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That’s One Wholesome Coping Mechanism

, , , , , | Friendly | November 2, 2021

When I first started college in the early 2000s, people in my dorm “warned” me about a curious character that would randomly appear around campus at the wee hours of the morning — usually two or three in the morning — wearing a teddy bear costume, happily prancing around with balloons tied to her wrist, and hugging random strangers she would encounter. This was a town of fewer than 10,000 residents, and violent crimes were virtually unheard of; safety was not a particular issue.

People determined that it was highly probable that it was a female because of the physical stature of the mysterious person and because a few reported gathering a whiff of perfume when she hugged them. Despite the fact that she had been doing it for years, no one had any clue as to her identity or why she was doing it. Making it even more difficult was the fact that she didn’t have a routine; each encounter was a complete chance encounter, and sometimes, no one would see her for months. Even more interesting, if you tried to follow her and she noticed, she would immediately bolt and vanish with what appeared to be a planned “escape route.”

Creepy, yet fascinating.

I didn’t think much of it until one late night when I was heading home from hanging with some buddies, and right from behind a corner of a building ahead of me, a teddy bear head popped out! Startled, I froze, and she pranced out in front of me — balloons tied to her wrist as everyone said — and started doing little jumps in the air and waving at me!

Then, as they said she would, she stretched her arms out for a hug. Not quite knowing how to react, I reached my arms out, and she sprang forward and hugged me like we were best friends! She then waved goodbye and skipped away into the night.

Over the next three years, I had about four more random chance encounters with her, each one of them with her either prancing and skipping over to me and hugging me or popping up from behind a structure somewhere, doing a happy dance, and then stretching her arms out for a hug.

Her mysterious identity continued to fascinate the students on the campus, to the point where there were mentions of her in the school newspaper and someone even offered a $50 reward to anyone who found her identity.

Then, one night, I was out and noticed a figure bolting like a bat out of Hell across a parking lot and fading into an adjacent wooded area. Moments later, I heard a sickening wailing and moaning emanating from the wooded area; clearly, someone was injured.

I made my way over to find the girl in the teddy bear costume laying on the ground, apparently having tripped over something and seriously injuring herself. I helped her up and partially carried her back out into the parking lot, as she had apparently broken her ankle. I phoned for an ambulance and as we waited, I eventually coaxed her into taking off the headpiece of the costume. 

Everyone was correct that it was indeed a female, and interestingly — but not surprisingly — she looked like any average girl in her late teens to early twenties. She refused to answer any questions about her identity or what her motive behind all of this was.

When I called the police a few days later to make sure that she was okay, I was told that while she was virtually unheard of amongst the student population, she was actually known throughout the local police department. As it turns out, she suffered from schizophrenia, and to relieve some of her psychotic episodes, she found it soothing to give people hugs. Why she chose the nearby college campus (and always late at night) to do that was not immediately clear, but they guessed that she chose to dress up in a teddy bear suit to make herself look more charming and less threatening to other people.

No one saw her again after that, and out of respect for the circumstances, I chose to keep that encounter and her identity secret.

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