It was a rare occasion to find myself at home on a Friday evening. Usually I was either already on the road to Western North Carolina or gearing up to get on my way for an adventure-filled weekend. However, work schedule changes for my significant other created a shift in my normal plans, so here I was, sitting at home in a quiet house with time on my hands. I decided I would take advantage of my time and tackle some cleaning and household projects that had been on the back burner. I moved furniture, swept down dust bunnies, moved some pictures around on my wall and cleaned out a cabinet. Next thing I knew, I found myself up in my attic going through boxes and totes, not really looking for anything in particular, just sorting, organizing and purging items that no longer added any rhyme to my reason. I opened one tote that had several Boyd’s Bears in it I was saving for my grand-daughter, and there in the bottom of the tote, I found her – my Christmas doll. I picked her up, looked into her dreamy eyes, and for just a few moments, as a rush of emotions consumed me, I traveled back in time almost 40 years.
Growing up in our house was not always the most pleasant of occasions. My father was a troubled man who had come from a very poor and violent upbringing. In appearance, he was strong in stature, handsome, and if you met him on a normal day, you would say he was quite likable and funny. When I see pictures of him as a young man, dressed in his military attire, I can see why my momma fell in love with him. What a looker! However, my father was also an abusive alcoholic and when he drank, the portals of hell could not compare to the evil rage that came out of him. The demons he wrestled with wreaked havoc on any one in his path, and most of the time that was my momma and us children.
I am the third child of four children, and other than the fact that I look more like my momma than the rest of my siblings, I was just like any other ordinary child trying to grow up in a hostile world. In his drunken rages, my father made no bones about the feelings he had towards me. He despised me, detested me, abhorred me, loathed me – heck, he downright hated my stinking guts! I endured many beatings for simple things like looking at him the wrong way or laughing too much. I still recall the piercing sting of the steel rings of his thick white belt all over my back, sides, stomach and legs as he beat me for laughing at my sister while she was in the shower. I was 5 years old. The physical beatings were painful, yet the things I recall that hurt the most were the words he would spew out of his cigarette and liquor ridden breath. I heard often how I was such an ugly child, so stupid, nothing but a cry baby and if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times how he wished I wasn’t his and how he didn’t even want me to call myself by his last name. He always called me by nicknames, which to him were amusing, but to me they were degrading and made me feel less than human. I was 33 years old before I ever heard my dad say ‘Christy’ and it shocked me so much that it took me a minute or two to respond to him. As a young child, I did not have the ability to process that these things he would say weren’t true, I thought a father’s words was the gospel! Nor did I have the wisdom I do as an adult to understand that these vicious demons belonged to him and had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part. The aftermath of his destruction left me wounded, bleeding, literally and figuratively, broken, fearful and confused. I had no identity, no value in myself, I just knew that I was disgusting, unwanted, worthless and unlovable.
Needless to say, Christmases in our house were not the joyous occasion they were intended to be. I honestly only remember just 3 holidays that were significant for the first 13 years of my life. One was when I was in 5th grade and someone from the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program came to our house and met with my mother to get a wish-list, clothes and shoe sizes for all of us children. I was ever so proud to wear a brand new outfit on our first day back to school from holiday break. I felt like a runway model as I sported those baby blue corduroy pants and a blue and brown plaid button up shirt. When my momma was finally able to break free from my father, get a restraining order and file for divorce, she was able to go to work at a local department store. That year we all had a brand new pair of house shoes under the Christmas tree! The third occasion I remember was the following year when we were picked to have a Christmas shopping spree at the department store where my momma worked and that is when I found her, the Christmas doll. The moment I laid eyes on this doll I knew that I had to have her. She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen and she looked like someone straight off of my favorite TV show, Little House on the Prairie. I coveted Laura Ingalls Wilder, her simple life with a daddy who loved her and her family ferociously and worked hard to take care of and provide for them. There was a deep longing in my soul for this doll, and I chose her as my Christmas gift.
Fast forward almost 40 years, to a grown woman, sitting on the living room floor, holding this doll that I had kept for so many years. Through nine moves, two states, broken relationships, a wonderful marriage, a hateful divorce, unspeakable heartaches, terrible loss, shattered dreams and life-threatening disease. Through years of healing, helluva hours of counseling, renewed hopes, incredible transformations, perseverance, and self-discoveries. Through hard times, good times, joy, laughter and tears. Time and again I had set her out on beds, put her back in boxes, set her back out in chairs as decor, only to put her back in boxes to safely store away and move again.
When I saw her so many years ago sitting on the shelf in that old department store, I had no understanding of the depth of why I not just wanted her, but needed her so badly or why I would keep her for so many years. Yet finally, on a rare friday evening that I found myself home alone, the answer flooded my soul like a dam break. This Christmas doll – she was beautiful, she was valued, she was wanted and she was loved. She was everything that I had yearned to be as a child and everything that I had fought to become as a woman. I was her and she was me.
Alone on the floor in that quiet house, I rejoiced because I am no longer that lost, broken child searching for love, significance, worth and acceptance. As an adult woman, I know that my wounds have healed, my scars, although still a part of me, have faded and I am fully aware that sometimes in life we are the victim of someone else’s battle. I can honestly say that I do not hate my father, I feel he has hated himself enough through the years for the mistakes he made and the devastation my tender heart suffered at his hands. I pray he has found the healing, peace and forgiveness in his own heart that I have embraced for myself and that we all desperately need. I breathed a slow, heavy sigh as I placed the doll back into the safety of her tote and laid my other keepsakes around her. One day, when I am long gone from this world, my children may find her and wonder why their momma kept such a simple, old doll stored up as a treasure.