Stepping Out

            When I transferred to the University of Southern California at the end of my freshman year of college, I had no idea what to expect. I had visited no college campuses during my last year of high school, had never seen a residence hall (we called them dorms in the 1970s), and had chosen a major in math just because I found it easy.

            USC was not my first choice. I really wanted to go to Ohio State and live with my grandmother. I didn’t know if her neighborhood was safe, how far she lived from the campus and whether or not public transportation could get me there. My primary purpose was to escape my dysfunctional family. Going to Ohio was about as far away from California as I thought my parents would let me go. Plus, I figured, living with Grandma would give my parents peace of mind.

            They refused.

            Thanks to a full scholarship from the State of California, I could attend any college in the state, tuition-free. I wanted San Francisco State College because they had an excellent teacher-preparation program. I had always dreamed of being a teacher as the classroom was the one safe place where I wouldn’t be hit, spanked, or ridiculed. Teaching, was to me, an honored profession, something to aspire to.

My parents thought differently. They believed that I didn’t have it in me to teach. Intellectually, socially, psychologically. Considering had backwards I was back then, they were right. So, once again, my parents refused. The excuse they gave was that they didn’t want me living on campus and they were terrified of public transportation Their fears made no sense to me.

            My brother also received the state scholarship. He applied to and was accepted to USC as an Engineering major. Because my brother would be there, that was the only college my parents would allow me to attend.

            When September rolled around, my parents drove us down to Los Angeles. My first glimpse of USC was of towering, impressive-looking buildings. Everything was huge. So huge that I saw myself drowning. But I nodded, telling myself that I wouldn’t let that happen.

            After unloading my brother’s stuff at his dorm, I was taken to mine. My room was on the fourth floor, with a great view of what I learned was called the quad.

I wasn’t dismayed by the tiny size of the room as I had been sharing a comparably-sized room with my sister for most of my life.

There were things about it that I liked: the closet was the right width for my limited wardrobe. The bed looked like a couch until it was pulled out from the wall. It was comfortable enough, but then I was only eighteen and so thought anything that wasn’t a floor was okay.

I had a desk and shelves. Wall space to decorate. And more drawers than I’d ever had.

Everything about my new living situation pleased me except for the trek required to get to the communal bathroom. Sharing a bathroom for private affairs was a bit of a shock. But I was okay because it wasn’t home.

My roommate was a haughty, unfriendly rich girl. Her mother arrived every week with a rack of brand-new clothes with tags on and wrapped in plastic bags. A hair dresser appeared like clockwork every few weeks and cut her hair in our room! I couldn’t imagine such wealth until I’d come face-to-face with it.

Shortly after classes began, my brother decided to pledge a fraternity. I seriously doubt that he knew any more about fraternities than I did about sororities. We knew no one who had gone to college and so had no experience with pledging and all that entailed. I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I figured that if he could do it, so could I.

He got accepted into the house that later I learned was for nerds. It wasn’t his first choice. He’d yearned to be at the jock house even though he wasn’t a jock. The only fraternity that accepted my brother was the one for the smart, geeky guys that couldn’t get in anywhere else. Despite the disappointment, my brother grew to love it. For the first time in his life, he was surrounded with nonathletes whose academic goals were lofty.

Next door was a beautiful southern-style building that was home to a sorority affiliated with my brother’s fraternity. They called themselves Little Sisters.

I convinced a rather plain looking girl whom I had befriended in the dorm to go through rush with me. We spent many dinners at that sorority, hoping to be accepted. Looking back now, I bet the sisters laughed at my wide-open eyes each time I sat to eat.

It was my first experience sitting at an exquisite dinner table with rows of utensils on both sides of the plate. Tablecloth and stark white linen napkins. Getting gussied up for a meal. Surrounded by pleasant conversation swirling about. It must have shown, yet they invited me back, time after time.

I was overwhelmed each time. There was no arguing, no belittling, no being punched or kicked or smacked.

I badly wanted to be there, to be one with this wonderful group of young women. My friend was eventually dropped. I understood, even though it made me angry. Her face was covered by acne scars, so many that her skin was permanently dimpled. Her voice was nasally and her wardrobe was as inferior as mine. She was hurt when she was asked not to return. Even so, she encouraged me to continue to try to be accepted.

As time passed, in order to prove my worthiness, I had to participate in a series of activities. The first was a fashion show for a group of women donors. We had to wear our own clothes.

That’s when I noticed how badly I fit in.

The others had designer outfits. Tailored dresses for all occasions. Perfectly cut pants with matching blazers. Scarves and expensive-looking jewelry. Casual clothes that spoke of money.

Only my underwear came from a store: my mother had made every dress, skirt and blouse.

Prior to the show we practiced sashaying down a pretend runway. I was awkward to say the least. I blushed at the thought of swaying my hips. I had difficulty breathing just thinking about parading in front of anyone. (I’d never done that at home as my mother thought such behavior was vulgar.)

Two days before the show we had to submit a 3×5 card with detailed descriptions of each of our three outfits. We were supposed to name the designer, the fabric, the trims, the details so as to wow the audience.

What was I to do? Name my mother? The cheap cotton of my dress? The discount fake-lace and ribbon? I tried to “sick” my way out of the show, but was told that it was a condition of my potential acceptance into the house.

The day arrived. I carried over my arm an A-line dress made of white cotton, trimmed with fake gold around the neck, a plaid plain-looking skirt with a matching cotton blouse and the only pantsuit I had, a bright orange cotton, bell-bottom affair that probably glowed in the dark.

