with a tuck of the lid. I slowly unsecured the top to see eyes staring back at me.

Out of the snug box I pulled a precious six-inch-tall baby panda with soft fur, four wiggling limbs, and, somehow, a fragile smile in response to me. Some thing I did? Or it’s happy to see me?

Dreams, more like an exciting new life to come, filled my head of returning home from school in a few years to a full grown panda to run and hug me. I imagined a bamboo forest in his own bedroom next to mine. This panda had no other name, of course, than Baby Panda. This baby and I were going to be best friends.

Before then, Baby Panda went everywhere with me in that brown box, safely hidden in my backpack waiting to come out to stare at me with those big black eyes and reaching arms for me to hold. Baby Panda stole my heart, and that was OK.

Until one day at school the brown box wasn’t safely hidden in my backpack as it should’ve been. Baby Panda was snatched. Kidnapped. Immediate fear and guilt wash over me as nothing else matters. I interrupted classroom after classroom begging the only words I could think. Over. Over. And over again.

“Has anybody seen my baby panda?”

And it’s those same words I spoke without thinking when my eyes opened. The echo of thunder rang in my ears, and a storm raged outside the thin walls of my bedroom.

The joy was gone.

And it was dark again.


The dreamed scene of singing cicadas and birthday presents replayed in my mind all that day.

And the next day.

And the next.

My family learned to withstand the phrase, “I miss my baby panda,” after I explained my problem. The Baby Panda of my dreams still lived in my heart, and he was still lost in someone else’s hands. At night I hoped I could see him again and be at peace for him.

One week later, I still had not seen him in my dreams and held his little box in my mind. He had not returned. I did not find him.

I could not find him.

Two weeks later, a family gathering. Someone’s birthday. Sound is clearer this time. Smoke burns my lungs. People are happy.

A box of plastic spoons missing its rattle finds a place on my lap, thanks to my mom’s fragile hands.

What I found in that box of spoons proves dreams do come true. I slipped my thumb under the lid and flipped it open to find black eyes staring back at me. I reached into the box feeling fur cushion the tight fit and pulled out a stuffed toy baby panda.

I don’t remember what happened after I hugged my found baby panda, laughing so hard tears raced down my cheeks.

But I do remember that there was darkness, and then there was joy.

Parker Nolan