Just Another Dream

            I wasn’t the kind of kid who played with dolls. At least not in the usual way. Like most girls I had been given a few dolls as gifts, but none of them piqued my interest. I never gave them names, never changed their clothes, never pretended to feed or diaper them.

            Mostly they resided on my pillow, a line-up of meaningless plastic constructions that my parents thought I should have. Several of the dolls were still enclosed in boxes. I had been forbidden from opening them, and since I really didn’t care, I never so much as broke the seal.

            Those dolls were beautiful, too beautiful for a “little girl” as I had been told by my mom. They had glossy pretend hair. I recall that one’s was black, one was blonde and another had long wavy brown hair. I had seen what other girls did to their dolls’ hair, turned it into unruly tangles, and I understood that I was not supposed to ruin my dolls in the same way.

            Since I didn’t care, threats were meaningless.

            Dolls were also pretty boring back then. Their arms and legs might move, maybe even the heads might rotate, but they weren’t cuddly and did nothing that imitated life.

            Christmas was nearing, the year I turned eight. We did have a television then, a small black and white model that carried maybe three stations. One evening an advertisement appeared that called my name. A walking doll! Can you imagine such a thing? A doll that would follow you around. A doll that could be your best friend, something I dearly needed.

            I begged for that doll. When it was time to visit Santa, the only thing I wanted was that doll. When I went to bed, pictures of me playing with the doll, happy and laughing and having the best time of my life filled my thoughts.

            I was young enough to still believe in Santa, but old enough to understand that my family had very little money. No worry: Santa would bring me the doll.

            Our family attended Mass and then ate breakfast before we opened the colorfully packaged gifts under the tree. Because it had snowed heavily, we couldn’t drive the miles into Dayton to attend church, so we gathered around my dad who read the entire Mass. My mind was not on prayer, not on the service, but on the gifts under the tree. Would there be a doll for me? I prayed and prayed for the doll.

            Breakfast was oatmeal. No surprise there. Almost all of our breakfasts were oatmeal. Never cold cereal. That wasn’t allowed until we moved to California. Never bacon and eggs. Sometimes the despised Cream of Wheat.

            We didn’t add anything to the oatmeal. No brown sugar, no raisins, no honey. Nothing to make it interesting or more palatable. I was a picky eater and because I hated oatmeal, it usually took me forever to get down one bowl. But that morning, that Christmas, I gobbled mine down in record time.

            After breakfast we’d gather around the tree. My brother and I would sit on the floor, my parents on chairs. My dad was the only one allowed to touch the gifts, so we had to wait patiently while he picked up one, read its tag, then delivered it to the recipient. Gifts could not be opened until each of us held one in our laps.

            When our dad sat and gave the signal, we carefully removed bows and ribbons, so that they could be reused next year, then ran our thumbs under the tape binding the wrapping paper. Once free. We had to smooth out the paper, fold it along its lines, then stack it neatly beside us.

            If the gift was in a box we again had to open it carefully so as to not bend it or crease it in any way. If the gift was in its own box so that the contents were revealed with the unwrapping, we were forbidden to open the box until after lunch Christmas Day.

            I don’t remember anything I opened except that none of them were the doll. When there was nothing left under the tree, my eyes filled with tears. Santa had disappointed me.

            We helped Mom sort ribbons, bows and paper into neat stacks. When the job was complete, we were set free to play. My brother was older and therefore determined what toys we played with, what games we chose. Most likely we played with his green Army men. He loved lining them up in formations and sending them to attack the meager Army I was given. My men never won. Instead they “died” gruesome deaths of his choosing.

There was something satisfying in watching my men die that day. Their misery was a metaphor for my own. Those plastic men had wishes and dreams that would never come true: my one wish had also not come true. Each death mirrored the death of my dreams. In some perverse way, it was comforting.

            Before we could move on to another activity, the Army had to be cleaned up and put away. Because I was lower on the pecking order, cleanup was always left up to me. My brother had most likely moved on to another of his preferred activities, abandoning me to place the Army in the storage box in which they lived.

            Lunch must have been served. Most likely bologna sandwiches with a slice of pretend American cheese. No chips. No soda. Maybe, if we were lucky, homemade applesauce that Mom had canned in the summer.

            Free to play with the new toys, we were set free. I wish I remembered the things I had received, but I don’t. I was having trouble learning to read and tell time, so there might have been something related to that. Most likely not. We owned no picture books. No books of any kind except for an old bible that we weren’t allowed to read.