Behind the stage we were given racks to hang our clothes. Except for high school PE, I had never changed in front of other girls. As I watched them get dressed in their first outfits, I realized that they were skinny and I was fat. There was no way I’d fit in with these girls!

I picked up my clothes to make a hasty exit, but the house mother blocked my way. I was told that under no terms was I told I had to go out on that stage.

With tears in my eyes, I put on the dress and stood in line. Slowly it inched forward as impeccably dressed girls went before me. When only two girls were before me, I had a clear view of the stage, the walkway and the room. To my eyes, I believed there were at least one hundred richly dressed women in the room.

My turn came. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and walked out on that stage. As instructed, I stopped next to the emcee. As she read the description of my homemade dress, I felt my cheeks blush and my eyes fill with tears.

I knew by then that I didn’t belong there, that I would never belong and that I was foolish to think that I could. However, I couldn’t runaway, so I took a deep breath and stepped out.

I did not sashay. I did not swirl or twirl or even plant my hands on my hips. I did not stop when I got to the end, but spun around and not-quite dashed to the back of the stage.

I changed into my next outfit, knowing that it only served to show how very poor I was. When my turn came, I stepped out once again. And then did the same for my third outfit.

When the fashion show part of the luncheon ended, we found seats at the tables, surrounded by wealthy women. I don’t remember the meal, but I am willing to bet that I ate nothing. I probably only offered cursory responses if anyone bothered to speak to me. I probably sat there with tears streaming down my face.

On the way back to campus, I berated myself for being so foolish to think that I could be a part of a sorority. My poverty, my poor upbringing, my complete lack of exposure to wealth, meant that if I was invited to join, it would only be because they needed a poor girl as a token representation of their efforts to diversify.

Stepping out on that stage was one of the most difficult things I’d done, but I did it.

Vacation Turmoil

            When I transferred to USC at the end of my freshman year of college, I went as a math major. I enrolled in Russian language classes as that was seen as necessary for the field. It turned out that I was pretty good at it.

            Not surprising, I guess considering that I grew up reading and speaking Latin at church. My high school in Ohio offered Latin, a class that I excelled at. I would have continued the study, but when we moved to California, it was not offered.

            I switched to Spanish, a language that I found extremely easy to learn. I completed three years, then when I enrolled at the community college, chose Spanish once again. The professor told me to switch to a higher level of Spanish, which I did. I aced that course, but that was the highest level the school offered.

            I didn’t want to return to Spanish in college, so that’s how I ended up taking Russian.

            Every semester I took another Russian class, not just language, but also in literature. I fell in love with the characters and stories that opened up a whole new world to me.

            That was when my dream began to one day go to Russia.

            I would have continued my degree program in Math, but the department chair destroyed that for me. This was in the 1960s, well before women fought to study whatever subject interested them. The chair told me that no company would ever hire me no matter that I was a straight A student.

            Disheartened, I realized that I had to switch to something that would still allow me to graduate on time. My only option was Russian.

            In time I passed every class the department offered. My spoken Russian was a bit rough, but I could read and write perfectly.

            My professors encouraged me to apply to grad school. I was accepted at the University of Illinois. The professors there wanted to meet me, so I spent what little money I had to fly back there.

            When I walked into the office, I was greeted by five Russian speaking professors. My mouth froze. Nothing came out. I felt and looked like an idiot. I realized then that I would never be able to get a Masters or even a PhD.

            My next humiliation came when I interviewed to be a Resident Advisor in the residence halls, the only way I could afford to go there.

            I was humiliated when I couldn’t answer question after question.

            I flew home knowing that I had no job offer and with no money, would be forced to return to the family home. A place where I was humiliated on a daily basis.

            Back at USC, my spirits soared when a flyer appeared inviting everyone to a talk by the Peace Corps.  I excitedly went, thinking that I could get posted in Russia!

            After listening to the talk, I left full of hope that I’d get to see the country I’d be dreaming about.

            I applied. Submitted all the documents, including health reports. I was turned down. Not because I couldn’t do the job, but because I’d had major surgery on my right wrist in which a chunk of bone had been amputated. The recruiter told me that I would be a liability.

            After graduation I set my sights on being a translator. I imagined myself traveling with visitors from Russia, going with them to Disneyland and other fun places. There happened to be an office near where I lived.

            I applied. However, when I was asked to come for an interview, I quickly found out that my Russian was so formal that I couldn’t speak in informal situations.

            At that point I thought I’d never get to Russia. Until I heard about the military language school in Monterey.

            I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a language specialist. I figured I’d put in time until I could get into the language school.

            Working as a translator for the Army was harder than I’d expected. I was given piles of intelligence documents to translate. One assignment was to try to figure out how many telephone poles there were in certain areas of Russia. That proved to be nearly impossible and incredibly boring. I was the only one in my division who knew Russian, so I worked alone in a dank, stuffy cubicle.

            Meanwhile I applied to the school in Monterey. I was denied.

            Realizing at that point that I’d never make it to Russia, I requested a transfer to the photograhy lab, a place I learned to love.

            In fact, the skills I picked up there led to a part-time job as a photographer. Also a number of ribbons at the county fair. I still love taking photos today.

            I married and became a mother to three wonderful children. Times were often tough financially. Sometimes there was no money for milk. I watered down juices, bought off-label canned and boxed foods, and mixed powered milk in with the jugged. Clothes came from thrift stores and our cars were well used.

            There was no way I would ever get to Russia, although I still harbored that dream.

