Several Christmases ago, I found myself wandering around a deserted parking lot in San Francisco, clinging to the fragile idea of Christmas magic, but mostly just on the phone with airline customer service.

We’d just flown cross-country with the children, ages 9 and 2 (apologies again, Good People of Rows 13 and 15). The older one is deeply imaginative and inventive, just not especially good at paying attention or remaining in the real world instead of the one in his head, which is populated almost entirely by Percy Jackson and dragons. (Frankly it sounds like a good place to be; in that world sinks don’t leak and Percy doesn’t get Christmas Visa bills.)

That world also contains Milo. Milo has been around, as far as my son is concerned, since a few minutes before the dawn of time. Milo is a brown and white stuffed cat; his name comes from “The Adventures of Milo and Otis,” which we all watched together so religiously that I basically started hallucinating friendships between any two animals that happened to cross my path. Those two squirrels on the porch? Best friends. The raccoons vandalizing my garbage cans? Obviously engaged in a thrilling secret adventure-life. The dolphins at the zoo? Just two thrown-together souls trying to sing songs and eat fish in a difficult world. (I also started talking like Dudley Moore, which was super-weird at swim-team meetings.)

Well, Milo, as you’ve likely surmised, was left on the plane, forgotten as we scrambled to collect the several thousand blankets, books, pens, Apple devices, applesauce pouches and fruit squooshies we packed for what looked like a months-long flight. And despite calling the airline, the airport, the lost and found, the airport police station somehow (apologies again, officers), the TSA, the Sbarro at the airport and Dudley Moore, Milo was nowhere to be found. I had nightmares of the flight attendants chucking Milo into the aisle-cart garbage bag with the pretzels and Fresca cans. Still do, actually.

Naturally, we tore the Internet to shreds in our quest for a replacement, although obviously we would have had to spend some time simulating the appropriate level of discoloration/hair-matting that comes from a near-decade of use. As near as we could tell, Milo hailed from the Douglas company, but it turned out that Googling “Douglas stuffed animal cat” yielded an ABSURD WEALTH of huggable product. Clearly these “Douglas” people have been flooding the market with plush cuddle-ables in recent years. If one day we wake to find the planet has been overthrown by a nefarious cabal of self-aware stuffed animals, we will have the Douglas people to blame. (It will have been the most adorable overthrowing ever.)

It was futile, all of it. We found gray Milos. We found orange Milos. We found some that looked vaguely same-ish, including the two that we bought in a desperate scramble to save Christmas, but they were too big, too wrong-colored. Evidently, Milo had sprung from some bizarrely limited edition line of Small Brown Cats that were available for 20 minutes in 2004 and fell through a rift in space-time shortly thereafter. A replacement Milo simply did not exist. (Do you have any idea what it feels like to not find something on the Internet? IT’S THE INTERNET. THAT’S WHERE WE PUT ALL OUR STUFF.)

We held out hope that we’d be sitting around the tree on Christmas Eve and some Lifetime-movie phone call would come in, from some jolly airport attendant who happened to shake out a blanket or look under a cushion, but Dec. 24 came and went with no Milo. So did Dec. 25.

My son was a soldier about it, by the way. He said that Milo was off on an adventure of his own, probably seeing the world, making new friends, and we agreed. Until about mid-November of the following year when, on a whim, my wife took a swing in the dark on eBay and found one, a real Milo, a perfect match, the right color and everything, which she claimed by clicking the BUY NOW, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD button.

When Milo arrived, she put it in a box, and that box in a bigger box, and that box in a bigger box, and so on. When my son opened the last box on Christmas morning and saw Milo, we all fell through the rift in space-time and floated around for a good long while.

You can find Jeff Vrabel, a writer, @jeffvrabel and on jeffvrabel.com.

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