            I did have coloring books and crayons, but no plastic dishes with which to set up house. I hadn’t wanted plastic dishes, so I didn’t miss them at all.

            My dad and brother were into trains, so I bet there was track and at least one train car or engine. My dad was trying to turn my brother into the skilled athlete that he was, so there might have been a new glove or baseball. I would have loved my own glove! Girls didn’t play ball back then, so there’s no way a glove would have been under the tree for me.

            We did play board games. Because we were often trapped at home during snowy Ohio days, my brother and I spent hours playing games. I love getting new games. Each presented a new challenge, a new experience. Until my brother dominated my pieces. He won every time.

            By this time it would have been late afternoon, early evening. At some point I probably sank into one of the two chairs in the living room, crossed my arms over my chest and let the tears fall.

            Crying for me was normal. I cried every day, sometimes all day long. I cried when my brother hurt me, beat me at a game, hit me with a ball, stole my share of the Army men. I sobbed when I was punished for being me, for not knowing my colors, my alphabet, money and time. I was a miserable child: not the kind of girl that people want to cherish, to hold, to nurture.

            At some point my dad entered the room carrying a large, colorfully wrapped box. I knew that it wasn’t for me. There was no way I’d get something that large. No way that a gift for me had been overlooked.

            My brother, on the other hand, would have been given a surprise gift. He would have been the one that my dad would set the box in front of, the one who would get to open a gift while I watched.

            Imagine my shock when the gift landed at my feet! When I stood, the box was nearly as tall as I was. Could it be? Was it possible?

            When told to do so, I gingerly removed ribbon and bow. Ran my fingers along the edge of the paper. As I did so the contents were revealed: it was the doll from the televison.

            She was beautiful. Her golden hair fell to her shoulders. It gleamed in the Christmas tree lights. Her plastic arms were pearly and smooth. She was wearing a blue fitted dress that had eyelet trim along the edge of the sleeves and the bottom of the hem. On her feet were black Maryjane shoes like the ones I wore to church.

            My dad opened the box while I waited, holding my breath. This doll would change my life. There was something about her, something so special that I knew, I understood, that I would never be the same weeping girl. I would be as special as this doll. She would become my best friend, my only friend, as she followed me around the house.

            Once the doll was set free, I yearned to see her walk. But I couldn’t. No batteries came in the box. We had no batteries at home. Because the roads were covered in snow, no batteries could be purchased until the snow melted. All I could do was push her about. You see, on the soles of her shoes were rollers. Tiny black rollers. Four on each shoe.

            In a way, that was somewhat satisfying. I’d never had a doll with rollers. Never had a doll whose eyes opened and closed. Hers did just that. I’d never had a doll that was close to my size. There was so much about her that pleased me, that I didn’t mind, much, that I couldn’t watch her walk.

            Because I couldn’t turn the doll on, my mom insisted that she be returned to her box until batteries could be purchased. I was disappointed, but also relieved. With her in the box, her hair would not be mussed, her dress could not be torn, her legs and arms could not be broken. I also couldn’t sleep with her, but her plastic body was so hard, so dense, that there was no comfort in touching her. The box was hidden in my mom’s closet.

            I don’t remember how many days passed, how many days I had to wait to see the doll walk. But one day, after I’d nearly forgotten that the doll was in safekeeping, my dad returned home from work with batteries.

            After dinner the doll was brought out. I watched, eagerly, as my dad inserted the batteries. I stood over the doll and waited, holding my breath, while my dad flipped the switch.

            A grinding sound began. It sounded like metal on metal as the doll’s right foot slowly, almost imperceptibly moved forward a few inches. The left followed at snail’s pace. Then the right. The left. Ever so slowly she moved, the rollers allowing her to go forward to the horrible grinding sound. Then she died.

            Just like that. She moved a few inches, then died. The batteries only lasted for a few minutes. End of story. The doll was repackaged and returned to the closet.

            Sometime later, when I had definitely forgotten the doll, more batteries appeared. By now I had lost interest. This doll, this longed-for treasure, the one thing that would change my life, was just another huge disappointment in a long list of disappointments.

            I watched the doll move because I was expected to. Once again her feet moved minuscule bits to the grinding sound. Once again the batteries died.

            At this point I was given the option of keeping the doll in my room. I could play with her as long as I was careful not to muss her hair or ruin her clothes. The doll’s thrill had ended on Christmas Day when I saw how little she could do.