            And then in 2020 a deal came up with a cruise company that would achieve that dream! We paid for our tickets, applied and paid for our visas, then began thinking about all the wonderful things we’d see.

            Two months before our trip, the pandemic brought all travel to an end.

            The company cancelled the cruise, but allowed us to transfer funds to the same trip in 2021.

            That was also cancelled because of omicron. Once again we were allowed to transfer to the 2022 trip. Our visas are only good for three years, so if we didn’t go to Russia this year, we lose our money.

            Here we are less than two months away from going to Russia and Putin invades Ukraine.

            We hurt for the people of Ukraine and are sickened by what Russia is doing. How dare Putin take over a democratic country! How dare he cut off Ukraine on three sides and send in his masses of military might!

            We want to cancel the trip. We’d like to visit Russia someday, but there’s no way that I want my tourist dollars going to Putin’s country.

            However, we have to wait for the cruise company to cancel or we would take a huge financial hit. We may have to do that anyway.

            It’s sad to have held on to that dream for over fifty years only to have it dashed by a power-hungry despot.

            Maybe someday, long after this war is over, we might think about going to Russia, but I don’t think so. I don’t see us reapplying for visas and without them, we can’t go.

            My story is one of a dream denied. Not as serious as lives killed and a country overrun, but on a small scale, devasting.

My Love of Music

            I bought my first radio when I was in Middle School. It had taken a long time to save up the money as my allowance was only twenty-five cents a week, ten of which had to go to the church.

            When my brother discovered Grit magazine, a weekly newspaper, I was able to earn more money. We went door-to-door trying to get subscribers. When the papers were dropped off at our house, we loaded them up in the baskets of our bicycles and road all over the rural town of Beavercreek, Ohio making deliveries.

            That simple job allowed me to finally buy that radio. I listened to popular music and fell in love with Ricky Nelson, Glen Campbell and the Shirelles. I memorized the lyrics and when no one was around, sang along.

            Music became my refuge. It took me away from my dysfunctional family’s woes. I felt the singers’ highs and lows. Their heartaches and joys.

            When my family went on picnics, that radio came with me. I didn’t have headphones, so I could only listen when I had permission.

            When my dad bought a record player, I used my earned money to purchase 45s and 78s. I didn’t have a lot of records, but those I did have brought me great joy.

            I attended a Catholic School until the end of seventh grade. A boy, whose name I don’t recall, invited me to a dance at a neighboring Catholic school. This was my first experience with a live band. While they were just a little older than me, and to me recall, not that good, I was enthralled. And I wanted to sing.

            That boy took me to dance after dance. Some were pretty miserable affairs with maybe ten people in attendance. Others had disco balls and flashing lights with great food. It made no difference to me: I had a wonderful time.

            The next year I transferred to the public school and never saw that boy again. For some reason I was enrolled in choir. I had never sung in public except for the Gregorian chant at church. Imagine my terror when the teacher demanded that we stand up, one-by-one, and sing the National Anthem.

            I knew I couldn’t do it, but I practiced in my bedroom. I was convinced that I was off-key and my voice cracked whenever I came to a high note.

            When my turn came, I froze. My butt refused to come off my chair. I trembled so badly that I don’t think my legs would have held up my weight. (I had a lot of weight!) The teacher called on me. My eyes filled with tears and my body refused to stand.

            The teacher smiled, encouraged me to try, then moved on to the next student. She never did make me sing in front of the class. She did figure out that I was an alto, however, by standing near me during class.

            By now I had fallen in love with a variety of popular singers, including the Everly Brothers, Roger Miller, and The Temptations. I bought the teen magazines that featured stories about the artists and included the lyrics to all the top hits.

To my joy, I discovered fan clubs! With a simple letter I could request autographed photos! I sent off letter after letter and when the photos arrived, I taped them to my bedroom wall. All my favorites were there, and since I had the lyrics, I could sing with them, never missing a word.

I never took a music class in high school. I thought about it, but my focus was on getting into a university with a full scholarship. My courses were tough: lots of math and science. Spanish and Social Studies. No fun electives.

Another problem was that my younger sister had grown older and controlled what happened in our shared bedroom. It seemed as if every time I turned on my radio, she appeared and demanded that I turn it off. If I didn’t, she whined to my mother who’d then threaten to smash the radio if I didn’t comply.

My developing love of music stalled.

When I enrolled at USC sophomore year, I took my radio and a record player I’d bought with me. By then I had a fairly extensive collection of records which I played whenever my roommate wasn’t around.

My parents thought that having music on distracted me from my studies, but it was the opposite. Music calmed me. It soothed my fears. Playing favorite songs quietly in the background gave me the energy to put in long hours.

Although I thought about taking a Music Class, once again, just like in high school, it didn’t fit into my major’s requirements.

I dated a guy for a short time who loved music as much as I did. He took me to concerts at UCLA. We rode in his VW Bug with the radio blaring, screaming out the lyrics. He took me to used record shops where, with very little money, I bought tons of records. Thanks to him my collection grew.

He never took me to a school dance, though. When posters advertised a dance in my residence hall, I decided to go. Alone. It was hard for me to do this. I was still overweight and saw myself as ugly. I figured that even if no one asked me to dance, I could enjoy the music.

The cafeteria was transformed into a disco ball. Someone had hung up decorations all along the walls and streamers hung from the ceiling. I was amazed but also thrilled. The one thing I hadn’t planned on was the huge number of students who would come. The place was packed.

I grabbed some snacks. Listened to the music. Wanted to dance. But I was ignored. When OJ Simpson and his gang of football players came, I snuck out. I knew that this was not my crowd.

