Stories for Lent: #37 Joy

There was a doll I had when I was little. She didn’t have a name, or if she did, I long forgot it. Her hair was big and poofy and so was her tutu. She had proper ballerina shoes that you could slip on and off, and she was the coolest thing I owned. I took her with me to kindergarten one day, and when my aunt and I got home, I looked inside her box and found her gone.

Gone. I was inconsolable. Even when my aunt went back to look for it, I knew it was lost for good. I’d been so careful, I’d laid it back in its packaging after a hard day’s play, (dolls need rest, you know) and now it was gone. Fallen out, probably, when I’d held the box the wrong way around.

It was raining that day, and my aunt couldn’t find it. Someone must have picked it up, she said.

To this day, I remember the grief, but also the shame. We didn’t have much money when I was little. My little brother had just been born, or was on the way – I’m not sure, but by the time I was old enough to be in daycare, I was also old enough to have responsibility. I had to look after my toys. I couldn’t afford to be careless. The doll had been a gift, and I’d dropped it just like that.

In the four or five years after that, my brother and I accumulated enough toys for our parents to get exasperated with us. I got other, prettier dolls, but of course, the one that got away always stuck with me. It stuck, along with the feeling of failure and loss.

*

Hunger breeds hunger. For food, for love, for stuff. It’s hard to differentiate between the different kinds – to the hungry person, one emptiness is the same as another. I thought stuff would make me happy – food, after all, “makes you fat” and I didn’t want that to happen, did I? Stuff takes up space that I’m meant to fill. Stuff that makes me look pretty, accomplished, successful. It wouldn’t matter how I’d feel. It only mattered how I’d look.

Of course, I was never “full” – open eyes rarely are, as the old wives say. The things that gave me joy were, paradoxically, the things that I wasn’t supposed to like: painting. Getting lost into fantasy worlds, making up intrigue and dialog from thin air. Reading, filling my head with the music of accomplished writers. It was good enough for a hobby, but a job? That was for talented people.

How can you love it if you cannot touch it, quantify it, package it up and sell it on the market?

And yet. Yet.

*

I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for my younger self. I thought she was a brat. A careless child. I probably was spoiled, but I think I was confused, too. I was hungry when I knew I wasn’t supposed to be.

I wish I could give myself a hug. I wish I could say: “It’s okay.” I wish I could explain the difference between carelessness and accident, to convince myself that one incident didn’t mean I was a terrible person who had no respect for the privilege she had been given. I wish I could give myself permission to relax. I wish, I wish, I wish.

Wishing is a terrible thing, but every once in a while, it can also bring about the promise of forgiveness.

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