It’s a hot September day and it smells of sweat and body odour in here – an indicator that the bodysuit hasn’t been washed in awhile and the fan in my bear head isn’t working. Getting my bearings with these huge bear feet and trying to see out of the dark wire mesh at the back of my grizzly throat, I start waving to people as they approach the campus from the parking lots. As a 6ft tall woman, I think I’m actually pulling this off and I start to really embrace the persona.
I move along the sidewalk impersonating my best upright bear and waving at all of the new students and their families coming to check out their new college.
I’m drenched with sweat 20 minutes in.
Folks who have brought little children want me to greet them, but the children are too scared and refuse to come close. I understand; I’m a big fierce-looking bear with loads of teeth.
Some new college students are excited for a photo op and request a bear hug and I am repeatedly asked if I am a girl bear or a boy bear. Unable to talk, I silently play coy.
A woman comes over and flirts with me before giving me a hug and squeezing my bear butt. This surprises me and as we break from our embrace, I’m met with a punch to the snout by who I can only assume is the boyfriend. I feel a sharp pain and realize the wire mesh that I look through has sliced the bridge of my human nose, and I feel a few genuine tears surfacing as the couple walks away arguing.
At this moment, I really want to break the golden rule of being a mascot and say something to that asshole.
Hi there. I guess you can’t talk, can you?
I realize a new stranger has sidled up to me on this sunny orientation day and I give my head an exaggerated shake no to answer his question.
My dog died this morning.
A little surprised at the direction of this conversation, I mime wiping tears away from where I imagine my bear eyes are located and pat the stranger on the shoulder with a big hairy paw as a silent offering of condolence.
Thank you. Yes, it’s sad.
I wonder what to do next.
It’s in my freezer right now.
I turn to look at the stranger through my bear teeth and see that he is serious. I move my hairy paws up to my cheeks to express shock and shake my head.
You look strong. Can you come back to my place after this and help me bury it?
I mime digging a hole with a shovel and then point to myself hoping to clarify what I heard this stranger just ask me.
Yeah, can you help?
I shake my head no at the stranger and embrace him in a big bear hug instead. Then he chuckles and walks away.
While I don’t enjoy the smell in here, or the occasional harassment, I do enjoy the anonymity and I enjoy listening. People connect and continue to confess things to me because I can’t respond.
It tells me that we humans crave for someone to just listen ~ to just listen, non-judgmentally and when appropriate, to offer up a big bear hug.