On campus was a Neumann Center that held Mass on Sundays. I had never heard guitars and drums at church before. There was something about the folk-style that called to me and before I knew it, I was singing. In public.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I my kids were away at college that I bolstered myself up and joined the church choir. I didn’t know how to read music, but one of the singers, Patty deRidder, who was also the First-Grade teacher at the Catholic school, taught me. She told me I had a beautiful singing voice and encouraged me to solo.

I never would have taken that leap on my own. However, one Sunday no other singers came to mass. That meant I had no choice. Oh, was I terrified! But I did it.

Next thing, I was a regular soloist. Sunday after Sunday I stood at the ambo and lead the congregation in the psalm.

I remember one time when I’d rehearsed the psalm at home, over and over until I knew it quite well. When it’s time, I climb the steps to the ambo. The pianist begins playing and I freeze. She played something different! I know that my eyes got huge as I stood there in shock.

I shook it off, then sang the psalm I’d rehearsed, forcing the pianist to adapt.

Over the years my taste in music has expanded. I love country, but I also love Christian and some contemporary pop. I am not a fan of classical unless one of my grandkids is playing it. And I definitely never thought I’d like rap until I saw the musical Hamilton.

Looking back, I can see the important role that music had played in my life. It calmed me when times were tough. It brought solace when I was down. It lifted me up when my spirits were sagging. Most importantly, it showed me that I could sing. That my voice was strong enough, sure enough that I could stand before my congregation and lead them in song.

I don’t listen to as much music now as I did in my younger years, but it’s always there in my mind, in my heart.

The journey to get here was long and at times challenging. I am grateful to the boy who took me to dances. To the teacher who saw how terrified I was. To the choir member who encouraged me. To all the various choir directors I worked with over the years who saw in me what I still struggle to see: that I could bring joy to others through my voice.

The Great Inventor

            When I was a kid I learned about famous inventors in school. I was so intrigued that whenever I could get to the library, I’d check out the books that detailed their accomplishments. Many of them grew up poor, like me. Their discoveries lifted them out of poverty, giving them a financial cushion for a comfortable life.

            I wanted to join their ranks.

            The problem was that everything I thought of already existed.

            For example, I hated my clamp-on skates that I tightened with a key. They worked, but not well. They also frequently fell off, at inopportune times. Unbeknownst to me, shoe skates already existed. The first time I went to an indoor skating rink, my dreams were shattered.

            Like many kids back then, and even those today, my shoe strings refused to stay tied. Walking around with dangling laces led to severe punishment as well as a public dressing-down. I thought that if I could invent a string that stayed put, my name would find a place amongst the world’s greatest inventors.

            I put some time trying to think of different designs, but I was too young to come up with anything. Add to my inexperience was a lack of drawing skills that made it impossible for me to sketch anything workable.

            Imagine my surprise when, as an adult, spiral laces appeared on the market. They required no tying skills, only a twist or two and they’d stay put all day long.

            Just think, if I had had the skills and acumen back then, I would have achieved my goal. Not only would my name be added to the list of inventors, but I’d probably be wealthy today.

Writer’s Block Woes

            I developed a love of writing as a young teen. There was plenty of fodder since my family was not exactly pleasant to live with. My characters were all girls my age who felt unloved. All believed that they had either been kidnapped or adopted and yearned for escape. Some of them tried, actually made it one night away thanks to finding a culvert in which to shelter, but none of them got away.

            After awhile these stories only depressed me, so I quit writing.

            High school academics were so demanding that there was no time or energy for creative writing. I toyed with poetry, but nothing substantial developed. My poems were the same angst-filled “stories” dealing with feelings of abandonment, anger, frustration and sorrow.

            My college had a literary newspaper that accepted submissions. After reading the poetry of my peers, I believed that mine was as good, if not better. After revising a few, I bravely walked them over to the newspaper office. When the next edition of the paper came out, I was disappointed that none of my poems made the cut.

            I quit writing anything except for class reports.

            Years late I found myself teaching high school English to a variety of students. I had College Prep students in one class and then students with learning disabilities in all the others. I didn’t know what I was doing, so leaned into curriculum suggestions I found in books and at workshops.

            Before my students entered the room, I wrote a detailed prompt on the board. As soon as the bell rang, I reviewed the prompt with the class, then made them work quietly for about ten minutes.

At first, I used the time to deal with administrative tasks. Until I realized that I was not setting a good example. The next day, when my students wrote, so did I. After a few students shared what they had written, I’d share mine if there was time.

After about a week of this, I began to look forward to writing time. A particular character appeared in most of the stories. At that time her name was Mattie, short for Matilda.

Poor Mattie believed that she was unloved by her parents due to being obese, a topic familiar to my heart. She had a brilliant brother who could do no wrong, something I understood.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo, a month of writing in November, I realized that I could string together the Mattie stories into a novel.

I wrote her story during the day, then after work, added those bits to the novel. By the time November was over, I had a 40,000-word rough draft.

Over the next several years I revised and rewrote much of Mattie’s story, when I didn’t have classwork for the classes I was now taking at the university.

I also wrote my memories, painful reminders of what my life had been like growing up.

One professor loved my writing so much that she encouraged me to turn memories into a story. That work became the life of Marie Ray, a woman facing old age after a tumultuous life.

Periodically nothing inspirational came to me. I’d get stuck, no ideas springing forth. That’s called writer’s block, something I understood, knew how to move on, but still allowed it to steal words from my mind.

