Back in my earliest memories of growing up in New Jersey, long before my family decided to trade the frozen tundra of the North for sunny mosquito-and-humidity-ridden Miami, I used to have a cat plushie that I christened Iño the Cat.
If you are wondering how to pronounce Iño, it's Ee-nyoh. I credit his Spanish-sounding name to the fact that Spanish was my first language. This is perfectly normal when you are under the age of five and are surrounded by said language because your parents speak Spanish, and their neighbors speak Spanish, and your parents' friends speak Spanish, and your cousins, uncle and godparents speak Spanish and the Disney Channel is in English (hey, I had to learn my native tongue somewhere).
Iño wasn't even mine to begin with. He belonged to one of my older cousins, but from the moment my toddler self laid eyes on him, I knew that it was love at first sight. I began bouncing like a caffeinated rubber ball chanting "Iño, Iño, Iño!"
What did that mean?
That meant that I had a new toy. My little arms clutched tightly to his velvet texture and squeezed into his fluffy body with deep admiration. He was so soft and inviting, and I was never going to let him go.
(Is it just me, or are the best pairing examples often food-related? Either that or I must be hungry.)
The peculiar aspect of Iño the Cat was that he was, in reality, a Felix the Cat doll. You remember Felix the Cat, doncha? The black cat that has a yellow magic bag of tricks?
(I would so carry a yellow purse marked with crosses and dots.)
But in my hands, Felix the plushie was no longer Felix. He was Iño. My parents tried, to no avail, to correct my mistake by saying that my new toy's name was "el gato Felix" and not "Iño."
Their adult reasoning was no match for my toddler vociferousness. He was Iño the Cat, not Felix, and that was that; they accepted it. Persistence triumphs over logic.
Anyway, the only vulnerable moments in which Iño and I were separated were when my mother washed him and when I would go to the park to hang out in the playground. I've been told by people older than myself that I was a fairly amiable and sensitive child who could at times be hyperactive but had an overall pleasant demeanor. In other words, these wholesome traits made me bully fodder and I was highly susceptible to accept any invitations to be abused by the neighborhood playground tyrants.
And I was.
I don't remember his name, but for the purpose of this post, I'll refer to him as "Dickwad the III."
Dickwad the III was your average bully, the despotic kind that because of his bulky stature and questionable personal life feels the need to belittle others to give himself a false sense of superiority. I also suspect that his anger was fueled due to his lack of some decent-sized "manhood."
Since he was far too young to purchase a gigantic car to compensate for his minuscule genitals, it was unfortunate for everyone that Dickwad the III sought out to justify his dominion when he crowned himself king of the slide, see-saw and swing set. Woe unto me when I invaded "his" territory.
Poor sensitive me ran away in a flood of tears. His treatment towards me was unjust and unmerited and I couldn't understand why he would abuse me in this manner. Some adults suspected that he may have had a crush on me, but who were they kidding? That couldn't be possible; he called me dumb. No one says that to me and gets away with it. But how was I going to face him when he could easily overpower me with his pinky?
I had a revelation. I couldn't bring myself to vanquish this bully, but I knew someone who could.
In my child's imagination, Iño could accomplish anything because he was the Honey Badger of stuffed toys (he didn't give a shit). Iño would help me face Dickwad the III because he was my guardian, my sentinel and, most importantly, my valiant friend.
Under Iño's protective aura, I had the resolve to face my playground nemesis. Nothing was going to stop me from seeking justice.
The following day, my mother took us to the neighborhood playground. I searched the area until I spotted Dickwad the III traumatizing some smaller kids over by the swings. I couldn't take his arrogance any longer. Holding Iño at arm's length like a shield, he and I charged like the pair of enraged banshees we were and confronted Dickwad the III's tyranny head-on!
You gotta face your problems directly, folks. It helps to make your opposition scared straight because you went right after them with a high-pitched war cry and shook a cat plushie in their face.
Let it be known that from that moment on, Dickwad the III knew better than to mess with the little girl on the playground. I will never forget Iño's act of bravery. To this day, whenever I see Felix the Cat in stores, I brush a tear from my eye, reminiscing about that one glorious, fateful day when my cherished Iño beat up a boy who was much bigger than I was.
Barb the French Bean