College was difficult. It was not the classes. I was happy with the classes. I loved learning. The difficulty was somewhere in my head. I’d been bulimic since middle school & when I went off to college I simply fell apart. I did fine in my classes and would eventually graduate with honors. I excelled at sports & won plenty of awards there, too, including scholar-athlete of the year upon graduation. But something inside me was in turmoil.
I remember coming home over the breaks and sitting in front of my mother’s sewing machine. It was her only sewing machine: the one she bought when she got married: a beautiful white Elna in a bomb-proof blue case. I made a couple of jointed, felt-bodied dolls. I dyed the yarn for their hair, made them beaded necklaces and sewed them cute little outfits from the huge selection of fabrics at my mothers house. I made a clown doll with floppy limbs, a belled hat and a popcorn-kernel weighted butt. My mother adored the details. I never have liked clowns.
I made a series of three classic jointed teddy bears. Their bodies were cut from fine woolen skirts and slacks. For stuffing, I meticulously cut old woolen socks and fabric scraps into tiny pieces with pinking shears. The bears were solid. I remember making the grey bear over the summer when I’d come home. I had convinced my mom to have a garage sale to clear some stuff out of the basement. I remember sitting outside in the sun on a chair sewing the bear’s head on in tiny stitches. Each stitch was the entire world. In that moment, I was at peace.
The clown— possibly my least favorite doll I’ve ever made— went into the eating disorders unit of the recovery center with me for five weeks. I don’t like clowns. While I was there, my boyfriend visited me a few times. After I left I made him a doll. I had forgotten about it until relatively recently when, over 20 years later, he reminded me of her and sent a blurry photo. I remember now. I loved him.
And then I left. After graduating from college I bought a round-trip ticket to visit my older sister in Arizona. I never did use that second half. I left all the stuffed animals and bears and the dolls I’d sewn sitting in my old bedroom at home. I left them amongst the dollhouses and dollhouse dolls, amongst the barbies and Madam Alexandre dolls and folk-art dolls from around the world that lined the walls of the room and amongst the boxes of eternally happy Playmobil dolls that stuffed the closet. I left the antique composition doll, the mid-century fashion dolls, the dolls from Mexico and the tiny puppets from Germany. I left the dolls that had arrived from all over South America, the dolls from Africa and Japan, and the art dolls from the US. I left the corn-husk doll I’d made in 5th grade. I left the 1965 Girl Scouts of America doll. I left the doll from Peru who, like Penelope waiting for Ulysses, sat at her loom. I left the multitude of dolls I can’t remember. I left them all sitting there to keep my mother company and to clutter up her house.
I guess I was a little girl at one point and eventually I wasn’t a little girl anymore, but no one told me when one ended and the other began. I had no idea what I was supposed to do next.
to be continued