            Her eyes did not open or close. Her head did not turn and her arms did not move. She could not sit or bend. She was not cuddly, and since standing or lying down were the only things she could do, I no longer wanted her. She was just a cold, hard, rigid body. An image of me. Or at least what I thought people saw when they looked at me.

            My mom put the doll in her box and took her somewhere. I didn’t care. Never asked about her. Never missed her.

            When I got older I realized that the doll represented my status in the family. Like the doll, I was a disappointment. My mom had wanted a girly-girl but I was a tomboy. I hated dresses and stiff shoes. I loved being outdoors, playing on the swing, imagining great adventures as I flew back and forth.

             I never became the girl she dreamt of. And when I went away to college, like the doll, I was out of sight, out of mind. The doll’s disappearance hinted at what was to become of me.

            I thought I had gotten over the doll, but obviously not. I came to accept that the things we yearn for do not always turn out to be what we really want. Desire is just an elusive feeling that is easily subdued, easily conquered.  

            As we grow older we put away childhood toys and games. We outgrow clothes, change our hair styles, pierce our ears. We fill our hearts and minds with other, more immediate joys. We pretend that we’ve pushed aside those things that let us down, but they lie buried, deep, deep inside.

I Yearn to be Seen

I am the sole of your shoe,

the dirt that you spit upon,

and the excrement of fish

that sinks into the silt

quickly becoming invisible.

 

I am the one who sits in the

last seat, in the last row,

who never says a word, or joins

a group, or makes any sound,

trying to be invisible.

 

I am the one that you never see,

even when you brush against

my back or shoulder in a crowd,

the one that you never grace with

a smile, for I am invisible.

 

I yearn to have a friend of my own,

someone who shares secrets with me,

holds my hand, carries my books,

asks for my phone number, so that

I will no longer be invisible.

 

I am tired of sitting alone, day after day,

munching on my cardboard lunch

while others around me joke and speak

of adventures of which I will never know,

for I remain invisible.

 

I ask for your attention, your time,

which you so willingly give to your

chosen few, the “in crowd,” those that

raise your status, your time card, but

not me, for I am invisible.

 

I beg you to stop just once and ask

my name, to hold the door and let me

enter first, to invite me to join your group

for lunch, or to be my partner, to wipe away

my cloak of invisibility

 

so that I may be seen for who I am,

a child of God

a blessed soul

a friend in waiting

Freedom

Fortune laughs in the old woman’s face

Shuffle all that’s left of dancer’s grace

Wrinkled arms that once would fling and flay

Hang heavy and refuse to obey.

 

Her heart, weak and constantly famished

Cries for her torture to be finished

No longer she yearns for love to feel

Instead waits for heaven’s bell to peal

 

Eyes as tired as Victorian lace

Blinded to God’s everlasting grace

Steal bindings encircle shriveled chest

Restrict the ability to rest

 

In hardened bed of thorns she reclines

As witness to loneliness she pines

With every sinew, bone and ounce

She besieges Master Death to pounce

 

Oh please, oh please, Lord do me allow

To end this torturous life right now

I’ve lived my life as best as I could

Upon my principles I have stood

 

There is nothing now that I regret

Except for people I did forget

Forgive my sins, for I am weak

Give me the release, which I do seek

 

Then with smile upon her wizened face

She experienced God’s loving grace

Flying free of her skeletal frame

She joyously sand out God’s name

 

My Wishes, Over Time

When I was a child, my dreams were three-fold: happiness, safety, and love. I don’t remember the specifics as it’s been far too many years, but I felt as if I lacked all three.

Early pictures of me show a sulky, sad, miserable little girl. Did I look that way because I didn’t get something that I wanted at that moment in time, or does my downturned mouth reflect the general state of my being? In my mind, it was the latter. I can’t recall much laughter, but that is no surprise since those years have disappeared from my collective memory.

Looking back, I should have been happy, for aren’t little kids bundles of joy? Don’t kids love to giggle and run about yelling like banshees?

Shouldn’t I have felt safe because I lived with my family? If so, why do I recall fear of punishment as the strongest emotion?

And love. Everyone deserves love. I’m sure that my parents loved me, for if they didn’t, wouldn’t they have given me up for adoption or sent me away to live with relatives? They didn’t do those things, so there must have been some positive feelings toward me. The problem is, I don’t recall being loved. I don’t recall hugs or kisses or sitting on laps or walking hand-in-hand.

A flaw in my memory? Most likely.

