I hesitated, one finger hovering over my mouse’s left button. My laptop monitor glowed softly in the dimly-lit hotel room. The eBay listing on the screen before me had a “Buy It Now” option for sixty dollars. But sixty dollars was so expensive. It wasn’t as if the listing was for electronics, or nice jewelry – things that an average person wouldn’t hesitate to pay sixty dollars for.
This listing was for a toy. A toy from the 1980s My Little Pony line called “Oakley Moose.” As the name implied, it was a plastic moose with a lavender body, pink eyes and blue hair. It was adorable. When I looked at Oakley Moose, I felt the same delighted desire I’d felt as a kid, whenever I found a toy I wanted.
I couldn’t help myself. I clicked the “Buy It Now” button, and had Oakley Moose shipped to my apartment back in the States.
Up to that point, 2013 had not been a happy year for me. Shortly before I was scheduled to go on a writing retreat in Chamonix, France, for my Creative Writing MFA program, my beloved grandfather passed away. His funeral was held just days before I left for my trip.
I tried to make the best of things and enjoy myself – the food was great and workshops with my classmates were fun – but I didn’t share the close bonds of friendship that my fellow MFAers did. I’d always had difficulty making friends.
At the time, I was 25 and had been married for two years. Until then, my husband and I hadn’t been apart from each other for more than a weekend. I wasn’t devastated to be separated from him for three weeks, but I did miss him, which added to my loneliness.
By my second week in France, I was feeling quite homesick. One night, while my classmates were out socializing, I stayed in, hoping to get some extra writing done. That’s how I ended up on eBay, comforting myself by doing one of my favorite things – looking at listings for vintage toys.
I’ve always loved toys. The year before my trip, I’d taught myself to sew and opened an Etsy shop selling stuffed animals. I had a shelf on my desk back home full of cute figurines, from old Polly Pockets to Pokemon. I would have had even more toys, except I didn’t want my husband to think of me as one of “those people” (the kind from shows like “My Strange Obsession.”)
When I returned home from my trip, my husband, Kyu (pronounced “Q,” just like the letter), gave me a good-natured laugh.
“Even when you’re in another country, toys still show up for you!” he said.
I laughed with him, but internally I was mortified. From then on, I vowed, I wouldn’t buy any more My Little Pony toys. If I was curious about them, I would simply do research and learn more.
In the meantime, I placed Oakley Moose on my craft table. I eventually brought him to work with me, setting him slightly behind my desktop monitor, where my co-workers couldn’t see. When Kyu asked where Oakley Moose had disappeared to, I panicked. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I’d brought a toy to the office. I was too afraid of what he might think.
In my mind, Kyu was still the mysterious, quiet guy I’d met in college. He’d always sat alone, in the back of every class. He wrote dark literary fiction, and won an honorable mention in our college’s creative writing contest. He smoked, and even though it bothered me (and he’d quit before we got married) it was still cool as hell. I swear I fell in love with him while watching him smoke outside our dorm building, his ankles crossed, one shoulder leaned casually against the brick doorway, like a Korean James Dean.
It didn’t matter how long we’d been married, or how many times I’d seen him fall asleep on our couch, clutching a bag of Cheetos. To me, my husband would always be that cool dude from college. I couldn’t explain to the cool dude from college that I had brought a pretty, purple My Little Pony toy to work with me. Surely, he would sneer. Surely, he would laugh. Surely, he would think less of me. So, I lied and told him that I’d stored Oakley Moose away in the closet.
“Huh,” Kyu said, sounding confused, “That’s weird. I thought you really liked him.” Thankfully, he dropped the discussion.
Oakley Moose helped make my job a bit more bearable. I worked in a call center and I hated it. Customers were nasty, as was my supervisor, and the corporate culture was stressful. Whenever I had a spare moment at work, I offset the stress by browsing the web. One day, instead of getting on Facebook, as I usually would, I began to read about My Little Pony. I had known a bit about Steiff and Beanie Babies, but I’d never encountered a toy line as interesting as this. The whole thing had been dreamed up by a woman working for Hasbro in the 1980s. She’d wanted to release an educational toy to teach little girls how to care for horses. Later, other Hasbro designers added in magical elements to create unicorn and Pegasus ponies. It was one of the longest-running toy lines in history, with four separate generations of toys and television shows. Fascinating stuff.
I began talking with serious collectors, starting with the eBay buyer who’d sold me Oakley Moose. She referred me to several of her fellow collectors, whom she labeled her “pony friends.” I learned a lot from them.
