I grew up in foster care - a misnomer if there ever was one - none of us had much to call our own and for the most part, we didn't miss what we didn't have. I never had a doll but a lot of girls I knew had one so they were always a bit of a fascination for me. One day I happened upon one in an alley. It had been thrown away and the face was shattered. I hunted for all the pieces and wrapped what I had collected into my sweater and hid the package in a crevice behind the garbage dumpster.
I carted those pieces around with me from one place to another, hiding it here and there over the years and when I was finally grown and married, I came across it one day. The old sweater I had used to wrap the pieces was at the bottom of a small box of memories and when I saw it, so much emotion surfaced. I unwrapped the sweater carefully, the sweater itself reminding me of the girl I had been and one who had hoarded a secret treasure. When I touched the broken pieces of the doll's face, I thanked the powers that be for my many blessings because I was no longer that child.
I showed my husband all the pieces and with more patience and understanding than I could ever conceive, he offered to help me put it back together.
"Why?" I asked.
"I think it's something you have to do," he replied and he said no more.
I wasn't sure I wanted to put the doll back together. If I made it whole again, would it remind me of some hard times that are best left buried in the past? What if we couldn't put it back together? I had kept it for so long, how would I feel about that? I was torn with indecision.
Cowboy said nothing further, waiting until I was ready to face the task.
I procrastinated in creative ways. I washed the tattered clothes the doll wore and patched it in places, wanting to keep everything as close to original as I could. I made a new lining for the skirt, and used yarn and heavy threads to add dimension to its hair. The body was intact and I spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning years old dirt and grit from the creases in the elbows and between the fingers of both hands. I bought new socks and underwear for it and polished the slippers it wore. All of this took days and days turned into weeks and when I had run out of things to do, I knew that it was time to fix the hardest part.
"I'm ready," I said several weeks after rediscovering the doll.
"Are you going to help me or are you just going to watch?"
"I'm going to hold you, bambina," he said as we sat at the dining room table, me on his lap, the pieces of the doll's face spread on newsprint in front of us.
"Cowboy..." I remember saying as I surveyed the fragments, self-doubt rising swiftly. Had I opened Pandora's Box?
"Sono qui I'm here, he said softly. "And when you need to lean on me, I'll hold you."
"When I need to lean? Why would I need to lean?" I asked, blissfully unaware of what he already seemed to know.
And then... it dawned on me... memories of yesteryear. I *might* have to lean... I leaned back... testing the strength of the wall of warmth behind me... I felt his arms tighten around my body, his breath warm on my neck and was glad he was there for me to lean on.
It was a painful process, each piece a jagged puzzle remnant to be fitted and glued in just the right place. Some of the pieces were sharper than others and after testing the sharpness of a particular piece on my palm, Cowboy took it away from me.
"I want that," I heard myself say.
"You don't have to bleed to feel pain, bambina," he said softly. "And you don't have to bleed to remember old pain, either," he added, lifting my palm to his mouth to kiss away the drop of blood that lingered there.
I leaned... Oh... I leaned hard.
By the time half of the face was back together again, I was panting, out of breath as if I had run a long race and I knew I was going to be the last to arrive at the finish line.
I didn't realize I was shaking until I felt Cowboy's arms tighten around me, his voice soft in my ear, my lifeline... my sanity...
We all have a child within us... at times, that child is memories to be remembered and relished. At times, it is an entity that hides behind our more mature form and when some event pushes a button, it peeks out and makes us remember the child we once were.
But now... at this time... in this place... the child within me was one that had often hid in a dark closet beneath a wooden staircase in a nightmare I had lived when I was too small and too young to walk away from what was taking place around me. As I tried to reconstruct the shattered pieces of the doll's face, I realized it had awakened a sleeping giant within me and that giant was anger. Anger so profound... so complex... and so deeply buried that I don't think I have ever fully plumbed it.
I swallowed hard. If I could reconstruct that face... I could somehow change what was, what should have been and maybe regain a small portion of what had been lost.