Sometimes after rather productive periods of writing stories, poems and essays, there’s be nothing. It was like trekking across the desert after being in a fertile valley.

Unless you’ve experienced writer’s block, you have no idea how devastating it is. You sit in front of your computer, waiting for inspiration. Perhaps you like to sit at a coffee shop and hand-write your stories. Picture yourself surrounded by busy people, a cup of your favorite brew before you, pen in hand, but there’s nothing.

Writer’s block makes you feel stupid, worthless, a reject. The longer it lasts, the deeper those feelings grow.

What makes it even more devastating is if you belong to a group of prolific writers who share work week after week. You enjoy reading their work, but it just makes you sadder and sadder when you are stuck.

The most important thing you can do when writer’s block steals your words is read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Not audio books, but actual books on paper. Savor the feel of the pages. Rejoice in the words. Think about the stories, the characters, the settings.

Soon something will come to you. It will be a germ of an idea at first, but if you allow it to dwell in your mind, it will blossom into a story, poem or essay.

The important thing it to not give up.

That’s what works for me.

A Special Pet

            My mother hated cats and didn’t really like dogs. She believed that cats sucked air from babies, killing them and that dogs would bite the face off children. When a parakeet arrived after a vicious storm, she allowed us to keep it. In fact, she called friends and relatives until she found someone willing to give us a cage. That was our first pet.

            Petey was an incredibly smart bird. I taught him to say a few words. When out of the cage, he’d sit on top on the structure until he wanted to go back inside. He played with toys and sat on your shoulder. That is until my dad and brother built a giant Ferris wheel out of the erector set.

Petey liked to sit in one of the buckets as it went around. It was fun to watch him. I’d lay on my stomach next to the contraption and watch the bird go around and around. My brother got bored of something so sublime and turned up the juice.

Within seconds the speed increased. Not just marginally, but significantly. Petey got scared and flew off. From then on we could never get him to sit on our fingers. Petey would still open the door to his cage and sit on top, but never again could a person touch him.

Not too long after that my dad brought home a beagle puppy. His intention was to teach it to hunt rabbits. He had gone out with friends who had dogs and decided that he would like to take up the sport.

My mom was so angry that she refused to talk to my dad. She would not allow the dog in the house, so my dad built a dog house which he placed at the edge of our backyard and chained the dog to the structure.

The poor thing whined and howled all day and night. My mother finally gave in after three straight days of incessant misery and allowed the dog in the house, for only an hour. That hour turned into fulltime. She named that dog Lady Coco and spoiled her rotten.

Mom warmed canned dog food in a special skillet. She felt that the congealed mass that came from the can was unhealthy.

When we moved from Ohio to California the dog rode in the car with us. During the trip Lady Coco laid next to me in the back seat. My hand was constantly on her, stroking her and cooing softly to her. By the time we had a residence, the dog was mine.

In the early years of my parent’s marriage, my dad had several tanks of tropical fish. No one other than him was allowed to care for them. Every night when he got home from work he’d feed the fish and clean at least one tank. He sold them all when we moved.

Not too long after he bought our first California home, he brought home two large fish tanks. Once again, they were his to care for.

For some reason I decided to get into the fish care business as well. I began with goldfish because they were pretty, hardy and cheap. I kept the tanks in my bedroom. I loved the comforting sound of the filters bubbling away. Watching the fish swim about comforted me and lessoned my anxiety.

When I left for college, I gave my fish and tanks to my dad. It saddened me to let them go, but since I was attending a college many miles from home, there was no way I could keep them.

After graduation I was forced to return home since I had no job. I bought new tanks and started over, first with goldfish and then some tropical ones. Once again, they made me happy.

I got a job, saved money, bought a car, then rented an apartment. My tanks came with me. Of course fish died and new ones took their places, but I was still happy.

When I married, my tanks moved to our apartment, and then later, to our house. By now I was working full time. I was exhausted when I came home from work. It became a chore to scrub tanks, so much so that as fish died, I didn’t get new ones. When the last one was gone, I got rid of all the tanks and paraphernalia.

As a couple, our first dog was a Dalmatian puppy that was not show quality. She didn’t have enough spots and her tail had a funny bump. She was an awesome dog. She loved our son and kept an eye on him to make sure he was safe. If we were working in our front yard, she made sure our son didn’t crawl away.

She trained easily, but was jittery around men. We took her camping with us and she loved it. The one problem was that she got car sick. That was a serious problem until the vet sold us some expensive pills.

After her there were a series of pets, including guinea pigs, hamsters, cats and birds. We borrowed a rat and a bunny from an animal sanctuary. I didn’t love having them around. Eventually I returned to being a bird keeper, beginning with a pair of love birds.

One time a friend invited me to visit animal shelters with her as she searched for the perfect dog. One of the last shelters we entered had a mother and two pups. They were incredibly cute.

I fell in love with the brown puppy and requested to adopt it when it was of age. We called him MacTavish, a name much bigger than he was. Mac, or Mackey, was seriously ill when we brought him home, something we quickly discovered when he couldn’t take more than a few steps without falling.

My friend taught us how to make a special gruel that we squirted into his mouth with a syringe. Because of force-feeding, he got stronger and better. When Mac was able, we taught him to walk on a leash. He could catch frisbees, but not in his mouth, but with his front paws.

He’d chased a ball and bring it to you, but not let go. He loved riding in cars so much that if he was ever out front, you’d have to take him for a ride around the neighborhood before he’d get out of the car.