Soon, in spite of my initial vow, I bought another pony. Then another. Just like Oakley Moose, I did my best to hide them from my husband. I kept them behind other objects on my desk, or behind the X-Box on the television stand. Once I had over a dozen, this approach no longer worked and I had to move them to a plastic bin in our den. Every time I opened it, I wished that I could display them more openly.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to tell Kyu about my new passion. What if he told me that it was childish, or stupid? I knew that such comments would devastate me and make me see him in a different light. It didn’t matter that he’d never given me a reason to believe he’d react that way. The possibility still scared me.
Then, one day at work, I saw a sales post on a My Little Pony Facebook group I’d recently joined. Below the pony’s picture was a link, above which said: “Click to see the full sales post on the Arena!”
I had never heard of “the Arena.” I clicked the link and was transported to a forum page. The only way to read posts there was to create an account, which I did. Little did I know that I had just become a member of the largest My Little Pony collecting community in existence: the MLPArena.
Like stepping from a quiet building onto the streets of Downtown Manhattan, this forum changed everything. Suddenly I was no longer a casual pony buyer. I was a collector.
But I discovered that ponies were only part of what made the Arena special. There were boards within the forum where collectors discussed their lives and other hobbies. The “What’s Your Problem” board was a place where collectors could ask for help with personal issues. These ranged from barely serious (“I can’t figure out what kind of cake to bake for my daughter’s birthday!”) to extremely serious (“I don’t know whether I should get an abortion.”) I began participating in discussions there, even venting about my own frustrations with work.
The majority of collectors on the Arena were women and the place had a sisterhood-like vibe. I felt good when I friended fellow arena members on Facebook, congratulated them on their collections, or exchanged private messages with them late into the night. They felt different from other people I’d talked to online. They felt like friends.
Soon my pony bin was almost full, and I was secretly making plans to attend the Pony Fair that summer. I knew that I had run out of ways to hide. I was going to have to come clean to Kyu.
I waited for a weekend. We went out for dinner, and upon arriving home I told him that I wanted to talk. Sweating bullets, I sat beside him on the couch, and opened up about everything.
“This is embarrassing, but…I really like My Little Pony.”
“I mean, I really, really like My Little Pony. I joined a forum for collectors, and I’ve been having so much fun. I’ve met some awesome people. To be honest, I really like toys in general. If I could, I’d have a lot more stuffed animals and figurines than I do now. I actually wish that I had a nice shelf to display the ponies I’ve been storing in the den.”
“Oh, you want me to make you some shelves?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Uh…would you really consider doing that?” I had spent all day psyching myself up to deal with a raised eyebrows, a curled lip, and possibly a condescending laugh. Him offering to help was the last thing I’d expected.
“Sure, I can make some shelves…on one condition.”
“What’s that?” I asked, hesitantly.
“I’d really like to display some Lego sets alongside them. And maybe some action figures I found online.”
I was gobsmacked. When I managed to stutter, “You never told me you were interested in toys!” Kyu responded, “Well, no, I didn’t want you to think I was weird,” as if that should have been obvious.
Even after that conversation, I didn’t realize how much my marriage had been affected until the evening Kyu finished installing the new shelves in our bedroom. Overjoyed as I was to take my ponies from their sad little bin to this new display, I felt guilt rising in my chest as I transferred them to the shelves. Kyu was already relaxing on the bed, smiling idly up at me every now and then as I worked. By the time the top shelf was full, I found myself sitting beside him, apologizing.
“I’m really sorry about all this,” I fumbled.
“Why?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, you went through all this trouble for me. And now there are ponies all over our bedroom wall. You’ll have to look at them every night. And what if someone comes over and sees them? Won’t you be embarrassed?”
The look that spread across my husband’s face is one I’ll never forget. He looked equal parts confused and hurt.
“Why would I be embarrassed? Are you embarrassed of my video games? Will you be embarrassed of my action figures?”
“Then I’m not embarrassed of your ponies. I have lots of things that make me happy. You’re allowed to have things like that too. If this makes you happy, then I’m all for it. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”
His words moved me, the way watching our wedding video or going through old photographs moved me. I’d always known that he loved me, but I hadn’t known that he supported me that way. That deeply. Suddenly I felt…stronger. Safer. Ponies had just revealed something very important about the nature of my marriage. I smiled.
“I love you. Do you think…maybe you could help me make my Pony Fair costume?”
He laughed. “Sure, I guess. Why not?” then he added, “But it will probably suck.”
The costume did not, in fact, suck. At the 2014 Pony Fair that summer, it won first place in the costume contest. But that wasn’t nearly as surprising to me as my friends from the MLParena rushing to greet me and Kyu upon our arrival at the fair. Or how much Kyu, the cool dude from college, seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, surrounded on all sides by ultra-feminine pony people and toys.
If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.
Ponies helped my marriage when I didn’t even know it needed help. They gave me my first close-knit group of friends. What began with a single, sixty-dollar eBay purchase ended up completely altering my life.