A small teddy bear sits on the windowsill of our study.
It has red arms and red legs, a navy-blue torso and a navy-blue head. A flame-haired devil is embroidered on the front, Shane Woewodin's number 22 stitched on the back.
I don't know who bought it for me, exactly when or exactly why. But it was probably a gift from Mum or Dad, around 2000, and likely to please a son inexplicably obsessed with a football team from another state.
I might have been nine or 10. Too old for a teddy bear? Probably.
I've kept that beanie kid for more than two decades, moved it between houses and carried it from Adelaide to Canberra. It's seen eight coaches, and a few different players wearing number 22 (most recently Ainslie's own Aaron vandenBerg).
If you think it's unusual that I've held onto that toy bear, that's OK. It's entirely in keeping with the rest of this story.
The Melbourne Demons will play off in the AFL Grand Final on Saturday night, hoping to end a 57-year-old premiership drought.
I'll be watching from my couch in Canberra. The beanie kid will be moved from the study to the lounge.
It is a glorious time to be a Demons supporter, but a strange one too.
The oldest club in the land lifted 12 VFL premiership cups between 1900 and 1964, but haven't won one since.
Twice the Dees have played in grand finals in the past seven decades, and twice they've been blown off the park.
That could yet happen against the Western Bulldogs at Perth's Optus Stadium on Saturday night, but I suspect it won't.
These Dees - tough, hungry, skilled, selfless - are different.
As a fan so used to being let down, the magnificent deeds of these magnificent Dees have taken some getting used to.
It was in a state of astonishment that I watched our 208cm ruckman Max Gawn bound from the centre square in the third quarter of the preliminary final, punt a goal from beyond the 50-metre arc and raise his arms in the euphoric embrace of onballer Jack Viney.
At times, such as that one, it hasn't felt like my team at all.
The comedian and Melbourne fan Rob Sitch has diagnosed this as altitude sickness. We're simply not used to being up this high.
Demons fans ski down mountains, so they joke, not climb them.
The two-week break between the preliminary and grand finals have given me time and cause to reflect on my relationship with the Melbourne Demons.
I didn't come to support the Red and the Blue through conventional means. I was born and grew up in Adelaide, not Melbourne. My parents didn't care about football, and my three older brothers didn't support the Melbourne Football Club. Nor did any other relative, or friend at school.
I came to barrack for the Dees because they were hopeless at the time and had a young player with an unusual surname - Woewodin.
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Those who don't care for sport might be able to reason why a seven-year-old kid would choose to support a club with which they had no physical or emotional connection. Kids do strange things, right?
I imagine they'd have more difficulty understanding - truly understanding - why on earth he'd still be supporting them in adulthood.
They'd be even more puzzled if they knew how little return has come from the emotional investment of supporting the Melbourne Football Club in the past two decades.
Melbourne has made a few finals in that time and there have been reasons to cheer. Mitch Hannan's goal in the 2018 elimination final, Liam Jurrah's mark against Port Adelaide in 2010, the late Jim Stynes hugging the late Matthew Wonaeamirri after his son Austin inspired a rare win in 2008.
But it's mostly been bad, sometimes - like the 30-odd games under coach Mark Neeld - worse than bad. Despairing in moments, tragic in others. The Demons have lost more than most, on and off the field.
And yet I, and many thousands of others, have endured, persisted, turned up to games or watched them on television for 22 weeks a year even though we knew it would most likely end in disappointment.
Why? Why do we do this to ourselves!?
There is a simple answer to that question: it's because the true fan doesn't have a choice.
The bond that links a supporter to their club, the magnet that keeps drawing them back, doesn't bend and break to results on the field. The association with the colours, the song, the emblem (though it often changes), it transcends the exploits of a few dozen young adults on a large oval-shaped ground.
Once the bond is made it can't be broken. It's like a spell, or a curse.
For me, it was forged as a football-obsessed kid who perhaps secretly just wanted to do something different.
For others, it was there from birth, or not long after. They're the ones who grew up watching the Dees at the 'G with dad or mum, or listening to grandpa spin yarns about Ron Barassi or the day the club sacked Norm Smith.
They'll pass this passion to their sons and daughters, telling them about Neale Daniher's courage, Nathan Jones' grit and the feats of women's footy pioneers Daisy Pearce and Karen Paxman.
It's a sporting tragedy that so many of these fans won't be able to be in Perth on Saturday.
But even more tragic is that lockdowns in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra mean that so many more won't be able to watch the match and experience this moment with those whom they share the Red and Blue bond.
They won't be able to embrace their father or friend when "It's a Grand Old Flag" plays at the start of the match, hug them in jubilation if it's ringing out at the end, or in consolation if it's not.
In the pandemic, we've been forced to turn to social media, to WhatsApp groups and Facebook messenger. We send messages with red and blue love hearts after each win, and a four-letter word: DEES.
I was so moved to read how that as the Chicago Cubs inched towards breaking their 108-year World Series drought in 2016, fans converged on Wrigley Field to write messages in chalk on the baseball stadium's brick walls.
Among the many messages of encouragement to the team were love letters to family members who hadn't lived to see their beloved Cubs win a title.
Many Dees fans - and sadly, former players - have passed since Barassi lifted the cup in 1964.
Many others might have thought, in the darkest moments of the past two decades, that they'd die before seeing another flag.
And yet here we are. Goodwin, Gawn, Petracca, Oliver, Viney, Pickett, Lever and May. The best Dees in decades.
I so hope they win. For Daniher, for Barassi, for Jimmy.
But even if they don't, come round one year, I and many thousands of others will be watching, hoping, expecting, believing and dreaming all over again.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
It's because we don't have a choice.