His early days of illness must have killed some brain cells because he was so quirky. He was quick to housebreak but slow to respond to commands. We never knew where to put down his food bowl. He was supposed to eat in the kitchen, but sometimes he just couldn’t. We’d follow him around, bowl in hand, until he found the right spot.

Mac loved our large backyard. There was plenty of room for him to run and play. If any of us went out back, he had to come. His favorite activity was when my husband yelled, “Squirrel,” and then Mac would go sit under different trees while squirrels chirped at him high overhead.

Mac’s other favorite activity was going to the shed at the end of our yard. My husband would say, “To the shed,” and Mac would take off, loping like and antelope.

Mac was kind and gentle, warm and loving. He brought great joy to our lives. I really miss him.

My Story

            The concluding song in the musical Hamilton asks the question, who will tell my story. It got me to thinking about my own story. Certainly, my grown children know me, at last the mother-me that raised them. But do they truly know the adult me that I am now?

            In recent years our oldest son has been including tidbits of praise for who we are and what we have done over our lives. He praises us for being active, for traveling and doing things even as we age. His words touch me where it brings tears and feelings of joy.

            But I wasn’t just a mother. I was a wife, a teacher, an administrator, a writer, a friend and a person who kept busy doing a variety of things. I belong to three writers’ groups and two book clubs. I hike with a friend two days a week. I love movies and the theater. I love how technology has opened my world.

            I am a sucker for sad animal videos. If I had given a dollar to every charity that featured beaten and starved animals in their ads, I’d be broke.

            Books call my name. I will never have the time to read every book in my pile, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.

            While I am not into fashion, I love to shop for clothes especially after losing eighty pounds. Certain textures and styles speak my name. Colors and patterns as well. If after buying and wearing something it doesn’t make me feel good, then I put it in a giveaway bag.

            I won’t wear torn or stained clothing. That’s because of my younger years when all I had were old clothes an aunt had given my mom.

            I love spending time with friends. Going for a walk or eating out makes me very happy. While I am more of a listener than a talker, hearing someone else’s story keeps me connected to their lives. That means a lot to me.

            When I do get to spend time with my kids, I don’t have to do fancy things. I am content being in their presence. I love sharing a meal with them, strolling through a fair or even a big-box store, taking dogs for a walk, watching their favorite shows or sports teams. Seeing the responsible adults that they have become fills me with joy.

            As a teacher I worked hard. I’d visit my classroom on weekends to change bulletin boards, grade writing journals, correct spelling workbooks and rewrap books whose covers had torn. Before the year began, I’d hit every sale and buy all the supplies my students would need for the year. Even when money was tight, I’d spend mine to make sure my students didn’t have to go without.

            In my early years of teaching, I had to wear conservatively-styled dresses. I was a large woman and found it difficult to find anything in a store, so I made my own. I also sewed my kids’ shorts and a suit for my husband.

            I overcame my years growing up in a dysfunctional and overly critical family. I fought against the stereotypes that women couldn’t study college-level math. I persisted when others gave up.

            Understanding the learning never ended, I returned to college over and over, all in the hopes of increasing my ability to better serve the needs of my students.

            Recently a friend told me that she chooses to focus on the positive things that had happened to her. That simple comment made me reexamine how I remembered my early years. Perhaps instead of focusing on how I was mistreated and misunderstood by my parents, I should recall family trips to a cabin by a lake, playing badminton in the backyard,  eating my mom’s apple dumplings and building tents in the family room with my brother.

            It’s easy to talk about the beatings and foul words directed my way, harder to search for the happy days that I’d conveniently pushed into the back.

            This is my story. This is how I want to be remembered. I just hope that someone will be kind enough to share it after I am gone.

Dreaming of a Different Life

            Do you know what’s like to be trapped in a body that you dislike?  I do.  I had been “fat” my entire life.  My outer body was covered with pudgy layers of rolling fat, while my inner body yearned to be thin, luscious, and downright sexy.

            When I was in fourth grade I attended a Catholic elementary school in Dayton, Ohio.  We were poor, and so I wore hand-me-down uniforms and carried the dog-eared books belonging to a previous student.  Before the school year began, my mother drove me into town for the annual used uniform giveaway.  I hated this ritual.  Because of my weight, we dug through the small pile of plus-size jumpers, most of which had seen better days.  No longer navy blue except where food stains darkened the fabric, these uniforms marked me as “poor” and fat. 

            Fourth grade was a year of becoming aware.  This was the year when my older brother explained that there was no Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus.  This was also when I discovered that others saw me as a fat little girl.

            Sitting in church one morning, a girl next to me reached over and poked me in the thigh.  Her hand “bounced” high in the air, over and over, mimicking playing on a trampoline.  She pulled her skirt down tight over her six-inch wide thigh, measured with both hands, and then held her hands over my much larger thigh.  The difference was startling enough to cause a riot of giggles up and down the pew.

            Not too long after that, one day I had no choice but to go into the girls’ bathroom, something I tried really hard to avoid.  A group of popular sixth graders were lounging against one wall.  En masse, their eyes scanned my plump body as a look of pure disgust erupted on their sophisticated faces.  I quickly locked myself into the nearest stall so as to hide my tears. 

            “Fat people stink.  Don’t you agree?”

            “It’s because they leak urine,” Mary Beth Saunders said.

            “It runs down their legs when they walk,” Sue Anne Watson added.  “It leaves streaks that won’t wash off.”

            “I hate fat people.  They’re disgusting,” Wanda Belter said.

            “If I was fat, I’d hide in my closet and not eat anything until I got skinny,” Mary Beth said.

            “I’d kill myself,” said Sue Anne.