As a kid, my world expanded, and so did my dreams. I still yearned for the big three, but I added in pleasing my teacher and having friends as major goals. The problem was that I was not a good student and so seldom earned praise from the strict sisters that were my teachers in the Catholic School.

I did my work to the best of my ability, but it was never good enough. Because I wasn’t earning A grades, I was often held after school to clean blackboards! (Could this be why I am asthmatic?) When I got home I was punished once again. Logically, then this made me fearful. Double punishment for every poor grade.

Did it inspire me to do better? Maybe, but remember, I was already working as hard as I could!

And let’s not forget having a friend! Because I was shy, I was not the type that was included when kids went out to play. Add on top of that the fact that I wore faded, hand-me-down uniforms that made me stand out as poor. Then there is the issue of grades, as no one wants to spend time with the dumb kid in class.

Added to that was the fact that, because I got poor grades, I usually spent lunch in the tutoring room, sitting in silence while a stern nun oversaw my efforts to complete work. Sometimes she helped, but most of the time she chided.

So, no friends.

There were material things that I wished for. A new bike. A Barbie doll. Roller skates. To play on my brother’s baseball and football teams.  Store-bought clothes and shoes that fit.

I eventually saved up enough money to buy myself a bike, but I never got the doll. A relative gave me skates and I never had brand new clothes. I did get new shoes every other year, which meant that the first they were too big and the second they fit, but were now scuffed.

While I was good at sports, I couldn’t play on teams. This was back in the 1960s and there were few, if any, teams for girls. So that dream did not become a reality until I was in high school.

As a teenager my dreams did not change much. I hung onto the big three and having a friend. I still yearned for the positive attention from my teachers, and because I had finally learned how to read well enough to get good grades, I was often considered the star student.

I still wanted store-bought clothes, and was able to buy myself a doctor’s shirt (yes, that was a style!) and my dad no longer made me wear oxford shoes. Because my feet had quit growing, I also had shoes that fit!

Relatives gave me clothes. It was considerate of them to do this, but there were too problems: they were a few sizes too small as I was fat and the styles were old-fashioned and not appealing to a teen. My mom, who was an excellent seamstress, picked apart the clothes and remade them into matching skirts and vests. Beautiful, but not what girls wore.

Now I wanted a boyfriend. My first, real-life boy who would ask me out for a date. Who would hold my hand and be proud to walk with me. No kissing. I wasn’t ready for that yet. But I didn’t know how to be attractive to boys, so I went dateless until my senior year when I asked the young man who lived across the street to take me to my prom.

He was a nice guy. Not real smart, but he had inherited a duplex from his mother and lived alone. He had a job as a mailman, so he had a reliable income. He was fair looking, but so was I, so we fit together.

We dated for a year, so I had a boyfriend for a year. But because he was a man, he wanted more out of the relationship than I was prepared to give. When I went away to college and found out that intelligent, curious young men found me attractive, that earlier relationship died and quick death.

In college I had bigger dreams. By now I was well aware of the world and dreamt of travel. Thanks to campus organizations I went camping in the forests, walked along beaches and stood next to a massive earthquake-caused crack in the earth. I marched in protest of the Vietnam War and participated in sit-ins with hundreds of young people.

I met a wealthy young man whose parents gave him tickets to the theater and to the opera and ballet, so I got exposed to cultural events that inspired me to see more.

My eyes were opened to all the possibilities that existed in the world and expended my dreams to include many of them, even those well beyond my financial reach.

I like to think that my earlier wishes guided my decision-making throughout my life. For example, I always held teachers in high regard, admired them for both their dedication and ability. That’s not to say that I was disappointed when a teacher was indifferent or incompetent.

Since I first attended school, I claimed that I wanted to be a teacher. That was an unwavering goal, even though I was distracted by economic factors that caused me to postpone achieving that goal until I was a parent myself. Once I became a teacher, I was determined to be not just a good one, but a great one. I hope that I was.

My desire to be both safe and loved led me to my husband who fulfills both those dreams. There has never been a time in our relationship when those feelings have been threatened. He is my rock.

My desire to have friends solidified as I have gotten older. I have made good friends through writing conferences, book clubs, soccer, the senior center and church.  I am no longer lonely, although I still have problems in a crowd. Once I break through the crowd to find one friendly face, I am okay.

To summarize, throughout my life my basic dreams remained the same. As I aged, more blended in, expanding my wishes in profound and interesting ways. And as I accomplished goals, I never forgot where I was as a child, how important it was for me to feel happy, safe and loved.