Years ago, so long ago that memory is vivid, my grandmother gave me a doll.
She had carried the doll home from Spain and like the dolls bought today at the American Girl Store in Rockefeller Plaza, my doll looked like me. Her sandy blond hair peaked out from under her straw hat; her bright brown eyes would close when I rocked her to sleep. Without a name, she sat on the shelf in my bedroom from the day she arrived until I married, pregnant at nineteen and left California for almost thirty years.
One November night in 1994, I bolted awake, turned to my husband, said “you don’t love me(!)” and caught the morning flight to Los Angeles, ablaze from katabatic Santa Ana wildfires from Laguna to Santa Barbara. As I would describe it later, “you have to be in a lot of trouble to look down on a burning city and see heaven.”
Recovering from a long marriage is fraught with peril; the rituals you chose to perform will either freeze you forever in a dark place or gradually set you free. One day, I opened a sack (no idea why it was in a sack) to find the doll, quite dismembered. Rubber bands that affixed her arms and legs to the mechanism inside her body had dried out and snapped; some of her fingers had broken off, their nail polish all but gone; her golden hair was dusty and matted; her brown eyes stuck closed. I set about repairing her.
At a time when both crafts and the yellow pages were fast disappearing, I located a small doll repair shop in Monrovia, a small town along the San Gabriel Mountains still used by Hollywood to depict simpler times. The doll maker gently took out the doll’s parts from the bag and said, “I think I can make her whole.”
When the doll was returned to me, eyes opened, freshly painted, with limbs intact, I realized how broken I had been – how broken I still was – and made up my mind to become whole. For a long time thereafter, I would look at the doll and imagine each limb being restrung, each nail being painted and give myself permission to open my eyes and lovingly repair myself from the inside out.