            “Not me,” added Wanda.  “I’d ask my mother to tape my mouth shut and then I’d stay home until I looked better.”

            Eventually they took their comments outside.  Only then did I emerge from my stall sanctuary.  When I got home that night, for what was not the first nor last time I took a long look at myself.  I really, truly was fat.  There was no denying it. Rolls of fat enveloped my abdomen and my thighs quivered with the tiniest of movement.  When I looked down, I couldn’t see my toes, let alone touch them.And because of the horrific things those girls had said, I even thought I saw urine streaks.

Repulsed by what I finally admitted to myself, I fell into my bed and cried for hours.

            I began dieting at the age of ten and have never quit. 

I convinced myself that trapped inside my obese body was a voluptuous woman yearning to be set free.  That woman wanted to be active and energetic.  That woman made me feel guilty about the cookies and candy that I so loved.

I think she got tired of the struggle and simply gave up for many, many yeaas.

            Because I wore rags and hand-me-downs, I dreamt of being able to go into a store and buy tons of new clothes. When I began working and earning enough to take myself shopping, I felt something stir inside me that has never gone away.

I am a shopaholic.  There is nothing that charges my battery like a mall.  It’s as if a competition is on to find the best bargains, and without fail, I rise to the occasion. 

As I stroll in and out of stores I admire the svelte garments displayed on ultra-slim mannequins.  Sometimes I touch the fabric, pretending that I am seriously considering taking one home. 

Back in my fat days, just as I imagined myself wearing the outfit, reality slammed my forehead and crimson colored my neck and cheeks. At that point I would dash away, off to the fat ladies’ department where I belonged.

            One time I went shopping with a bunch of relatives.  My husband’s sister was getting married, and everyone was in search of a dress to wear.  I trailed along as we went into masses of stores. I watched as they pawed through racks and racks of clothes. I drooled as they spoke about how well the colors of the different fabrics blended together.

            They all found things to try on.  They all believed that they had found the perfect outfit. 

But not me. I never carried a garment into a dressing room.  Why?  We never got close to the fat ladies’ clothes.

            For years I shopped alone.  Without prying eyes I could go into Catherine’s or Lane Bryant or the Women’s section of JCPenneys and not die of embarrassment. 

Except on the rare occasions when I visited a truly great friend who understands what it’s like, because she is also “fat.”  When we were together we forgot about size. We saw the beautiful person underneath. 

When we went shopping, we would try on clothes, and purchase our finds, sharing our good luck.

            There were days when I convinced myself that I looked pretty darn good.  I would be wearing an attractive outfit that hid the lumps under layers of fabric.  I would head off to work feeling happy and proud.  No one noticed.  No one sent even a tiny compliment my way.  It was as if I were invisible.

Most overweight people will tell you that being is not unusual. 

A slim person can walk past an obese person without once glancing her way.  In fact, there can even be accidental contact, one shoulder brushing another, with no apologies offered.  It’s almost as if the skinny individual had touched a ghost.

I have heard thin people say that the obese choose to be that way. That if they simply stopped binging on eating cupcakes and chocolate. They’d lose weight.

What critics don’t process if that genetics and physiology play a part in how easily a person gains and sheds unwanted pounds.  An overweight child is extremely likely to remain overweight into adulthood. 

If you are born into a family of obese individuals, the odds are that you will also be obese.  My paternal grandmother stood a little over five feet tall, but hit the scales at well over two hundred pounds.  I was built just like her.  Added to the familial tendency to put on the pounds was my mother’s belief that a fat baby was a healthy baby. Because she fed me until I had fat wrinkles on my arms and legs, I was doomed from the start.      My mother fed the cellulite, which plumped me up like a marshmallow. I spent years trying to reverse the damage.

Over and over I embarked on one weight-loss program after another. Two years ago I developed a serious health issue that required surgery. Because of being obese, the surgeon wouldn’t operate. That was my motivation.

Over a period of a month, the doctor’s deadline, I lost twenty-nine pounds, plus a few that keep recycling off and then back on again.  After that my motivation skyrocketed. If I could do that, then why not more?

It took ma almost a year, but I lost just under eighty pounds and dropped four sizes in pants and three sizes in tops.   

If I could go back in time and change just one thing, one thing that could forever alter the events in my life, I would have been a skinny child. In my mind, skinny children were happy children. Skinny children had friends. Skinny children were invited to birthday parties and given cards on Valentine’s Day. Skinny children did somersaults and laughed and played.

I would have been one of them. Because I was athletic even when obese, as a skinny kid I would have been chosen first when dividing up teams. I would have attended every birthday party and been invited to sleepovers.

As a teenager I would have goon to school dances with a different handsome beau on my arm.  Cheerleading would have been my passion, and as a dancer I would have reigned supreme. 

Whenever I went shopping, it would have been with friends, giggling as we strolled through the mall.  Fun would have been my middle name.

I would have been hired as a flight attendant, the career of my dreams.  Or maybe the receptionist in the front office. Or the statistician in a major think-tank.

Think how different my life would have been!  Zipping here, there, everywhere, always surrounded by friends.

There are some things that I would never change, no matter what I looked like.  I have a husband who loves me, my children are my pride and joy, and I loved my job.  I have been blesses with grandchildren and significant others in my children’s lives.

I have had a good life.

I wish that society did not disdain the obese.  Unless you have worn that body, you do not know what “trapped” truly means.

Thoughts About Life Before Death

            This morning an author was sharing her work on the radio. She’d thought a lot about death and dying, but especially about the steps between independence and reliance on others.

