My little Michelle broke her foot the other night. She fell off the bed when I turned over in my sleep and crashed onto the hardwood floor. The next night as I curled up in bed with her, I noticed a clinking sound in her right sock. Probing softly in the darkness, I could feel pieces of porcelain where her foot should be.
A broken right foot.
Just like me.
I bought the doll a few years ago at my therapist’s suggestion. She thought it would be good for me to have a tangible representation of my inner child. I balked at first. It just sounded so very cheesy, pop-psyche like. Something forty-five year old yuppies from San Marin wearing crystals do. But, I figured I would humor her. Show good faith on my part in getting better.
So, I headed for the Goodwill thrift store. After looking through the piles of plastic, cloth and rubber dolls on the shelves, I found a brown-haired doll with hands, feet and head made of porcelain but a body made of cloth. She was dressed in a velvet green pinafore over a black and white blouse with a lace ruffle collar. Little ivory cotton bloomers and socks. No shoes but she did have a display stand. And though her eyes were brown and mine are green, and her hair was far thicker than mine will ever be, she felt like what I’d imagine myself as a little girl would look like.
Once I got her home, I ditched the stand. Decided maybe her hair could use a comb. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the floor brushing and braiding her hair. Planning little clothes to make for her. Trying to figure out the best way to shod her feet.
And when those times have come when the sadness of the past has overwhelmed me, I have found it very comforting to hold her and rock her and stroke her hair. Of giving some part of me the affection and care I did not get.
It’s not that my parents where horrible people. They were flawed, but not evil. Young and unsure about what to do with a child they weren’t expecting.
Actually, I say parents with a plural, but it was really just my mom. At least, until she finally told my father about me when I was eighteen. They met at a party when they were nineteen and broke up before my mom realized she was pregnant with me. But she was in love with somebody else by the time she did realize and decided what my father didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
Or who would have been my grandparents and aunt.
And so she married this new guy she was in love with, thinking that he’d be my dad and everything would work out happily ever after.
Sorta like how teenagers think.
And when I started talking as a toddler and people thought I was a midget because I used big words, she figured I’d probably do just as good a job being left to “keep an eye” on her adulterous husband as any other adult would.
And I’d be just as patient and understanding at four years old when she divorced him as any other adult would.
And when she married again when I was eight, I’d be just as good a candle-lighter at her wedding as any other adult would.
And when she had another baby girl when I was ten, I’d be just as good at caring for her as any other adult would.
I mean, how many other ten-year-olds get to spend their summer vacations and holidays and days when the babysitter was sick with their own real baby doll to bath and change and feed and dress and push around in a stroller?
When I was a teenager I began writing a novel about my inner little girl. I named her Allie and set her in a small Oregon town in 1897. She had everything I lacked: a caring father, a healthy body, a willful spirit, a childhood.
I lost my healthy body a month before my baby sister was born when I broke my right ankle. At first I just thought it was another broken bone. I’d broken my arm the summer before and it healed up perfectly. During the three months I was in various casts, I understood that I couldn’t walk the mile to school and be on safety patrol. But nobody told me I couldn’t play kickball, so I did.
And when I played right after the cast came off, I ended up back in the emergency room where another one was put back on. After months of playing and more casts, I finally understood what no adult had bothered to tell me.
But not playing kickball anymore meant that I got even fatter. And it’s not like I wasn’t fat enough already as the doctors constantly harangued. And as my stepfather made certain to point out to me.
He also pointed out, in verbally and physically painful ways, that I was not allowed to have a willful spirit. After one particularly traumatic incident in which he broke it like porcelain on a hardwood floor, I created Allie. Gave her my willful spirit for safekeeping.
And my dream of a healthy body.
And someone to care for me.
And a childhood.
But now I want my spirit and dreams back.
I began trying to figure out how to get them back when I was getting to know my biological father, who six years earlier abruptly found out he had an eighteen-year old daughter when my mom called him up one day. And even more after he decided he couldn’t do the father-daughter thing. And particularly after I got to know my grandfather and he instructed me to be my own person a few months before he died.
I hunted for them madly after I had surgery on that right ankle and in the knee above it six years ago and ended up with blood clots in my lungs and then hemorrhaging on the blood thinners and clotting some more and developing some ephemeral but palpably debilitating condition called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
But, several months ago when my nieces were spending the night, one of them saw my little Michelle doll sitting on my chair. “She kind of looks like you ‘Chell,” she said as she picked it up.
Who is not fat.
Who has brown eyes.
Who has thick hair.
I wanted to grab my niece and kiss her and tell her that was one of the sweetest, happiest things she could have ever said. Instead, I smiled at her softly as she turned to argue with her sister about whose turn it was to use the computer.
Yep. My doll.
Who somehow absorbed the willful spirit I gave away for safekeeping all those years ago.
The willful spirit that refuses to be ashamed of my curvy body and has finally come to accept the leisurely life my illness has brought.
That insists on caring for myself rather than only caring for others.
That clings to my doll with all I have these days as I work at sifting through all the pieces of me.
The doll whose porcelain right foot I glued back together. Yet, whose feet still remain unshod.