While helping my sister unpack from a recent move, I unearthed a plastic arm hidden beneath a pile of worn dish towels. “My Midge doll!” I cried. “I didn’t know you had her.” Fondly I studied the freckles dotting the upturned nose (which a younger brother had half bitten off), and the auburn hair, so like my own—except for the bald patches, courtesy of the same sibling.
“You gave her to me when you left home,” my sister pointed out, watching me with eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“Did I?” Memories of that hasty leave taking at the age of fifteen washed over me. I remembered wanting out from beneath my stepfather’s dreary roof, out from under his infantile tirades. Most of all, wanting out from under the weight of him pinning me to the mattress every chance he got, doing shameful things to my undeveloped body.
“Maybe,” I said hopefully, suddenly cherishing Midge with a fervency bordering on panic, “it was meant as a loan.”
“Ha. You gave her to me.”
“But not forever!”
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” she said with her typically irritating logic. She held out her hand expectantly. “But I need her,” I said, knowing how lame it sounded. She’s proof that I had a childhood, I wanted to explain, that I existed back then.
In my mind’s eye I saw myself as a knobby-kneed ten year old with freckled nose and hatefully thick hair, climbing up into the womb of my backyard fort to be alone with my writing, far away from the stepfather’s mocking comment of, What are you writing–a book? If so, when you get to me, leave that chapter out, punctuated with hyena-like laughter.
“Please,” I pleaded. “I’ll trade you for anything you want.”
“I want Midge.”
“She can’t have the same sentimental value for you as she does for me.”
“You can’t know that,” my sister said, a cold edge to her voice. “I was three when you left home and it traumatized me.”
I thought of my safe childhood systematically destroyed by the abuse, of how I withdrew deep within myself into a lonely, interior existence. My writing was one form of salvation; Midge, Barbie, Skipper and Ken, another. For somewhere in the attempt at adult sophistication played out with my beloved dolls, was the desperate need to trade the reality of being a helpless, redheaded step-child for the magical realm of grownup land.
“I have to have her.” I blinked back tears. She tilted her head, considering, and then lunged at me. We tussled on the hardwood floor, rolling around with loud cries of “Stop it!”, “Give her back!” and “I mean it!”
Sadly, I had no choice but to give up Midge, with all that she symbolized of my too brief, bittersweet childhood. “I’ll get you another one,” my sister promised, generous in the afterglow of victory. “Goodwill has one in much better shape.”
I have the “fake” Midge buried in a drawer. She’s in better shape than my original: no bald spots, bitten off nose and nipples. But she’s not my Midge, the ever faithful friend to the more elegant Barbie. When I glance at her staring blankly up at me, I can’t help but smile wistfully at the memory of that tussle with my sister, of that pitiful attempt to hold on to what was never mine to begin with.
(written in 1992)