            She said that the idea of moving on to an afterlife didn’t scare her: it was what came before.

            Her words hit home.

            I am a person of faith. I believe in a heaven in which God is waiting for me. He will welcome me with open arms, bring me into His fold where I will live with all kinds of angels. It will be a place of intense colors, smells, and sites. It will be warm day and night and while walking the paths I will encounter family, friends and others that have been waiting for my arrival.

            Heavenly, right?

            The author being interviewed had treated her body well over the years. She’d watched what she ate, consumed very little alcohol, and early on incorporated exercise into her daily routine. She’d run marathons and belonged to a gym for many years.

            She hoped, believed, that treating her body well gave her the opportunity to live long without being a burden to loved ones.

            Her comments made me think about my past. I did not exercise regularly until well into my forties. I learned the game of soccer by watching my own kids play. My daughter’s coach was so horrible that the parents “fired” her, then made me coach. I knew nothing about the game, but I loved research. I read book after book on rules, conditioning and game play.

            I did not sit on the sidelines and shout: I ran, dribbled, passed and thought up new and different “games” to keep my players interested.

            I signed up for coaching classes and learned to be a referee. Once I was licensed, I “reffed” an average of four games a weekend while still coaching a girls’ team and rushing to see my sons play as often as possible.

            To understand more, I joined two adult teams: one co-ed, the other women only. I practiced with both and played one game a weekend on each team.

            As time passed, I felt my overall conditioning improve. I had never been a runner and still wasn’t, but I never stopped moving whether on or off the field.

            My kids swam in a competitive summer league. I took them to morning practices and stayed for their lessons. Watching them taught me how to swim. From barely being able to swim freestyle, I learned backstroke and breaststroke. From not being to complete a lap without stopping, I became a lap swimmer.

            At one point we sold our membership to the pool. For years I had no place to swim while at the same time injuries had kept me off the soccer field. The lack of exercise, combined with a series of surgeries, prevented me from taking up new forms of exercise, and so the weight piled on.

            Well into my fifties I heard of a community indoor pool near my place of work. I could get up early, drive the thirty minutes to get there, get a little exercise, shower and arrive at work on time. At first I only walked, back and forth, back and forth, while in the other lanes swimmers swam in “circles”. I so wanted to join them, but it had been years since I’d done anything like lap swimming.

            Bored with walking, one morning I slipped under the lane lines and joined the moving crowd. I was not the fastest, but not the slowest either. My asthma kicked up, meaning that I’d have to pause after every two laps to rest. I’d go on, each week pushing myself to do more and more.

            Then something happened and the pool had to close for repairs. I had no place to go.

            During this same time I had joined a neighborhood gym. I dropped in almost every afternoon and most weekends. I fell in love with the elliptical and stationary bike. Many of the machines didn’t work for me, but I used those that did. Wanting more, I hired a physical trainer. Big mistake. I don’t believe he’d ever worked with an old lady with double knee replacements. No matter how many times I told him I couldn’t jump or run upstairs, he didn’t believe me. He browbeat me into doing things I didn’t think I could do. He brought me to tears. But I kept paying him for three months before I finally walked away.

            About three years ago a new gym was built not far from my home. It had an indoor three-lane pool and tons of machines. After touring a nearby affiliate of the same company, I signed up. Why? The clientele looked like me: old, out-of-shape women and men. None of the burly, sweaty jocks of my old gym. This looked like a place where I’d fit in.

            When the gym opened I began working with a new trainer. He was gentle and kind. He understood senior citizens and listened to me when I said I couldn’t do something. He gave me exercises and routines that I could do on my own.

            My confidence grew. I lost a little weight, just enough to get brave enough to swim. It felt great to be back in the water, but I was moving much more weight than before. I was slow, slow, slow. But persistent. Each few days I added two more laps. In time I was able to swim a full mile!

            I still go to the gym, still swim, still use the machines.

            About two years ago I ran into a friend from my soccer days. We began hiking two days a week. It was hard at first. Some hills nearly killed me. I’d have to give up and turn around, embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up with my friend.

            Now we are equal partners, routinely hiking 8-10 miles tow to three days a week.

            What all this is about is that right now, I am in the best shape of my life. Like the author mentioned earlier, I take care of my body. I eat healthy, exercise regularly and keep my mind sharp.

            I hope, I believe, that all this will pay off as I add on more years. In three months I will turn seventy-two, but I don’t feel that old.

            At that age my mom looked and acted old. She was the epitome of the wizened old lady. Her face was pitted with wrinkles and her back and legs were weak. She couldn’t walk through her flat neighborhood or meander through a store without frequent stops. Her mind was failing, a precursor to the dementia that eventually took her life.

            I’ve read, just as the author has, that mental and physical exercise keeps us vibrant longer. I hope that she’s right. I want to be alert and independent as long as possible. I don’t want to be a burden to my family. I want to die with grace and dignity intact.

            There are things I don’t know the answer to. For example, will my years of inactivity impact how long I can function independently? I’ve heard that smokers lose years of life, but can gain some time back by quitting.

            Does this work for exercise? Because I’ve been working out seven days a week for years now make up for thirty years of no exercise?

            I certainly hope so.

            While I am not afraid of death, I am doing everything I can to stave off the effects of mental and physical decline. I pray, attend church, read, write, meet with various groups of friends, follow a weight-loss path, watch television, go out for meals and attend movies and plays. I talk to my adult children and my grandchildren. I do things. All kinds of things. And love my life, live my life, to the fullest.

            Perhaps this will make the difference. I certainly hope so.

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.