With resolve, I picked up a piece I was sure would fit in a certain way but I was wrong. It wouldn't fit. I tried again and still, it wouldn't fit. I tried a third time and for the third time, I failed.
That wall of anger rose so swiftly... a wave that towered over me and overwhelmed my severely constrained control. I knew I could drown in its vortex and I fought it... Banging my fists down hard on either side of the doll's face, I screamed at it as if it were the cause of every awful and ugly thing that had ever happened to the child I had been.
The rage consumed me but my husband's hands took hold of mine and held them before I destroyed all that I had put together and he held on tight.
His touch was all it took. Instantly, I calmed... the wave receded... and then I cried.
Cowboy pulled me back against his chest and held me until there were no more tears and I heard myself tell him things my mind had purposely forgotten, things I had not consciously remembered, things that child had buried deep inside me.
I was worn out then and wanted to do nothing more than stay where I was, snug against my husband's chest, his arms holding me in his embrace, his love so powerful and so healing.
"I can't do anymore," I told him.
"Yes, you can," he insisted. "Finish it, bambina. Finish it for the little girl who found it and give it to her. You owe this to her," he whispered. "Do it for her."
Do it for her.
It was a mantra.
Do it for her.
I didn't want to do any more but I knew my husband was right. I had to finish the task before me now or I would find excuses not to go near it again and I needed to put it to rest. I turned to him and said I needed music... something with an ache to it, something that would mirror whatever dark shadows lingered within me. I wanted to amplify those shadows, bring them to the light of day, and shatter them with reality, show them that in spite of the past, I had survived.
He chose tapes of some of my favorite jazz musicians - ones I often dance to - Oscar Brown, Jr., Dakota Stanton, Chick Corea and Chuck Mangione and we listened for a while but I was restless and had difficulty finding the energy to continue. Cupping my chin to make me look at him, he said he was certain I had the courage to do what needed to be done. I was uncertain... and then he put another tape into the player and the opening chords of "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" filled the room. As the tempo changed from mournfully sad to blaring anger I found that child in its rhythm and picked up the next fragment of the doll's face.
I worked steady for a couple of hours, my husband steadfast and silent behind me. His breath was warm and reassuring on my neck, the circle of his arms holding me in a loose embrace. When I would hesitate, his lips found their way to my lips, his eyes tender and encouraging. No matter which way I turned, his body held me close to his, the assurance of his love all that I needed to complete the task.
When I finally finished, the face was filled with scars, dark lines evident where the pieces had been glued together. I was missing a few pieces... there were a few gaping holes - small ones - but gaping nonetheless. "Do you think I should fill these holes with another material?" I asked as I surveyed the unfinished face.
"No," he said quietly as he studied the doll. "I think you should leave it as it is."
I nodded. He was right, of course. There was symbolism there but we both knew you can't change the past, you can't change what was. You can only move forward and make things better. I had done what I could for the little girl that found the doll and as I eased back into my husband's arms, the doll held in the crook of my own, I knew that angry child had finally calmed. Survival is a mysterious phenomenon and if I am nothing else, I am a survivor. To my way of thinking, life is made up of four kinds of people. Survivors, achievers, those who succeed and winners. What we think of ourselves determines a lot about how we face life. There are those who are blissfully unaware that they are breezing through it by the grace of God and the kindness of strangers. There are those who always think the worst of who they are and what they do - nothing is ever quite good enough. There are those who are parasites - living off the largess of others and there are those of us who survive in spite of the odds. Everything we are above the level of survival - achievers, those who succeed, winners - all icing on the cake and in many aspects of my life, I lick the icing with great satisfaction.
The doll with the scars is prominently displayed in my studio. She sits on a shelf, her legs dangling, her back leaning on an ancient quilt, a quilt the child I had been found in a warehouse not long after the discovery of the broken doll. They are two of my most prized possessions, reminding me of what used to be and allowing me to be grateful for my many blessings. The more I look at that doll, the more I see beauty in what she represents. She was my past but that was then and this is now. I am who I am and now is infinitely better.